No Longer a Party With a Difference

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This is a party that is duly credited for pulling the political discourse in Kashmir away from the Hurriyat and helping again ‘mainstream’ the politics in the state. But the coalition with BJP is making it tough for PDP to retain its image as a party with a difference. If the coalition were to complete the six year term, what will become of the party that once so radically changed the political landscape of the state, by displacing the monopolistic National Conference. PDP has already jettisoned the quasi-separatist image that it once effectively used to endear itself to the masses, providing them a ‘within-the-system option’ for an ideology which has positioned itself outside the system. 

The party has come a long way in a very short history of a little over seventeen years. In fact, its real momentous journey began in 2002 – just four years into its creation in 1998  – when against all odds, it won 16 seats in valley and formed government in alliance with the Congress.  This was the first time that National Conference lost the power in Kashmir through a democratic vote. Thereafter, the party went from strength to strength in six years in power, fine-tuning along the way a hard-edged soft-separatist political agenda and the identity.

The Assembly elections in 2008 saw the party advancing its tally from 16 to 21 seats, thereby cementing its standing as an established political party. Its probable second shy at power fell through after the Congress switched loyalty to NC. This, however, hardly dented the party’s enhanced political standing in the state.  It showed in 2014, first in Lok Sabha polls which it swept in Valley, winning all the three seats and then in Assembly elections in which it emerged as the largest single party. 

But its choice of BJP as the coalition partner threatens to undo all that PDP has stood for. Though coalition was formed after a tough two-month negotiation leading to a reasonably good-looking Agenda of Alliance, little has gone well since. BJP has reneged on all its commitments such as the revocation of AFSPA  or initiating dialogue with separatist groups. The saffron party has even maintained its rhetoric on Article 370. Its government at the centre  has not been munificent with funds either. 

PDP has been left congratulating itself for stalling the Sangh Parivar bid to revoke Article 370 but BJP has moved the political discourse on Kashmir to the integration of the state into India. This has diminished Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed’s  vaunted aura even though the setback is not yet irreparable. 

PDP thus faces some serious existential issues. It has put its ideological agenda on hold while BJP has aggressively pursued its own.  This has made PDP look tame, passive and timid.  From a party which was used to ply a belligerent politics, PDP has merged completely into the governance, in a stark contrast to its previous term in office. The party has become almost just another National Conference known now for its drab and dull politics. In fact, a subdued PDP is helping NC rehabilitate itself.

Can the soft-separatist party stage a political recovery? If the eight months of the coalition’s term are any guide, there is little hope. For PDP o salvage its standing and arrest its waning popularity, it has to play its natural politics and reclaim its ideological moorings.

 

 

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