Experiments With Kashmir

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Though it is still early days,  the aftermath of the PDP-BJP coalition has already started playing out. The efforts seem to be afoot to form a new government cobbled together probably by engineering a defection in the PDP. Already five PDP legislators have expressed their intention to join the potential new government. They have also issued statements against their leader Mehbooba Mufti and her small coterie. The attempt seems to be to endear themselves to the leaders helming the effort to form the new government. So, this could be one of the fallouts of the breakup of the PDP-BJP coalition.

In Kashmir, while the BJP’s withdrawal of support has come as a vicarious fulfilment of a public desire for retribution against the PDP for its perceived betrayal of the public mandate, a parallel narrative connects the development to the New Delhi’s familiar recourse to toppling governments in the state, beginning with that the legendary Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953.  The government of Sheikh, then the Prime Minister of J&K, was summarily dismissed in 1953 for his alleged hobnobbing with the US government in pursuit of an independent Kashmir.  This has bred a popular discourse that New Delhi inherently doesn’t trust Kashmiri parties with handling the state of affairs and that it would rather prefer manipulating the democracy in the state than allow it a free run.

But the latest development is more complex – albeit in some of its aspects it is of a piece with the Centre’s attitude towards the state. An example from the past that comes closest is the withdrawal of support to Sheikh Abdullah by Congress in 1977. Sheikh had returned to the political mainstream just two years before that. Another example, and it is not about pulling out of the support, is the summary dismissal of the Sheikh’s son, Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1984. That time the government fell when a breakaway group within National Conference defected to form a government with the Congress support.  But while on both these occasions, Kashmiris supported the incumbent parties and their anger was directed against the centre, this time they have celebrated the fall of the government.

So, how is the latest unceremonious ouster of a Kashmiri leader going to play out? It is clear from the anger directed against Mehbooba that the repercussions will be unlike those in the wake of similar developments in the past. But repercussions there will be, nevertheless. One possible outcome could be that the BJP in future could find it difficult to get a coalition partner in the state, making it unlikely for it to return to power in the state.

But considering that the BJP still went ahead with the break-up shows that the party doesn’t care much about forming a future government in the state. It is clear that for BJP Kashmir is important for mobilizing political support in the rest of the country than for its own sake. But the recent developments reveal the BJP is not done with its experimentation with Kashmir.  It doesn’t want to only settle for toppling the state government but also further mess with the democratic mandate to install a government of its choice. And all this is being done without any concern for the detrimental long-term repercussions that such a brazen interference will leave on the operation of an already beleaguered democracy in the state. 

 

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