Paradigm shift in Kashmir politics

The political uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir is fast fading with the announcements from both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to the effect of the basic understanding reached by the two parties for government formation. Though, both the parties have maintained optimism regarding government formation from the very beginning, the confidence displayed by the two parties during past few days that there will be a stable government in place very soon is enough to remove doubts, if any, regarding the political alliance between the two parties with extremely contradicting and antagonist ideological positions.

The most interesting thing about this engagement is the recent reiteration by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the pursuance of core ideological components of PDP agenda; that his party’s stand on Article 370, revocation of AFSPA, peace talks with Pakistan and separatists, release of political prisoners, return of power projects and comprehensive rehabilitation of flood-affected, would remain non-negotiable during the talks with BJP on alliance formation (RK, Jan 25); and the emphasis that these core components will form the basis of the Common Minimum Programme for any alliance struck by PDP with its to-be political partner, which is most probably the BJP. Equally interesting is the meaningful silence maintained by BJP in response to the stand taken by PDP regarding the pursuance of its political agenda.

The intelligentsia and the political analysts of Kashmir have so far equivocally opposed any alliance between the PDP and the Hindu right-wing BJP; on several counts to the extent of deeming it a betrayal by PDP with its electorate in Muslim dominated Kashmir. Nevertheless, if analyzed with an open perspective, this engagement may have some positives also with regard to political realities of Jammu and Kashmir, if pursued in a right and purposeful direction, other than the attainment of pure political power by the stake holders.

While deliberating during party convention in Jammu, Mufti Sayeed reiterated that “the interests of the state and its people alone will guide (him) and (his) party in the bid to form a stable and representative government in Jammu and Kashmir”, and that “(he) is in no hurry to be in power and (he) will never sell (his) mandate for the sake of power”. Though Mufti Syed is known to have  strong conviction in Indian democratic constitutional structure  and legal framework and operates his political ideology by placing the political aspirations of people  within that constitutional space; he seems, of late, having developed a political insight and belief that peace and development in the subcontinent is elusive without finding political solution to Kashmir imbroglio to the satisfaction of all stake holders, which is only achievable  through political dialogue at all possible lives.

And, with a life-time political experience and proximity with political power, he seems having developed a compelling urge and desire in contributing to conflict resolution through reconciliation, as his personal political legacy, in search of long-lasting stability and durable peace in the region. It is in this backdrop that one can explain the considerate decision of Mufti Sayeed in opting for BJP instead of Congress, for political engagement as government partner; the reason being that Congress has neither any locus standi as of now nor demonstrated any political will in the past, in shaping Kashmir affairs and Indo-Pak relations in a positive direction. Pertinent to mention is that Mufti Sayeed’s earlier stint as Chief Minister is widely remembered for providing a relatively better administration, initiation of LoC trade and containment of renegades and Ikwani terror.

Mufti Sayeed is not expected to bring moon and stars for the people of Kashmir at this juncture of history, but, if through this political engagement he can, at least, ensure some meaningful forward movement in restoration of political dialogue at different levels viz-a-viz internal and external dimensions of Kashmir imbroglio and vexed issues like removal of repressive laws such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), he will emerge as a popular political leader with demonstrative political acumen and statesmanship. This is a herculean task, and the ultimate test to the political craftsmanship of Mufti Sayeed and his team, given the background of calling off the Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level talks in immediate past by the BJP led government on the excuse of Pakistan ambassador’s meeting with Hurriyat Conference leadership, recent tension on LoC and international border and the consequent hardline posture by Indian Government viz-a-viz Pakistan. This is equally a fatal and politically risky enterprise for BJP, as the stated ideological and political position of that party is very antagonistic to this approach.

However, as the saying goes that politics is the art of possibilities, and given the compulsion of the BJP in availing the first opportunity of government formation in only Muslim majority and strategically important state of Jammu and Kashmir, nothing is virtually impossible. If anything pertaining to serious political issues with long-lasting ramifications, such as stated above, is on table in the negotiations between BJP and PDP, then the outcome in the shape of some Common Minimum Programe is only expected after the Delhi elections are over.

The changing context of the Center-State relationship, with which PDP wants to see it, is better articulated by its senior leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, when he says that instead of being antagonist, PDP and BJP should become compliment to each other. Till now this Delhi-Srinagar symbiotic relationship has been exclusively tilted towards the advantage and dominance of New Delhi at the cost of the liberties and rights of Kashmiri people. This symbiosis is welcome only if it serves to restore the institutional autonomies, civil liberties, ownership of state resources and equitable share in economical development and opportunities for all. And, PDP has to go a long way in convincing New Delhi that for transforming Jammu and Kashmir into politically stable and economically developed region, peace is the pre-requisite and for winning the hearts and mind of the people, the broken promises have to be mended.

The BJP-PDP alliance can also have some positive repercussions on the fast emerging ultra nationalistic cum communal assertiveness and alternate cultural discourse in the socio-political landscape of India. As Mahatma Gandhi saw a ray of hope in Kashmir when whole of India was burning in the inferno of communal violence, the BJP-PDP combine can provide, at least symbolically, a new perspective and persuasion for large-hearted tolerance, engagement and moderation.

At present, when Indian society is experiencing a new wave of communal resurgence, intolerance and cultural exclusiveness, this possible confluence of opposite ideologies in Kashmir offers a hope of symbiosis and co-existence of mutually jackstraw posed political aspirations. If looked at with a positive frame of mind, this relationship may prove to have a potential to at least contain this communal resurgence, if not to completely reverse the tide. Therefore, it may not be naive and impractical optimism to conclude that this alliance if conducted in a spirit of reconciliation and forward looking outlook and with a depth of meaningful content and substance could prove a new phase of Kashmir politics with far reaching consequences.

Author is Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir. He can be mailed at altafpandit23@gmail.com