I think there are substantive political reasons why the current alliance is not a terrible option, after all.
I am not a BJP fan, and I can ever be one. Politically, I see myself as a left liberal with an undying faith in the inherent capability of the idea of democracy to heal the wounds that the past have inflicted upon us. And yet, I find myself at peace with PDP’s decision to enter into an alliance, to form the government in J&K, with BJP. My rationale for that needs to be explained to the readers of my Greater Kashmir column, a forum I have used for the past seven odd years to articulate my take on politics in Kashmir and beyond. Many of my readers and friends were uneasy when I decided to extend my support, for whatever little that’s worth, to PDP’s decision to form the government in alliance with BJP: hence this explanation.
Clearly, the split verdict that was thrown up by the recent J&K Assembly election and the need for stability in the state did not really permit any other alliance than what we have today, even as I would have liked a different alliance, something that I wrote about a few weeks ago. But going beyond numerical constraints, I think there are substantive political reasons why the current alliance is not a terrible option, after all.
CMP – thinking out of the box
First of all, I was immensely persuaded by the ‘agenda for alliance’ or the Common Minimum Program (CMP) put together by the two sides, after lengthy debates and prolonged negotiations. The CMP is a well-thought-out plan of action with equal amounts of guiding principles and actionable details. Consider some of the major takeaways from the CMP. The opening paragraph points out that the alliance is an “effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on J&K”. On the contentious issue of AFSPA, the CMP notes that “the coalition government will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’. This, as a consequence, would enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas.” On another controversial issue, talks Valley’s separatists, the document says that “the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections.”
To me, the most interesting part of the CMP comes from the fact that it shows that it takes the combined efforts of ideologically opposed parties to build peace in Kashmir. In other words, it would take a wide range of ideologically distinct actors such as the PDP, BJP and the Hurriyat to make peace in J&K: it is this undeniable reality that the CMP seems to convey. Both the BJP and the Hurriyat (G) need to be part of the reconciliation process in J&K. Conflict resolution is a difficult process strewn with hard choices with one such choice being the unavoidable necessity of sitting down and talking to those you do not like or disagree.
Not an ideological alliance
Secondly, I would not see the alliance an ideological sell-out, either for the BJP or the PDP. The very first paragraph of the CMP states unambiguously: “The raison d’etre of this alliance is to provide a stable and a representative government in J&K”. Clearly, an ideological alliance between the two would have been unpalatable to me; indeed, even a political alliance would have been difficult to explain. But a governance alliance, one which ensures that the state does not continue under the Governor’s rule, that the benefits of increased normalcy in the state are transferred to the people of the state, that the armed forces vacate the homes and farmlands of the people, and that the J&K government is not dismissed out of hand by crafty politicians in New Delhi. As many in Kashmir would ask: has the Congress party been better than BJP in any sense? Congress party’s past encounters with J&K have been disastrous, and one will have to see what the BJP will do.
That said, I am a strong believer in the argument that J&K needs to be reimagined by Indians and the only way it can be done is by speaking in the language that an average Indian would understand: the language of mainstream politics, idea of India, Bollywood etc. Just like the film Haider made a difference to the average Indian’s understanding of what the Kashmiris had to go through, reconciling with the national political mainstreams is important in invoking the Indian political consciousness: and those mainstreams come in many forms – Congress, BJP etc. The opening paragraph of the CMP hence is a thoughtful one: the alliance is an “effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on J&K”
Just like Kashmiris mistrust Indians, average Indian harbors a great deal of misperceptions about Kashmiris. Kashmir flashes images of a puritanical Geelani, coffins of Indian soldiers and gun-wielding terrorists on the Indian mind. It is not my argument here that only by making an alliance with the BJP can you achieve it, but rather that it is important to emphasis the need for a national reconciliation on Kashmir, something that the PDP-BJP alliance has put in black and white in their CMP. Such national reconciliation on Kashmir, lets face it, cannot be achieved without a powerful partner in New Delhi. Congress, clearly, would have been a good partner, but neither their history of engagements in Kashmir nor their track-record on reconciliation vis-à-vis Kashmir has shown any indication of seriousness.
Need to moderate BJP
PDP could not stop the entry of BJP into Kashmir’s political chessboard; the fractured mandate didn’t allow that. But the PDP is well placed to stop the Sangh’s hawkish designs in Kashmir by making them sign a document that promises to do almost everything that the PDP has wanted to do in J&K. They have got that document now: the challenge, of course, is in ensuring that the BJP sticks to the spirit of the CMP. Going by PDP’s performance in the past one month, one would have to admit that not only has the BJP not been allowed to dilute the fundamental principles of the CMP, but Mufti Sayeed has also shown the conviction to act on those principles