Coalition Of The Divided

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The fight between the two Telugu satraps in Hyderabad is no longer the subject of headlines, but it’s on low boil. KCR appears intent on nailing Chandrababu Naidu in a bribery case; the latter is no spring chicken and can be expected to use every political trick in the book to ensure he gets off.BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

It’s strange how events going back in history can trigger political storms in current times or underscore the simmering tensions between formal allies.

A case in point is the Martyr’s Day ceremonies in Srinagar to commemorate the killings in July 1931, of 21 protestors by the Dogra army of Kashmir’s erstwhile maharaja. It’s an annual event and an official holiday in the Muslim majority Kashmir region, where it is seen as the first major uprising against the Hindu dominated feudal order.

Naturally, for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, it was a day to be observed with due solemnity. But its ally the BJP saw the event as vilification of the then Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh, whom many regard as forward looking and a reformer. It boycotted the ceremonies leaving the PDP embarrassed and furious.

One would have thought the PDP could have anticipated such a development and planned accordingly, to lessen the loss of face and the inevitable public speculation about the imminent fall of the coalition. Likewise for the BJP, did they propose any ideas as the date for the Martyr’s Day commemoration approached?

The disconnect is troubling given that both parties, knowing they sit at opposite ends of Kashmir’s political pole, have demonstrated clear commitment to the coalition. In fact, in the four months since taking office, they have defied every doomsday prediction. But look closer and the disconnect widens.

Across the state, public resentment against the PDP-BJP government’s policy paralysis and poor governance is on the boil. The coalition government had raised huge expectations since it had the backing of the Centre. But nothing has happened so far, in either the Kashmir region or Jammu, to suggest this government has a grip on anything.

The Mufti government took office within months of the worst ever floods that devastated and battered Srinagar. Given the Mufti’s reputation as an able administrator, people expected decisive action; they expected relief for those rendered homeless; for those whose businesses and livelihoods had been destroyed. But nothing happened, rather Mufti Mohammad Sayeed came across as a different man this time, one singularly lacking in the dynamism he had demonstrated in the past. Nor did his ministers and legislators show much empathy for the people who had elected them. Srinagar remains a city mired in slush and despair.

Perhaps the fault lies in the dynamics of the coalition the Mufti has forged with the BJP. Although this is not his first innings as a coalition partner (he was with the Congress earlier), learning to work with the BJP (the big brother in the coalition?) given the ideological baggage both sides carry, could be problematic. The Mufti also faces a hostile group within his own party opposed to the saffron tie-up. This group led by former minister Muzzaffar Beg, periodically delivers little pin pricks to emphasize that Mufti has blundered by joining hands with the BJP.

Party insiders claim that even the Mufti’s daughter, the charismatic Mehbooba Mufti keeps a low profile. She is seen more in Delhi (she’s an MP), than in Srinagar. Is Mehbooba also part of the disgruntled group or is she deliberately and by prior arrangement, ensuring a “tactical distance” from the coalition? It’s anybody’s guess given the way decisions are taken in parties led by a single family.

The pdp-bjp government’s biggest failure has been on dealing with insurgency and separatists. Given a free hand, the mufti would have dealt with the separatists differently

The PDP-BJP government’s biggest failure has been on dealing with insurgency and separatists. Given a free hand, the Mufti would have dealt with the separatists differently. In his previous term as chief minister, he successfully pursued a policy of giving the secessionists elbow room. However, given the BJP’s jingoistic approach on Kashmir, the Mufti has had to withdraw many a time and give in to the saffron party’s diktats. The release of MassaratAlam, leader of the 2010 protests, from jail was the first test for the Mufti to assert himself. Alam had been let off by the court in a routine way. BJP bullied the PDP into submitting to its hyper-nationalism by putting Massarat back in the jail.

The Mufti has always believed that keeping ‘iconic secessionists’ in jail was counter-productive. Out of jail, their halo and aura would gradually fade. But ‘big brother’ BJP is breathing down his neck forcing him to backtrack.

The fact is even the BJP is under pressure. Although elected with a resounding vote in the Jammu region, it is facing a backlash from the public for lack of development and the slow progress in rehabilitating people displaced by recent floods. As for the much hyped settlement of West Pakistani refugees, there’s little to show on the ground. The joke doing the rounds in Jammu, is that BJP leaders frequent Srinagar in the name of governance but actually to picnic along the Dal lake.

The party’s support base faces significant erosion if it is not able to course correct now. Intra-regional tensions are growing. The decision to set up IITs, IIMs and AIIMS is now an angry Srinagar vs Jammu debate. The coalition has left it to the Centre to take a final decision.

The tensions within the coalition and the poor performance have revived the hopes of the opposition National Conference and the Congress, of staging a comeback. Also, keeping secessionist leaders under house arrest is seen by many has too harsh and united the separatist camp.

There’s no doubt that four months is too short a time for any government to get a proper appraisal. But J&K is different. Public perceptions built over the optics of governance contribute to a volatile situation, which can be tapped by pro-Pakistan elements to stir up trouble. The coalition partners must also hammer out a common policy on tackling the insurgency. These are high priority and need to be done urgently.

Summary

  • PDP-BJP coalition government in J&K yet to find its feet four months after being sworn in
  • The two parties were at odds over Martyr’s Day ceremonies with the BJP boycotting it
  • There is no consensus on how to deal with the insurgency or the separatists
  • CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has not shown any initiative in resolving public issues
  • BJP’s support base in Jammu risks erosion if pace of development does not pick up
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