Six days after the votes were counted and the electorate threw a hung verdict in Jammu and Kashmir, there are no signs of government formation. Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal takes a look at the various permutations and combinations and their possible effects as we wait for the magic number and formula to be arrived at.
Hung verdicts are often not easy to negotiate. In the country’s most complicated and complex state, with its extreme fragility and a long history of conflict, government formation is a task almost impossible to accomplish with a verdict that is so divisive in its texture. Politics is said to be the art of achieving the impossible. Arriving at the magic number, whatever the combination of allies, may not eventually be impossible. What, however, is difficult is forming a government that would be workable and have the least adverse long term impact on the state’s health and its conflict. That is where the glitch lies.
There is an ironic twist to the story. As Muzamil Jaleel points out in Indian Express, the party (PDP) that should be celebrating its best ever performance (28 seats) is plunged into its greatest grief. Caught in a damned if I do, damned if I don’t bind, clearly neither for the PDP, nor any other contender, there are any easy solutions or any ideal ones. The options are limited to permutations and combinations that are politically odd. Politics does make strange bedfellows, sometimes necessitated by fractured mandates and sometimes for greed. Democracy and government formation, however, is not simply about mathematical equations but about choices more suitable to stability and in the Jammu and Kashmir case, also about the question of fragility of the state.
What are the likely combinations that the PDP can explore? Evidently, it would not like to sit in opposition for another term and allow the powerlessness to weaken its party’s base after consolidating its cadres and improving its position not only in the Valley but also in Jammu region, where it bagged 3 seats. It may want to be not only part of government formation but lead it. Being the single largest party, it may well have that advantage. But with the BJP breathing close down its neck with 25 is not a comforting situation. Ideally, any party getting a 25 score in Jammu region would have been an ideal partner for the PDP with a government that would have representation of both regions with their own dynamics of sensitive politics. But the BJP has a distinguishable genetic code that is in complete discordance with the Kashmir Valley and the BJP’s victory loosely translated is at best a Hindu assertion of Jammu region, though BJP has benefitted due to both anti-incumbency and the Modi factor.
Among the several options available with respect to formation of government, the PDP-BJP alliance, which may seem to be the easiest to do without need to cobble up strength with other fringe groups and independents, would be the most dangerous proposition. So it would be if the BJP were to cobble up an alliance with the National Conference (15 seats) support. BJP in any government formation in Jammu and Kashmir would have far reaching adverse consequences, whether it is put in the saddle with support of the PDP or the National Conference. The BJP represents a certain ideology, which is unsuitable for the only Muslim majority state embroiled in a major conflict. With its allies pursuing an aggressive Hindutva policy and the BJP government in power at the Centre choosing to maintain a cryptic silence over communal outbursts and controversies like the conversions row, its phenomenal rise in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to create a situation that is disturbing and worrisome, other than pushing the PDP to commit virtual suicide by jumping into an alliance with it. BJP’s jump to corridors of power is likely to create an adverse reaction in the Muslim population of the state, particularly the Kashmir Valley where the alienation and anger against the Indian mainstream is already too deep rooted. Not to be forgotten is the fact that a major reason for the huge voter turn in the Valley in these elections was to keep the BJP out of power. Ideologically, the PDP and the BJP have nothing in common and any alliance would call for both diluting their respective stands on various issues including Article 370, AFSPA, human rights and even its variant perspectives about development front.
Keeping out the BJP despite a huge presence in Jammu region, however, is also likely to create some resentment in Jammu region with saffron brigade having thrived for decades on its agitationist politics.
Another option would be for the PDP to form an alliance with the Congress (12 seats) and some independents (7). Congress, despite its multiple problems and its reduced size and popularity, is the only party which has a representation in all three regions of the state. Ideologically it is more acceptable in all three regions of the state and closer to the PDP. The other likely though otherwise unthinkable option, which surprisingly was thrown by Omar Abdullah, either inspired by opportunism or pragmatism, would be a PDP-NC alliance. This may sound absurd given the history of animosity between the two parties and the personality clash between the Muftis and the Abdullahs. However, both are ideologically akin and in a world where politics makes strange bedfellows, an alliance between them would not be as troublesome as an alliance of the BJP with either of them, which has little scope of providing any kind of stable governance given the very antagonistic views of the BJP from the PDP or the NC. The risk, however, is that both parties are considered largely Kashmir based parties, despite a sizeable presence and representation in the Jammu region.
Two events in Jammu and Kashmir’s electoral politics may be instructive for the PDP while making its choice. One is the 1983 elections when the Jammu region gave Congress 23 seats (plus 3 more in Srinagar and Ladakh), following Indira Gandhi’s aggressive campaigning pivoted around the Jammu card, and the Centre took no less than a year to engineer a split in the NC and pull the rug from under then chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s feet in which Mufti himself had played a pivotal role. Indira Gandhi’s passion to centralize authority, though most autocratic in nature, is no match for the RSS backed Narendra Modi. The other is the 1987 Rajiv-Farooq accord that created deep rooted resentment in Kashmir against the National Conference’s open alliance with a central party; resulting in the creation of Muslim United Front, a conglomerate of which veteran separatists leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Abdul Ghani Lone as well as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin were a part, and the ultimate rigging of polls. The co-relation between the Rajiv-Farooq accord and the rise of militancy is evident. Mufti, himself walked out of the Congress on this particular issue. In Kashmir, the BJP is a far greater pariah than Congress; Modi is still derided for his Gujarat role and the increasing footprints of the RSS across the Indian landscape evincing itself in the high pitched discourse of conversions and Godse worship creates an added insecurity in the minds of the Muslims, especially in the Valley.
In either case it is a massive risk for PDP’s Mufti, known for his political craft and shrewdness. Can he manage to sail through as he is caught between the devil and the deep sea? What would be his best possible bet? What he probably feels intimidated by is the prospect of vindictive outburst of Modi government in case he opts out of alliance, fearing its adverse impact on a working relation between the state government and the Centre. On the other side is a far bigger threat. Mufti was a staunch Congress loyalist when Jayaprakash Narayan started his movement against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule and the imposition of Emergency. What he cobbled up due to his lack of political acumen and miscalculation was an odd medley of ideologues including the RSS backed Jan Sangh into what came to be known as Janta Party. A great visionary, JP Narayan, regretted the moment years later for having given RSS a legitimate space in Indian politics and many of his staunch followers continue to criticise him for that massive blunder. Mufti is no match for the great visionary, who despite his follies, is recalled for his socialist appeal. In his short three year tenure as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti left his mark as a far more capable administrator than his contemporaries. In his moments of present distress, is he also conscious of how he would want to be remembered in posterity. Would he go down in history as a capable and seasoned politician or is he prepared to be recalled as the man who gave the saffron brigade a more legitimate share in Jammu and Kashmir’s already troubled politics?