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Maintaining a ‘Respectful’ Distance

Rekha Chowdhary (rekchowdhary@gmail.com) is a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Niwas, Shimla and author of Jammu and Kashmir: Politics of Identity and Separatism (2016).

Any intrusion in the local politics of J&K will erode mainstream political space and boost separatist politics.

Rekha Chowdhary writes:

The decision of the governor of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to dissolve the assembly, five months after the fall of the Peoples Democratic Party–Bharatiya Janata Party (PDP–BJP) government forms another important “political moment” in the history of Kashmir’s politics. This is so, not only for the immediate fallout that it has for various political actors in the state, but also for the already precarious democratic space and the popular perceptions about the central government.

The decision became controversial as it came soon after PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti staked a claim to form the government with the support of the J&K National Conference (JKNC) and Congress. Meanwhile, a counterclaim was also, made by Sajjad Gani Lone, leader of J&K People’s Conference (JKPC) with the support of the BJP.

Paradoxically, the JKNC and PDP had been vociferously demanding the dissolution of the assembly, which had been kept in “suspended animation” after the fall of the PDP–BJP government. This demand was raised amidst speculations that the BJP was making efforts to form a government with the support of the JKPC and a few defectors mainly from the PDP, but also other parties, including the JKNC and Congress. When the idea of a third front was floated by Lone, a few prominent members of the PDP openly expressed their desire to join it.

The idea of a grand alliance between the JKNC, PDP, and Congress, therefore, was aimed at outmanoeuvring the BJP and stalling the possibility of a third front–BJP government. That is why, though the PDP and JKNC have criticised the decision of the governor, accusing him of partisanship, the dissolution of the assembly is to their satisfaction. These parties have succeeded in warding off the danger of destabilisation that was looming large over them. The danger was particularly real for the barely two-decade-old PDP, as it faced decimation in the face of a split. Though not as bad, the situation was not congenial even for the JKNC. Having lost its dominant position in the state’s politics with the emergence of the PDP and failing even in maintaining its position as the largest party in the Valley after the 2014 assembly elections, it faced the new danger of being further pushed to the margins with the possibility of the emergence of a third force led by the JKPC.

Seen from the short-term perspective, one can say that with the dissolution of the assembly the crisis faced by the PDP has been averted and the JKNC has gained some brownie points by not only coming to the rescue of its arch-rival, the PDP, but also by serving the “Kashmiri interest” by keeping the BJP at bay. However, in the final analysis this whole episode has made a big dent in the democratic politics of Kashmir. This politics—it needs to be emphasised—had gained sufficient credibility and depth in the last one-and-a-half decades. Despite the fact that separatism continued to prevail, the popular faith in democratic politics also increased. This was not a small feat considering the fact that mainstream politics had completely collapsed in the wake of militancy and separatism in 1989. It was the excessively intrusive role of the Congress as the ruling party at the centre and its manipulations vis-à-vis the power politics of the state that had pushed J&K to this situation. In its ambitions to control the power politics of the state, the Congress, after engineering defections in the JKNC in 1984, had removed the Farooq Abdullah government and replaced it with the unpopular government of defectors under the leadership of G M Shah. The unpopular JKNC–Congress alliance of 1986 that followed and the debacle of the 1987 assembly elections, perceived to be highly manipulated, had completely disillusioned the Kashmiris regarding a democratic politics. It, therefore, took a lot of effort and political investment on the part of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to restore the faith of Kashmiris in power politics. In 2002, he not only made a commitment for a “free and fair election,” but also ensured a respectful distance of the centre from the power politics of the state. This had its long-term implications in grounding the electoral politics in local logic, and invigorating and expanding the democratic space in the process.

Seen from that perspective, the present episode does not bode well for the future of democracy in Kashmir. The BJP’s efforts to form a government by breaking the local parties has not only regenerated the discourse of “manipulations,” but has also made political analysts draw parallels with the mani­pulative role of the Congress during 1984–87. This is not good news, especially at a time when Kashmir is witnessing an upsurge in militancy and separatism. With the political situation being so precarious, any intrusion in the local politics would not only further erode the mainstream political space, but also give a push to separatist politics. For the situation as it stands, democratic politics needs to be strengthened and not be subjected to political manoeuvrings to serve the political interests of a particular party.

 

 

Updated On : 17th Dec, 2018

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