A tough week for the BJP in Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh: a normal week for J&K politics
It has been a hard week for the BJP. First, Thubstan Chhewang, the BJP’s stalwart in Leh, and that district’s most valued politician for the last quarter century, resigned from both the party and his MP’s seat in the Lok Sabha. Mr. Chhewang’s reasons were outed even as the BJP’s spokesperson for J&K tried to manipulate and distort them by consigning him to a life of a sanyasin. He angrily denied this rationale and stated that he had resigned because the BJP had neither lived up to its promises nor given him the courtesy of a proper hearing. Simply put, he was insulted. Second, there was the numerically impossible and aesthetically inelegant rush back from London by Sajjad Gani Lone, enhancing his “globalized image”, to form a Peoples Conference led government, only to have his hopes dashed. And third, the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference and the Congress suddenly and dramatically formed a tactical alliance. The reasons given for this dramatic move ranged from an altruistic desire to “save Article 35A” and to the “need to keep the BJP out” of the State’s power share. It was an odd goal for the PDP to strive for, but then we cannot” hope to understand everything! Fourth, and to dash all hopes, the Governor, claimed that he was frustrated with “horse-trading” and dissolved the Assembly to retain power with Raj Bhavan, the “Ruling Mansion”.
For any Kashmir watcher, analyst or commentator to be surprised at these antics is to risk being called a rank novice in the political affairs of the J&K State. Why would anyone be startled by this turn of events? After all, we knew that the newly appointed Governor, a former BJP politician, came here after a stint in the same position in Bihar, where he distinguished himself with repeated partisan decisions. The People’s Conference’s tilt at windmills was predictable also, given the unstinting support it has given the BJP in the state, indeed more solid than the PDP’s during the PDP-BJP coalition. The state’s own version of a “mahaghatbandhan”, it must be admitted, was a bit of a (pleasant) surprise, but it was not devoid of opportunism (no surprise there) either, given the irony of a former political partner now turned rival. As for Mr. Chhewang in Leh, as a puritanical leader he was disappointed at the let-down by an even more puritanical BJP which must have fed his fear of “Muslim-Kashmiri” domination. But then he did not follow his erstwhile party’s policy trajectory in scantily populated regions in the Himalaya, where the BJP has liberally spread money but done little for people. The BJP’s miscalculation betrays its casual attitude towards partners because, throughout his career, whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, Mr. Chhewang has been fiscally incorruptible.
There may not be much to analyze in all this, but the minutiae of events allow for some analysis. The Peoples Conference was the first party, it appears, to stake a claim at government formation, with a claim of support from 43 MLAs (one short of the 44 needed). The PDP was next, claiming support from 56 MLAs. Mysteriously, both claims found that the Governor’s fax machine, a late 20th century invention, was not working. (One wonders why the early 21st century invention of the internet was not used or, for that matter, the early 20th century invention of the telephone.) But then, again a bit mysteriously, the fax began to work when the orders for dissolution of the Assembly was sent. (A display of 21st century efficiency, one supposes!)
More importantly, the timing of the moves on all sides of the fence showed a curious convergence. Why did the Ruling Mansion not dissolve the Assembly immediately after the government fell? Similarly, why did the PDP, NC and the Congress wait so long to form their alliance? I leave the reader to speculate, but will attempt a speculation of my own. The PDP had everything to gain by testing the resilience of the electorate’s memory of its betrayal of their trust and its resolute clinging to power for more than three years as the state descended into political chaos. Meanwhile, the NC and the Congress had nothing to lose from supporting an outright rival and sometime ally respectively. It would also give them a chance to test the waters of the mood of the electorate.
How are we to read these old-new developments? Some quick thoughts.
One: it is a case of flogging a dead horse. In this case, what is “dead” is democracy. It has been so in Kashmir overtly – and unapologetically – for thirty years now. We in Kashmir know that, but many others in the world do not. So, the Governor’s desire for “elections” and an elected government, he may have hoped, would restore India’s democratic credentials to the world outside J&K. The “horse” in this case is Delhi’s penchant for procuratorial governance in J&K. The alliance between the NC and the PDP is a threat not just to the BJP, but to Delhi. Unity within the state threatens all of Delhi’s designs in J&K for the last quarter-century and more. In this context, the inclusion of the Congress in the short-lived attempt at a grand alliance symbolizes the kabab me haddi, or “fly in the ointment”. The Congress is the permanent (Trojan) “horse”. And for good measure, Mr. Lone and his party are being groomed as the new indigenous (Trojan) horse, should it be needed. It readies Kashmir for a scenario where the arrogance of power can be exploited to the hilt.
That said, none of the above surprises Kashmir and its peoples. There is an eerie silence amidst the amazing anti-democracy. Given that, what should worry Delhi is that despite this knowledge, Kashmir is not howling “foul play”, “unjust politics”, or “murder of democracy”. The silence is not because of ignorance.
As for the BJP, it its disintegration in Leh and fragility in Jammu are considered, this normal week of politics in the state may hold some abnormal surprises for it in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, regardless of that party’s loyalty to dead democracy in Kashmir, Ladakh and Jammu. And if it intends continued central rule in Kashmir for the next six months and then “declare” elections concurrently with the Lok Sabha elections, the state may be in for a volatile six months.