J&K Elections:

Will Some Political Process Take off at Last?

The defeat of the National Conference, especially the electoral humiliation suffered by the Abdullahs, has been advertised as the most irrefutable evidence of the fairness of the latest electoral exercise in the valley. By the same token, the political uncertainty that has been prevailing for the last few weeks in Srinagar about the shape of the next government in Jammu and Kashmir can perhaps be claimed to be the surest sign of the unmistakable Indianness of Kashmir!

Indeed, the results thrown up by the J&K polls bear a striking resemblance to the outcome of the UP elections held earlier this year. The BJP fought both the polls on an anti-terrorist anti-Pakistan plank and lost miserably. Of course, while in UP the BJP had lost its own government, in J&K it has scripted the NC's downfall. Both elections produced hung houses and even though the arithmetic in Srinagar initially looked easier on the surface than the Lucknow game of numbers, both states have had to be subjected to an interregnum of President's/Governor's rule while the players try various combinations to complete the jigsaw of government formation. Ironically, even as the Congress and PDP try to work out a joint venture agreement on the lines of the original BJP-BSP deal, the present equation in Lucknow is once again threatening to come unstuck!

If in spite of a high degree of tactical convergence as well as strategic proximity, the BJP and BSP are still finding it difficult to play ball, a Congress-PDP arrangement is perhaps destined to prove even more difficult, at least as difficult as a BJP-NC nexus in Jammu and Kashmir. True, the Congress does not call for scrapping Article 370, nor does it subscribe to the idea of trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. But it is during the four decades of Congress rule at the Centre that Article 370 was systematically subverted and reduced to a crumpled piece of paper; and in the just concluded elections it was the Congress which really stole the Jammu plank from the BJP by promising a Chief Minister from Jammu. By contrast, the PDP, in spite of its roots in the Congress history, could carve out a space for itself in the valley only by raising such 'taboo' issues as state repression and human rights violations and demanding disbanding of the notorious Special Operations Group and initiation of unconditional talks with both militants and Pakistan.

The point therefore is not whether the Congress can engineer a split in PDP to get the magic numbers or force the PDP to come round under the threat of horse-trading. The point is the nature and direction of the post-NC political arrangement that is going to emerge between the Congress, PDP and other smaller parties and independents. It is the valley which has been aggrieved and alienated thoroughly and it is only the PDP's participation on such a plank that could strike some chord with sections of the Kashmiri electorate. If a government is now formed on the basis of negation of this very plank, the outcome could indeed prove disastrous.

The mockery and murder of democracy in the 1987 elections followed by the deployment of Jag Mohan as the BJP-prescribed Governor during VP Singh's tenure had been a major factor behind the rise of militancy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ironically, it was none other than Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who then served as the Union Home Minister in VP Singh's cabinet. Today, the Mufti has made a comeback at the head of the PDP and contrary to the spectacle of Omar Abdullah riding on the coattails of father Farooq, the Mufti's comeback has probably been aided considerably by the goodwill generated by the efforts put in by his daughter Mehbooba.

In 1948, Kashmiris had fought and sacrificed against the Pakistani Army on India's side only to be betrayed and let down by successive Indian governments. This time around, once again thousands of Kashmiris have defied bullets and risked their lives to take part in an election that, though far from being free and fair, seems to have opened up a small possibility of the beginning of a credible political process. If, however, the expectations aroused are allowed to be belied, we may well be squandering away one of the last chances of finding an amicable political solution to the Kashmir question.

To be sure, the elections have produced a number of positive and reassuring signals. The rout of the BJP its RSS-backed ally, the Jammu State Morcha, has made it clear that in spite of the best attempts of RSS, the idea of trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir on a communal basis does not yet have many takers in the state. By contrast, the CPI(M)'s victory in two seats from the valley held out welcome possibilities for a stronger future for Left politics in the state. Indeed, the CPI(M) could make great use of this beginning to set the tone and stage for a democratic solution of the Kashmir question. But the party's role so far in the state seems to have been just a continuation of its role in UP or Delhi. It will really be a shame if brokering a deal between the Congress and the PDP, that too more as the former's trusted lieutenant, were to prove the biggest priority for the CPI(M) in Kashmir.

-- DB