COVER STORY

Break-up plan

By ending coalition with PDP, BJP is building a nationalistic narrative for LS polls

PTI4_19_2016_000078B Learning the hard way: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Mehbooba Mufti | PTI

In March 2015, three months after the elections in Jammu and Kashmir threw up a hung assembly, the BJP surprised many people by aligning with the Peoples Democratic Party, which is on the other extreme of the ideological spectrum. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah were only a few months into their responsibilities might be a reason behind the unlikely friendship. After all, sharing power for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir seemed like a step towards completing the agenda of the saffron family.

Three years later, however, the Kashmir issue was nowhere near a solution the founding fathers of the BJP and the RSS had envisaged. The return of Kashmiri Pandits, abolition of Article 370, and the implementation of the uniform civil code have been on the BJP’s manifesto ever since the party’s inception. In fact, Kashmir had been an emotive issue for the BJP’s core vote bank, which felt the party was giving far too many concessions to the PDP to keep the alliance. The rising body count of Army personnel, the increasing number of cases registered against Army men and the increasing instances of stone pelting were often used as arguments in favour of a stricter approach in the valley.

By pulling the plug on the alliance, it seems, the BJP is trying to appease the hardcore Hindutva constituency whose discontent had begun to trouble the party. It was apparent in many by-polls, as its cadre did not come out to vote, resulting in some humiliating losses. “It will be a morale booster for our cadre not only in the Jammu region but also the entire country,” said a Union minister. Even the RSS, which has been deeply involved in the way the Centre dealt with the state, had cautioned Modi and Shah on the worsening situation in the valley and the need to stem it.

The BJP is trying to build up a strong nationalistic narrative for the next elections. “We may not lose so much in the state, as this break up hurt the PDP the most,” said a BJP leader. “There are chances of that party breaking up.”

Independent observers, however, point out that the break up would further push both the BJP and the PDP to pursue their hardcore positions. All the PDP legislators are from the valley, and they would stick to regional sentiment, which is against the Centre. But, for now, the state is likely to witness a massive escalation of armed forces offensive against the militants.

Shah will be travelling to Jammu to mark the death anniversary of the party’s founding father Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who died while agitating against a separate constitution and flag for Kashmir. The party will present its withdrawal from the alliance as a sacrifice in line with that of Mookerjee.

Ironically, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav cited national interest as the reason for the breakup. Madhav, who was instrumental in stitching up an alliance with the PDP, had then also said that it was made keeping in mind the national interest. He blamed chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for the non-utilisation of the Centre’s assistance for development work.

During the elections, the BJP will try to cash in on the use of Central funds in Jammu and Ladakh. “It was for the first time that funds were used equitably in all regions; earlier the focus was only on the valley,” said a BJP leader. Governor’s rule would give more power to the BJP to use funds where it wants it to be used.

In 2011, the BJP won three of the six Lok Sabha seats in the state—all in Jammu and Ladakh regions. The PDP won the other three seats—all in the Kashmir valley. So, the breakup sends a signal in the constituencies held by the BJP, as the antagonism between the two regions has increased.

As the BJP is gearing up for a Modi versus all fight, every policy and event in the run-up to the elections would present Modi as the only solution. Even for Kashmir.