Even after a high voter turnout that was witnessed for the first time in last 28 years, Jammu and Kashmir failed to get a government. Eighteen days after the results to tumultuous assembly elections were declared, political parties could not cobble up together to stake a claim. This resulted in state slipping into Governor’s rule and N N Vohra taking over the reins of the administration.
The Governor’s rule has disappointed people at large as they were expecting a government in place. Since Omar Abdullah, who headed the NC-Congress coalition for six years declined to continue as caretaker Chief Minister which he could have till January 18 when the term of the Assembly would end, there was no alternative but to fill the vacuum with a spell of Governor’s rule.
Not only the people had voted for a change, which was reflected in results and the look forward for better governance, but people particularly in Kashmir had pinned hopes for a speedy rehabilitation process for flood victims. Kashmir had seen severe floods in September affecting nearly a million people. A proper government is need of the hour to address their requirements.
However, the fractured mandate that these elections threw up has temporarily blocked the road to formation of a government. Not only were the seats divided among many parties but the clear division on the communal lines also played a significant role in this delay. As Jammu preferred BJP, this marked the beginning of the end of a fragile unity of a state that is diverse in nature. In contrast Kashmiris voted for all – from PDP to NC and Congress. Regional aspirations must have played a role in Kashmir but not the religion. Even as people were outraged on the hanging of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru during Congress led UPA, the Sopore constituency where from he hailed ironically returned a Congress candidate to the Assembly. Ladakh region, which has four seats, chose Congress, though by default. All the three out of four (one Independent won from Zanskar) were elected purely on their personality cult and not because of Congress, which has otherwise been routed in entire India.
Out of 87-member house, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the single largest party with 28 followed by BJP with 25, National Conference 15, Congress 12 and others 7. Both NC and Congress extended support to PDP to form the government to keep BJP away and this could be possible with the support of few independents. Reports suggested that both BJP and NC had a “failed” round of negotiations in Delhi two days after the results were declared. But both parties denied the same.
For PDP, the situation turned piquant. On the one hand they maintained that they couldn’t trust NC and going with Congress, according to a PDP insider was “against the mandate of people”, but on other they had to walk on a razor’s edge to deal with BJP.
Both PDP and BJP are ideologically poles apart. BJP’s integrationist agenda for Kashmir is diametrically opposite to PDP’s Self-Rule. Still they had opened up backchannel communication and even exchanged papers for stitching up an alliance. PDP’s patron and old horse of Kashmir politics, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, weighed more on having BJP alliance and to give time to mature it was not his worry. By exploring this option he wants to carry along the Jammu region, which has overwhelmingly voted for BJP. “There would be a vacuum if we would go with NC or PDP as there would be zero participation in the government from Jammu as no elected member could join cabinet from the Hindu dominated belt” a senior PDP leader explained. So the motive was to seek more time to find a middle road.
But Omar Abdullah’s decision to call it a day halfway prompted the Governor to recommend his rule. The talks between PDP and BJP have not been called off and BJP has not refused to discuss three crucial points of Mufti’s agenda, viz resumption of dialogue with Pakistan and separatists, keeping Article 370 off the table, strengthening cross LoC CBM’s and withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas. Sources say that structured dialogue could begin anytime. But the political grapevine is that BJP may further drag the process keeping in view the elections in Delhi scheduled to be held next month.
Not only are the non-BJP parties upping their ante against PDP but the separatists have also joined the chorus. Their standard response vis-à-vis elections have always been that it was a futile exercise. But with the changing situation in which BJP is poising to come into power in Jammu and Kashmir, even the hardest among hard-liners, Syed Ali Geelani, issued a literal warning to PDP. “If the state is handed over to the people having fascist ideologies, then a ‘do or die’ like situation will be created for our nation because our lives, property, faith and our culture will be in danger and with the help of armed forces, Kashmir would be made a testing lab for the projects like ‘home coming’ and ‘save daughter and bring daughter-in-law’.” he said adding that Muslim identity was at stake. This seems Mufti’s most testing time in his 50-year-long career.
Whatever unfolds in the coming weeks, the fact is that the state is in a chaotic situation where the administration has to be manned by a few bureaucrats. Successful elections, which always are a challenge in Jammu and Kashmir, had rekindled the hope for a stable government but it worsened those prospects and a commoner in Kashmir is fuming as why political parties could not put their inherent acrimony behind and move forward to give them a government they deserved. With Governor’s Rule in place, only worry now is that Delhi is not repeated in Jammu and Kashmir. No one wants a re-election in the state.
Originally published in Rising Kashmir on 14 January 2014