Mehbooba and the BJP
0 comments | by M. Saeed Khalid
The ruthless use of power can prolong armed occupation but it cannot win the hearts and minds of the people. This is the lesson to be drawn from the lukewarm response of the Kashmiris to India’s latest show of democracy in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The Kashmiris neither trust nor participate in elections held under Indian military occupation. They have rejected the government’s one-sided exercises and have persisted with their demand of self-determination. A hundred thousand of them have laid down their lives for the cause of a free Kashmir. Thousands more have been imprisoned, tortured and raped.
The real leaders of the Kashmiri people are carrying on their struggle, insisting that no headway can be made without talks between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. The BJP, which came to power in India after a massive victory in the 2014 election, has been trying just the reverse in Indian-Held Kashmir. Short of imposing an indefinite governor’s rule, the BJP leadership has used every method to muscle its way to power in the territory.
Modi promised the Indian voters that he could repeat the ‘Gujarat model’ of development for the rest of India. We know how badly he has failed in fulfilling that promise. But intoxicated by India’s hold of Jammu and Kashmir – with the help of over half a million soldiers, the BJP continues with its cynical approach to rule, if not win, the Kashmiri people. They refuse to read the writing on the wall that the Kashmiris will not abandon their just struggle for some basic development projects.
The result of the BJP’s domineering attitude is that IHK’s main pro-India party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) now feels oppressed like the others. A long-term faithful of successive Indian governments, the late coalition leader, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed provoked the lasting ire of the BJP by thanking the separatists and Pakistan for the success of the December 2014 legislative election. The guardians of the world’s largest democracy never forgave him for calling a spade a spade.
The Indians could have done some introspection instead, and asked themselves what led people like Mufti Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba, both having begun their political career in the Congress party, to eventually vent their utter frustration with the Indian refusal to treat the Kashmiris as humans and abandon a decades-old system of repression. Alienation in Kashmir has only grown, and the political space for Kashmiris has narrowed with the passage of time, and more so because of the BJP’s policy of dominating the governance of Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir is abuzz, more with fear than expectation, after the oath-taking of Mehbooba Mufti as the first woman chief minister. Overwhelmed by the enormity of her task, Mehbooba was less than keen to assume the top executive position in IHK, to avoid failure in working with an overbearing coalition partner like the BJP. According to former RAW chief A S Dulat, while senior PDP leaders were desperate for power, Mehbooba was more concerned about getting recognition for herself. “For her, Mufti Sahab’s place in history, having taken a battering in the last one year, and her own image, as she perceives it, are more important” (The Hindu).
After playing hard ball with someone in grief over the loss of her father and the PDP’s late leader, Modi consented to meet Mehbooba before embarking on his international travels at the end of March, to clear the way for her assumption of office and to bring to an end the speculation over a long spell of governor’s rule. Never mind the Kashmir reality, India’s image as a democracy is always a priority for its Indian leaders.
It is not clear if Mehbooba received any assurances from the top BJP leadership or if she agreed to work for the same wages as her late father, who was seen lamenting the BJP’s betrayal in implementing the Agenda for Alliance (agreed before Mufti Sayeed took office a year ago) on his deathbed.
Those Kashmiris who had hoped for some improvement in the centre’s step-motherly treatment of IHK are conscious of the broken promises of the past year. Development projects like smart cities and power plants remain unfulfilled, commercial assets occupied by the Indian forces were not returned and flood victims did not receive the promised assistance. The trust deficit towards the BJP has grown further.
The BJP, though keen to rule, gives no indication of accommodating the Kashmiris’ grievances and is contributing to the Jammu (Hindu) and Kashmir (Muslim) polarisation in the coalition. This has led some Kashmiris to propose that the PDP should seek cooperation with the National Conference and keep the BJP out of the coalition. That, however, would be a sure way of pitting the centre against the Kashmiri leadership and creating greater turmoil in IHK. Omar Abdullah reacted to these suggestions by saying that he would prefer mid-term elections over horse-trading.
After having accepted the BJP’s tutelage, Mehbooba faces the prospect of losing whatever is left of her much-hyped grassroots-level support. The Indians do not fully trust her and see the PDP as a soft separatist. Mehbooba, in general, is seen as heading an ideologically incompatible coalition. In the broader context, she has a Hindutva-driven BJP on one side and the fortune hunters of the National Conference on the other – both waiting for her to make mistakes and improve their own standing.
However, all this is perceived by a majority of the Kashmiri Muslims as a political circus run from New Delhi, to prolong its occupation of two thirds of Jammu and Kashmir, against the wishes of its people. Worse, India’s tolerance for any meaningful dialogue to resolve the dispute has receded under Modi’s premiership.