Politics makes strange bedfellows -Charles Dudley Warner
Last week was quite eventful in Kashmir politics. It all started on Wednesday, with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its arch-rival National Conference (NC) deciding to team up with the Congress for a shot at government formation, claiming the support of 56 legislators in the 87-member assembly. As if it was not interesting enough, Sajjad Lone of People’s Conference, staked a rival claim, boasting of the support from 25 BJP legislators and “more than 18” others. However, the dramatic developments of the day ended in anti-climax with Governor S P Malik deciding to dissolve the state assembly under rather contentious circumstances, strangely involving a fax machine at Raj Bhavan.
While the rumours of Sajjad Lone trying to become the next CM with active support of BJP and rebel PDP legislators were making rounds for some time, the announcement of NC and PDP coming together to form a grand alliance government with Congress in tow came as a big surprise.
However, it was not for the first time that the NC-PDP alliance was explored. Infact, after the last assembly elections threw a fractured mandate, it was Omar Abdullah who spoke about the possibility of NC-PDP coalition. His offer made bigger news even as BJP and Congress were also competing to woo Mufti’s attention for an alliance. Mufti eventually fell for BJP’s assurances enshrined under Agenda of Alliance.
Last week’s developments have once again got people talking about the different alliance options and their implications. While some Kashmiris seem to relish the possibility of an all-Kashmir PDP-NC alliance, people of Jammu would perhaps be looking forward to see a BJP coalition government in place since they voted overwhelmingly in its favour last time around.
Congress will be more than happy if it is able to contribute to a regional alliance so that BJP is kept out of the government in J&K. For many people in Kashmir, Congress may seem a lesser evil than BJP. The Rahul Gandhi-led party has shared power in the state with both regional parties. Its alliance with PDP was cut short by Amarnath land transfer agitation which polarized the state on communal lines while the expectations raised by its alliance with NC under Omar Abdullah was also marked by disappointment with 2010 mass uprising pushing people to the wall.
In 2015, Omar's argument was that if Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad could come together, so could he and Mufti. It was indeed unimaginable to see Nitish and Lalu together till they actually joined hands to keep the BJP out of power in Bihar.
They launched a joint campaign and defeated the BJP in 2015. Nitish and Lalu had overcome 20 years of bitter political rivalry but the friendship last only 20 months. Nitish dumped the RJD and Congress to end the Grand Alliance and stitched a coalition with BJP instead.
Though the Bihar experiment ended in a disaster, it would be unfair to draw similar conclusion about NC-PDP coalition if it ever comes into being. While Abdullahs and Muftis have been bitter political rivals, some people may actually fancy the possibility of a PDP-NC government, particularly as they are on same page when it comes to protect the special status of the state unlike BJP which wants it scrapped.
With Supreme Court set to hear petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A in January and the plea challenging Article 370 in April, it won’t be a surprise if NC and PDP fight the next state elections on the same poll plank of protecting the special status of J&K.
BJP will run a counter campaign in Jammu promising to scrap Article 370 and Art 35-A, and paving way to complete merger of the state with India. BJP will target both NC and PDP to consolidate its Hindu-majority vote bank. While one can predict how the election campaign will pan out, it remains to be seen if Sajjad Lone and company will remain BJP loyalists.
Those buoyed by the prospect of NC-PDP alliance tend to ignore the mandate of people in Jammu region and its impact on the government formation in the state. The fact remains that people in Jammu embraced BJP in the hope of ending the Kashmir-centric political monopoly and there is every reason that they will do it again. The political pundits also overlook the fact that irrespective of whether BJP comes to power or not, the meddling into J&K’s affairs by Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre is inevitable. They can do it by so many means besides just pulling the purse strings.
In the last polls, people gave a tough equation for the politicians to work out. The 2014 elections saw votes being polarized and the state being vertically divided. There is every likelihood that we will face similar scenario in 2019. Mufti Sayeed’s decision to ally with BJP in 2015 was fraught with long-term implications, which will dictate the course of J&K politics even in the coming times.
Back to the famous quote of Charles Dudley Warner, political interests can indeed bring together people who otherwise have little in common. Whether it was PDP-BJP coalition in the past or possible PDP-NC alliance in future, both the arrangements make up for strange bedfellows.