A historic day for Jammu & Kashmir3 min read . Updated: 02 Mar 2015, 08:41 AM IST
It is a moment at which the narrative of the politics of Kashmir is about to change
New Delhi: On Sunday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) created history in Jammu and Kashmir. The otherwise ideologically opposed parties came together to form a grand alliance—akin to what the Democratic Unionist Party and the Sinn Fein put together to end years of violence in Northern Ireland —to form the next government in the state. It is what Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the new chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, described so succinctly: “It is like bringing together of the North Pole and the South Pole."
It is a moment at which the narrative of the politics of Kashmir is about to change. Both sides have compromised their otherwise stated positions on contentious issues like Article 370 of the Indian Constitution according special power to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the process, they have provided a grand platform for all stakeholders, including Pakistan, to reset their positions and look at an entirely new phase for the otherwise troubled state.
Just as the PDP emerged as the principal party in the Kashmir valley, trouncing the National Conference, the BJP achieved a similar mandate in Jammu. Individually, both fell short of a majority. And in an unthinkable, both decided to join in what historians describe as a “grand alliance" (the coming together of two fundamentally different political parties).
A more erudite justification was provided by Sumantra Bose, the scholar from London School of Economics, in a piece published in Mint immediately after the electoral outcome. “The outcome of the 2014 assembly election presents a historic opportunity to bridge two divides. The first is the divide between the Jammu and Kashmir regions of the state. The second is the divide between the Kashmir Valley and the Indian Union." (mintne.ws/1AKA5zC)
It is a tricky deal. And this was visible on the first day itself. Not due to any differences among the allies. Instead, breathless reporters, particularly of the electronic media, kept pushing Sayeed—particularly on Pakistan—on the contentious issues, which both sides have wisely set aside to bring out the Common Minimum Programme. Their sense of indignation was baffling.
It is my sense that the biggest losers of the historic moment in Jammu and Kashmir are the grievance mongers. It has, like poverty alleviation, emerged as a cottage industry and become a lucrative source for many. Peace in the state and consequently with Pakistan can spell wonders for the state and India, but doom for this tribe.
The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) document, which unfortunately was not discussed at the press conference, is a remarkable effort to rewrite the development paradigm in a state where the discourse has often been defined in terms of a binary logic: as an “either-or". The PDP-BJP deal is seeking to argue that there is another way.
I recall a conversation with Haseeb Drabu—a minister in Sayeed’s cabinet, a Mint columnist and an economist—where he revealed how the electorate in his constituency was willing to engage with him on his development agenda—essentially providing electricity to light up homes. So he promptly recalibrated his message and focused on development to win what was emerging as an otherwise tight electoral fight.
It is the same thinking that Drabu carried to the CMP, a document he helped draft. It seeks to, among other things, convert greater Srinagar and Jammu into smart cities, provide state-of-the-art urban facilities in all towns with population of above 30,000 and less than a lakh (creating a new tier of urbanization across the state), create an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), locate one of the 4,000 MW Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs) in the state, and give industry status to traditional crops like saffron and apples from
the state. But for this to happen, the popular narrative has to change. The people of Kashmir have a legitimate grouse: being treated as subjects as opposed to citizens of India.
The BJP, which won the national democratic mandate with a record 282 seats in the 16th general election, understands this and is willing to meet the PDP half way. But the best intentions can come apart for the most trivial of reasons. And television news channels on Sunday evening confirmed that these fears are legitimate. Presumably, the people of India are wiser—as they have shown us in every election—and won’t get taken in by such grandstanding.
As Bose puts it: “The result in Jammu and Kashmir has thrown up the tantalizing possibility of a modus vivendi between Indian nationalism and Kashmiri regionalism. It should not be wasted."
Anil Padmanabhan is deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus.