Disastrous alliance in Jammu and Kashmir4 min read . Updated: 16 Mar 2014, 10:06 PM IST
Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah have unwittingly set the ball rolling for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir
Sixty six years ago, at the Marxist inspired Lal Chowk in Srinagar, Sheikh Abdullah proclaimed his ideological merger with Jawaharlal Nehru using a sufist idiom.
He recited Amir Khusrau’s Persian couplet, Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi, Mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi. (I have become you and you me, I the body, you the soul). The symbolism of the merger of Kashmir with India was too apparent not to be recognized.
Those were heady times. It must have been a charged moment as the offer Abdullah made was extraordinary.
The manner in which it was announced was veiled but idealistic, almost romantic.
What has it all come to? The great grandson of Nehru pledged support for the grandson of Sheikh Abdullah in plebian terms.
Rahul Gandhi, on his last visit to Kashmir valley, expressed his support saying, “Omar mera dost hai" (Omar is my friend). It is only this personal friendship that underlies the pre-poll alliance between Congress and the National Conference (NC). Otherwise, less than a month ago the entire local Congress leadership had in unison strongly opposed a pre-poll alliance with the NC.
This is the fourth edition of the original Nehru-Abdullah family saga. The precedents to the latest episode portend to be ominous. After the Nehru-Abdullah agreement in 1951, came the Indira-Abdullah accord in 1975 followed by the Rajiv-Farooq pact in 1987. The Omar-Rahul partnership is the latest rendition of this story.
For the dramatis personae, these accords, pacts and partnerships haven’t been memorable at all. The first agreement resulted in the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, then prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). After the second, he was ousted from the chair of chief minister. The third alliance resulted in Farooq Abdullah’s dismissal.
For the people of J&K, too, these have been disastrous alliances. The Nehru-Abdullah accord was followed, after Sheikh’s dismissal, by the complete erosion of Article 370 of the Constitution that granted special status to J&K. The Rajiv-Farooq alliance resulted in the emergence of militancy in J&K. Even though the Rahul-Omar alliance pales into insignificance compared with the 1975 arrangement—its impact will be far more dangerous.
All the earlier alliances by the NC were agreed to from a position of strength. The sole purpose was to have the Union government on its right side. Now, with its vote share plummeting from a high of 46% in 1984 to a low of 19% in 2009, the NC is seeking alliances from a weak position. Rahul Gandhi, on his part hemmed all around, sees a ray of hope in J&K.
In this desperate situation, the two have stitched an alliance that could well be the beginning of the end: a trifurcation of the state.
With the pre-poll alliance having been tied up for the national election, a similar arrangement for the assembly elections later in the year is now a certainty.
Looking beyond the reasons of why this alliance is being firmed up, overriding party advice and interest, the real issue is what will be its impact, not on the electoral arithmetic but the political landscape.
First, being a pre-poll alliance it disturbs the extant political structure. It is not just a governance pact as in a post-poll alliance. In a pre-poll arrangement, there are issues of political ideology and socio-political identity of not just the parties but of the people associated with the parties.
Second, in the Rahul-Omar alliance the NC has conceded that it is no longer a pan J&K party. It has shrunk to being a valley-based outfit. With South Kashmir being a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) bastion, NC has actually been reduced to a north and central Kashmir outfit.
Third, by dividing the state among them—Kashmir to NC and Jammu to the Congress—the alliance further accentuates the already existing extreme differentiation between the two regions of the state in terms of ethnicity, language, religion and geography.
What will bind these two regions together? Certainly not an administrative set up especially one that is dominated by people who belong to neither to Jammu nor to Kashmir.
Mainstream political parties, in particular the NC, have been the glue holding the state together. But with this alliance that binding force is weakened, if not altogether over.
With the only pan-J&K regional party abdicating its role and responsibility, a national party, the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party, will dominate the electoral fray in Jammu. In contrast, with Congress giving up its toehold in the valley, regional parties, NC and PDP, will hold sway. This will make the valley politically even more insular and isolated.
From here on, perceiving Jammu as part of the national mainstream and Kashmir as a preserve of sub-nationalists, or autonomists or separatists is a wink away. Even as this alliance brings Jammu closer to New Delhi, it distances Jammu from Kashmir and the valley from New Delhi.
Haseeb A. Drabu is an economist, and writes on monetary and macroeconomic matters from the perspective of policy and practice.
To read Haseeb A. Drabu’s earlier columns, go to www.livemint.com/methodandmanner