The balance of national interest and political interest is always a tricky play in security situations. By that shifting rubric Jammu and Kashmir could be eyeing more violence and fracture. The formal withdrawal of support on 19 June by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to its partner in Kashmir’s chaos, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will have feathered that future.
It could also cauterize Kashmir and offer electoral gain—for the BJP, that is.
For four years, the BJP and PDP have danced an uneasy tangle ever since a fractured mandate in J&K elections in late-2014 brought together these allies of inconvenience, with PDP notionally the senior partner and the BJP assuming the role of over-arching deputy. Slim upswings, like statements in the early days of the alliance to place development over heavy-handed administration, were claimed by both. Credit imbalance massively arrived with unrest and violence that erupted in mid-2016 after the killing by security forces of the militant commander Burhan Wani. It was dealt with by bullets and pellets against a belligerent civilian population. PDP pushed empathy. BJP-mandated central forces came off as demons.
The BJP partly recovered when the security apparatus claimed a strong showing against militants in 2017, slaying and interdicting them in large numbers. The carrot arrived in late October 2017 with the appointment, as the Union home ministry put it, of a representative to spearhead a process of “sustained dialogue". Dineshwar Sharma, until December 2016 the director of the Intelligence Bureau, was named interlocutor for that dialogue.
The illusion of relative calm began to spectacularly fall apart after the Kathua rape case in January 2018 in the largely pro-BJP Jammu region. It blew up in the face of the BJP when several of its leaders, including J&K’s deputy chief minister, played down the incident. The Ramzan ceasefire by security forces—unsurprisingly, not reciprocated either by militants or their Pakistan-based patrons—seen as a Mehbooba move over the objections of the BJP-led national security apparatus, further frayed the alliance. The killing last week of the respected editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, gave the BJP the last straw-trigger of a plummeting law and order situation that it required to pull the plug on the alliance.
In early May, the commentator Barkha Dutt had in a perceptive essay in the Hindustan Times flagged the impending fracture between the PDP and BJP. Dutt bluntly stated that “the BJP has more to gain from walking out of the alliance; the PDP has more to lose by staying".
The BJP blinked first—in its eyes, gainfully. The call to break away is being portrayed by the BJP spin meisters as being in the national interest. But observe the BJP’s interest. The rupture in J&K will shore up its support in the Jammu region and will please hardline adherents there and nationwide. This will form an important nationalistic plank in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, Sharma will now at best be retained to be projected as Dialogue Man as and whenever Delhi needs to project a benevolent aura. Of course, as before, he won’t possess super powers, but operate, if at all, with suppressed powers.
The break can bring other hawkish deliverables. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), spiritual guide to the current BJP-led central government, has for long attempted to isolate Kashmir from Jammu and Kashmir. As far back as 2002, in the run-up to assembly elections, the Jammu State Morcha, a coalition of small parties and independent candidates, was guided by the RSS to demand statehood for the Jammu region. A senior RSS functionary I met in Jammu at the time claimed it was a logical move.
As I have written earlier, this logic has also existed even beyond right-wing silos for some years. It’s essentially a trifurcation of present-day Jammu and Kashmir: Kashmir Valley its own entity; Jammu a state; and Ladakh perhaps a Union territory directly administered by New Delhi.
Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun and Highway 39. This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.