<b>Archis Mohan:</b> Now they are together, now they are not

The recent patch-up between the PDP and the BJP may only be a remarriage of convenience where divorce is looming on the horizon


Archis Mohan
In Jammu as well as in the Kashmir Valley, the rapprochement between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is viewed as a remarriage of convenience, where the next round of mutual recrimination and the eventual divorce are not far away. The curiosity, if any, is when and how the two partners choose to publicly rub each other's noses in the dust.

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 22. She termed her meeting with Modi "very positive". The media, in the absence of any official word from the BJP, inferred that the PDP-BJP compromise was all but sealed. But BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav rushed to clarify that "government formation is not talked at the level of the prime minister, but at the party level". He continued to stress that the BJP had "not accepted any new condition from the PDP".

Mehbooba had refused to form the government with the BJP in the absence of fresh assurances by the Centre on several issues after her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed passed away on January 7. For what has been a source of much heartburn for the BJP's central leadership, the 56-year-old has made them dance to her tunes. BJP President Amit Shah has met her more than once while she has kept Madhav on tenterhooks.

The BJP's local leadership, however, has shown a better assessment of Mehbooba's moves. It had consistently advised the party's central leaders to be patient with the PDP leader. Leaders such as Nirmal Singh, deputy chief minister in the Mufti government, had conveyed to the central leaders that Mehbooba needed to establish herself as the true inheritor of her father's legacy. He said the PDP chief wished to be seen as a leader who will not surrender Kashmir's interests for the lure of power, in Kashmir and more importantly, within her own party.

The last couple of months have given Mehbooba that space, and to its credit the BJP has dealt with the political situation in a border state with adequate sensitivity. Madhav's statements that no ground was conceded is to keep the BJP's core support base satisfied that the party did not surrender to the PDP. But the word from the local BJP unit was unanimous from the beginning that a government should be in place sooner than later.

In the 2014 Assembly elections, the BJP had received its best-ever mandate in Jammu with 25 seats. A fresh election could have boomeranged on the PDP but equally on the BJP. Voters in Jammu wouldn't have forgiven the BJP for its failure to replicate the accommodation that the Congress showed in the past decade to support governments by both the PDP and the National Conference and bring some fruits of development to Jammu. Local BJP legislators were thus keen that the government went about its work for that was the only way to ensure delivery of government services to their constituents.

But the fault lines in the alliance are already visible and are likely to widen into a chasm in the next few months. The BJP has insisted that the basis of the rapprochement remains the "agenda for alliance" signed in March 2015. Mehbooba has already put forth fresh demands, some of which are unlikely to be met by the Centre. Some of the contentious demands include the Army vacating several areas in the Valley and the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has a six-year term. The elections, if the government were to last its term, are due in end-2020 - a year after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, few in the PDP and the BJP expect the alliance to survive until the Lok Sabha elections. From now on, both will be in the race to consolidate their positions in their areas of strength.

The BJP has tasked its central ministers to start as many development projects, including road construction, in the Jammu region which sends 37 seats to the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. The Kashmir Valley sends 46 and four legislators are elected by the Ladakh region. The BJP's aim is to focus on the dozen constituencies that had eluded it in the 2014 Assembly elections - a better performance in these seats could help it reach as close as possible to the halfway mark of 44-seats by the time next elections are held and have its own chief minister.

The PDP is aware of this challenge and is therefore keen to ensure parity in the development works in the Valley as well. The challenge for Mehbooba would not only be to keep hardliners in her party quiet, but also that the Narendra Modi government delivers on the promises it made to the Valley whenever the next Assembly elections are held.

Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of www-business-standard-com-nalsar.knimbus.com or the Business Standard newspaper

First Published: Mar 26 2016 | 9:48 PM IST

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