Asea change seems to be in the offing in Indian-held Kashmir’s (IHK) political personality as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — two political opposites — have decided to form a coalition government in Srinagar. Interestingly, the PDP is wholly valley and Muslim and the BJP is wholly Jammu and Hindu. This would mean, for the first time in its history, there would be a coalition at the government level in IHK between the people of the valley and the people of Jammu. It is not going to be an easy coalition. The experiment could boomerang and fail even before taking off. The BJP had fought the polls in the IHK with the declared intention of doing away with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, delegitimising the Hurriyat and changing for good the status of the state from a ‘dispute’ between India and Pakistan to a non-negotiable legal Indian territory.
The PDP, which had won 28 to BJP’s 25 seats in a House of 67 was mandated, on the other hand, to protect and preserve Article 370, continue to recognise Hurriyat as a legitimate representative of the people of Kashmir, Pakistan as a party to a three-cornered dispute over who actually had a legitimate claim over the territory in question, reclaim its rivers and the power projects India had built on the Jhelum and the Chenab and revoke the special powers given to the Indian Army in IHK.
The BJP desperately needed a foothold in the disputed land so as to be able to be in the right place at the right time when the opportunity came to implement its declared Kashmir designs and the PDP, on the other hand, knew very well that with a hostile government in New Delhi, it would be well-nigh impossible for its government to fulfill most of the election promises it had made to voters. So, compelled by their respective political aspirations, the two seem to have agreed on the most minimum, calling it the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ rather than a ‘common minimum programme’.
The compromises would cost heavily to both the parties in political terms. But perhaps, the BJP would suffer more in the short term specially for agreeing to talk to Hurriyat, negotiate with Pakistan and withdraw its opposition to Article 370 under which except for defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications, the Indian parliament needs the concurrence of the state for applying all other laws. Even for the removal of this temporary provision from the Indian Constitution, the concurrence of the state assembly is essential. The Article in its original form had many more special features: the state chief executive had carried the title of prime minister, the governor that of ‘Sadr-e-Riasat’ and non-Kashmiris entering the territory needed special permits. Over the years, the Article has been shorn of most of these features through acts of parliament and many in India believe that over time the other features can also be made to disappear. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not likely to give up so easily. He is certain to make many more bids to achieve his goal, now that he has a foothold in the state assembly itself. The PDP, on its part, has withdrawn its demand for time-barred revocation of the Armed Forces (Special powers) Act. But this unpopular Act is likely to serve as a troubling thorn for the uneasy coalition throughout its tenure.
On the face of it, the latest developments in IHK do not bode well for Pakistan’s Kashmir intentions. We have already fought three wars with India and have also used, on a number of occasions, what are called non-state actors to force India to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. And we have sought third-party mediation as well whenever we could. But all this has been to no avail. So far, both India and Pakistan seem to have approached the issue with the intention of achieving complete victory. Perhaps, it is time for the two neighbours to consider a give-and-take approach.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2015.