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Old government in a new bottle: Little change in Kashmir

Published : Apr 5, 2016, 7:29 am IST
Updated : Apr 5, 2016, 7:29 am IST

The state of Jammu & Kashmir has got a new government — well sort of. The government that was sworn in by governor N.N. Vohra is basically the same as before, a coalition of the People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The only difference is the state’s new chief minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, who takes the place of her late father and former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who passed away in January this year.

In the normal course of events, the interregnum between Mufti Sayeed’s demise and the appointment of a new government should have been short. Ms Mufti, however, dallied, first saying that she was in mourning and then prevaricating by insisting that she would not form a government without specific assurances from the BJP leadership regarding the implementation of an “agenda of alliance” signed by the two as a pre-condition for forming the government.

For weeks the impression was that Ms Mufti was bargaining hard for political and economic concessions from the BJP top brass in New Delhi.

Her stance suggested a certain disinterest in the state’s top post; she made it appear the post was not worth taking unless her government could implement the promises made at the time of cementing the coalition.

Weeks dragged on fuelling endless speculation; there were “high level” and presumably “low-level” meetings. The average Kashmiri in the Valley shrugged his shoulders and said it was an impossible alliance any way.

There was no crisis in the state and as a matter of fact many observers remarked on the fact that the state administration under governor N.N. Vohra seemed to be performing palpably better than under the elected government.

In the restive Srinagar Valley, the impression given by the PDP government was that the BJP-led Central government had been denying funds meant for Kashmiris, particularly those for compensating for the last year’s devastating floods and for critical activities such as the dredging of the Jhelum river, which is the source of flooding.

For over a year, virtually no money was made available for flood rehabilitation, but with Governor’s Rule, things began moving. It appeared money was not the problem but intent.

One of the first decisions taken by governor Vohra was to disburse over Rs 1,100 crores to Kashmiris whose homes or businesses had suffered due to the floods. An estimated 1,70,000 people benefited from this move. The dredging of the Jhelum river was initiated simultaneously with the governor personally overseeing the progress of the work. Several other pending issues related to health, monthly ration, industrial policy, lingering corruption cases against government officials were similarly sorted out.

Perhaps the most important decision taken by the governor was to hasten the process of local bodies’ elections.

Previous governments in the state for reasons of their own have been continuously deferring panchayat and municipal elections but now the next government will not be able to put them off any more as a tentative schedule is already in place.

The favourable public impact of Governor’s Rule perhaps spurred both Ms Mufti and her BJP allies to suddenly decide all was hunky-dory and get on with the coalition.

That there was an element of political posturing in the PDP’s stance was becoming more apparent by the day. The PDP had been hinting that it had an adversarial relationship with Mr Narendra Modi’s government but this clearly was not true. Ms Mufti perhaps had to prove that she was leading a spirited and principled campaign against New Delhi. For, a section of the Kashmiri separatist constituency had undoubtedly sided with the PDP in the last state Assembly polls.

The joint aim at that time was to ensure the BJP’s rout in the Valley and to prevent it from getting a simple majority in the Legislative Assembly.

The ultimate decision of the PDP to ally with its main enemy, the BJP, had come as a shock to a large section of its supporters. The evidence of a large swing against the PDP was the abysmal turnout at the funeral of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

PDP was out of favour in the Valley and Ms Mufti sensed this. This must have been the main reason behind her delaying the government formation.

She made it known that she would not relent unless New Delhi came up with more cash for the Valley and began the process of political dialogue with separatists and Pakistan. She was clearly voicing some of the demands scripted by the separatist lobby.

However, in the end, none of this seems to have mattered. Last week, Ms Mufti briefly met Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi and came out saying she was satisfied. In what manner, she did not specify and nor did the Prime Minister offer any comment.

Thereafter Ms Mufti, along with her party leaders and BJP allies, informed the governor that they were now ready to form the government. Everything apparently had been worked out and the smiles were out.

The drawn-out process of government formation has not, however, been inspiring. If anything it appears to have been something of a charade.

Some fundamental facts have not changed: neither the PDP nor the BJP have been able to satisfy their respective support base and have failed to bridge the regional divide that had brought them to power.

The BJP had won all its 25 seats in the Jammu region, while the PDP won most of its 28 seats in the Valley. Cynics believe if polls were to be held in the state today, both parties would stand defeated. It is this realisation perhaps that has forced the two to bury their differences and get together to rule for another five years. Expediency clearly has once again won the day.