On March 1, 2015, the unlikely alliance of the BJP and PDP assumed office in Jammu and Kashmir. The new coalition, with its Agenda of Alliance, held out hope of bringing together so far irreconcilable elements of the political spectrum and, in the process, expanding the middle-ground in the state. Two years later, however, statements from some leaders in the alliance are belying that hope, and raising fears of a public and political space in the Valley more starkly divided than before.
Most recently, the BJP’s Chander Prakash Ganga, J&K minister for industries and commerce, has described stone-throwing young people in Kashmir as “traitors” who ought to be assaulted and “shot”. His statement comes only days after the video of an army vehicle with a Kashmiri citizen, Farooq Dar, tied to its hood during the recently held bypolls held in Srinagar, became public, sparking outrage.
The security forces are investigating the “human shield” incident and making an effort to contain the fallout. The J&K Police has filed an FIR against unknown army personnel; the army has instituted a court of inquiry. A few days ago, in an interview to this newspaper, Tassaduq Mufti, PDP candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in the upcoming bypoll election and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s brother, said there is a “complete disregard of PDP’s understanding of the current situation and necessary steps will need to be taken to assuage the hurt and anger among Kashmiri youth”.
The BJP, the junior partner in the ruling alliance in the state, but the ruling party of the Centre, must keep in mind the sentiments of its ally, and strengthen rather than undermine the PDP in this delicate political moment. It must remind itself of how much is at stake. BJP leaders like Ganga and Subramanian Swamy — who said the solution to the Valley’s problems was to depopulate it and despatch its people to refugee camps — need to be told that their bigoted and irresponsible comments can hurt a still-fragile alliance. Meanwhile, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has done well to ask state governments to protect Kashmiris across the country from violence and intimidation after Kashmiri students were called “stone-pelters” and assaulted in Rajasthan University and billboards asking Kashmiris to go back or else came up in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.
The voter turnout in the Srinagar bypoll last week was a paltry 7 per cent, and an abysmal 2 per cent in the 38 polling booths where re-polling was ordered due to violence. If the BJP and the Central government genuinely desire an expanded and more engaging democratic space in Kashmir, the first step is to ensure that its leaders refrain from making statements that polarise it further.