As so often happens when a dominant political dignitary dies in harness, even before Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s mortal remains had been interred, the vultures began circling in the hope of exploiting the political uncertainty that now prevails in J&K. Mufti’s carefully crafted alliance with the BJP is clearly under threat. The media is abuzz with speculation on possible political realignments in the state, most conjectures forecasting a PDP-Congress alliance with help from the Independents or a BJP-NC tie-up. Amidst this ugly jostling for political power, we need to ask ourselves the important yet neglected question: what is best for the people of the state? We must never forget that peace and prosperity in J&K is crucial to our wellbeing as a nation.
Recently the General Secretary of the PDP was at pains to list the substantive achievements of the ten month old PDP-BJP coalition because there are hardly any, notwithstanding the ‘Aasra’ and ‘Laadli’ welfare schemes, implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and certain tourism initiatives. Perhaps its greatest achievement has been the easing of social tensions that has brought about relative peace to the Valley and facilitated initiation of peace talks with Pakistan. Conversely, the Coalition’s most serious failure has been the inordinate delay in providing relief to the flood-affected victims, about which Mehbooba Mufti has voiced her anguish. However, despite the disappointments, would the PDP now want to switch to a tie-up with a party whose sole political doctrine today is to blindly oppose everything that the present Central Government does or proposes even if such filibustering seriously damages the country? The answer is obvious.
Those fortunate to know the late Mufti Sayeed would vouch for his unwavering commitment to Hindu -Muslim friendship in the state. It required great courage and farsightedness to cock a snook at Muslim hardliners and gamble on a PDP alliance with the BJP. Given the ideological differences, it was, to quote Mufti Saheb himself “like combining North Pole and South Pole”. But for him despite grave differences, the BJP’s cooperation was critical for betterment of his state. With this one move, he was able to bring the two hitherto incompatible regions, Jammu and Kashmir, closer together while at the same time marginalising the fringe elements on the two sides.
The liberal lobby was left dumbstruck at this “opportunistic” tie-up, ignoring Mufti’s larger message that genuine development and progress was possible only by co-opting the crucial constituency that the BJP represents. The pact between erstwhile adversaries was also tacit acknowledgement of the fact that the Modi government, unlike the previous government, was acting decisively in the cases of killing of innocents by our armed forces, as evident in the speedy conviction of nine army personnel including a JCO for the fake encounter in Budgam in November 2014. Another obvious spin-off of the alliance is the silence on Article 370. With the BJP on board, there are hopes that there would be a meaningful review of the contentious Armed Forces Protection Act (AFSPA), and restoration of the Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to the J&K government. In private, Mufti Saheb told me that such an alliance in the only Muslim majority state would also help enhance communal amity in the rest of the country.
One may recall Mufti Sayeed’s controversial statement after the Assembly elections thanking Pakistan, the militants and separatists for “the conducive atmosphere” during the polls. While he was pilloried for lauding the nation’s “common enemies”, with the BJP distancing itself from his remarks, he refused to back down knowing that for harmony it was important to engage the traditional antagonists in conversation. A humanist to the core who had witnessed the never-ending violence in his beloved state, he was reaching out to the most hostile elements with a message of peace, knowing from bitter experience that peace cannot be attained by shooting from bunkers or through eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations. His constant theme was the building of trust and confidence between India and Pakistan.
The composition of the next government in J&K would be a clear pointer of which way the state is headed. The choice is between going back to a policy of drift and knee-jerk reactions that marked most governments in the last 60 odd years or blazing a new path based on restraint, understanding and genuine conversation with all stakeholders, which was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s way.