After the 2014 J&K elections threw up a fractured verdict, the BJP and the PDP formed an unlikely alliance to rule the state. In the run up to the elections in 2014, both the parties had attacked each other on key issues. Therefore, when they decided to go together, leaving the acrimonious election campaign behind, many were apprehensive about the alliance.
It’s no surprise that the alliance between the unlikeliest of partners collapsed in just the fourth year of it being in power. From blaming each other for stone pelting and mob violence to the recent slugfest on the Kathua gang rape, both the parties have seldom been on the same page while implementing decisions or chalking policies.
After the alliance was formed in 2014, one of the key reasons, outlined by late PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Syed to join hands with BJP, was to bridge the growing divide between the Jammu and Kashmir regions of the troubled state. In the 2014 polls, the Jammu region had voted overwhelmingly for BJP, with the saffron party winning 25 of the 37 seats in the Hindu majority part of the state. The PDP, on the other hand, won 25 of the 46 seats in the Valley and three seats in the Muslim-dominated areas of the Jammu region.
When Mufti passed away two months later, Modi didn’t attend his funeral. The poor turnout at Mufti’s funeral was seen as public anger at PDP’s alliance with the BJP.
For the first two years, there seemed to be a tacit agreement between BJP and PDP to let each other make statements supporting their ideological and political lines without threatening the coalition. However, with the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, the cracks in the alliance appeared to show.
While BJP had advocated taking a tough stand against the stone pelters and not succumb to opposition criticism, PDP went the opposite way and advocated a soft approach, while maintaining that dialogue was the only way in resolving the decades-old Kashmir conflict.
The remarks by J&K minister for industries and commerce Chander Parkash Ganga, describing stone-pelting youths as “deshdrohi” (traitors) who deserved to be shot or beaten complicated matters further. The remarks were echoed by at least two BJP ministers. The PDP shot back at its coalition partner, saying “disgusting utterances” and “sickening and intimidating statement against Kashmiri youth” were not only “unbecoming of a senior minister” but also fraught with danger.
The PDP attributed the unrest in Kashmir to the BJP’s decision to discontinue political engagement with separatists and Pakistan and for not carrying forward other confidence building measures in the valley. Statistics tell a similar story. There have been 42 per cent more terrorism-related deaths in J&K since the BJP came to power in May 2014, compared with the last three years of the UPA regime. According to data presented by the chief minister in the state legislature, as many as 66 youths joined militancy in 2015, 88 in 2016, and 126 in 2017. Last year, the state witnessed civilian deaths numbering to 40, highest among the past five years.
Another area of concern between the two parties was on the issue of Article 35 A after BJP in 2017 proposed to abrogate it, allowing people from outside the state to own properties and work in government jobs. The issue further widened the rift as PDP joined ranks with the National Conference and Congress to oppose the move by the saffron party. The matter is presently pending with the Supreme Court.
The appointment of an interlocutor (Dineshwar Sharma) and withdrawal of stone-pelting cases against first-timers did little to ease the tension as violence continued unabated in the Valley.
The gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakherwal girl in the Jammu region further exposed the festering rift between the two parties and laid bare the communal divide. On February 14, after a group of people led by BJP leader Lal Singh took out a protest in favour of the accused, the CM tweeted, “Appalled by the marches & protests in defense of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag… this is nothing short of desecration.” Under pressure from its coalition partner and amid national outrage, BJP forced two of its ministers (Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga), who supported Kathua rape-murder accused, to resign.
But, the BJP had its way when the J&K Cabinet was reshuffled and inducted two MLAs who were present at protests supporting Kathua rape-murder accused. Moreover, in removing deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, who was seen as being soft on Mehbooba, BJP had sent a clear signal that she would have to contend with the saffron party playing the ‘big brother’. The final nail in the coffin was put after the Centre refused to heed to Mufti’s demands and did not extend the unilateral ceasefire beyond the month of Ramzan.