On February 25, 2015, BJP President Amit Shah and then PDP President Mehbooba Mufti stated that the “ideological differences between the two parties had been ironed out”. Six days later, the BJP-PDP “coalition of extremes” formed the government in the state and kindled hopes that it could bridge both the rift between Jammu and Kashmir, and the widening chasm between Srinagar and New Delhi. Now, by sacking state finance minister Haseeb Drabu, Mufti is sending two signals: First, that amid deepening fissures in the alliance, she expects the BJP to talk with her directly, not through proxies. Second, in a time when questions are being raised about the PDP’s ability, or lack of it, to preserve its own identity in the alliance with the BJP, hers is the prerogative to draw the ideological red lines for her party.
On March 9, Drabu said that J&K should not be seen as a “conflict state and political issue” but as a society “with social issues”. That the Kashmir issue is political and demands a political solution is a core principle for the PDP. Drabu was echoing a sentiment more in line with the BJP’s position, confirmed by the public endorsement his statement received from senior leaders of the J&K unit of that party. The dismissal of a senior minister must also be seen as Mufti’s attempt to reclaim lost political space. Even in the past, as in the period after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death when Mehbooba Mufti’s delay in assuming the CM’s office sparked concern over the alliance’s future, the PDP has seemed like an unhappy family, uncomfortable in an unlikely alliance. Drabu’s expulsion three years later only underlines the flailing.
Rather than working on areas of convergence, the allies have allowed their differences to play out publicly. On many occasions, by acting more as the opposition rather than an partner, the BJP has undercut its own alliance and the chief minister. Most recently, the rape of a minor in Kathua saw BJP ministers stand up for the alleged perpetrator, and cast aspersions on the state’s law and order machinery by demanding a CBI probe. Last month, the BJP opposed the state government’s decision to probe the death of civilians due to army fire in Shopian. A fundamental ideological difference was highlighted when Mufti called for talks between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. The turbulence in the region has expanded from the Valley to Jammu, Poonch and Kathua. Unless a genuine attempt is made to live up to the mandate of 2015, the alliance will end up sharpening the dividing lines in J&K, instead of bridging them as it had promised to do.