While tensions in Kashmir are on the rise again, numerous large cracks are beginning to show in the ruling coalition.
Srinagar: If strapping a civilian to an army vehicle as a human shield against stone pelters on the day of the Srinagar by-polls sparked an open spat between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and their ally BJP, a number of controversies during the past week have deepened the fissures within the coalition and brought it to the verge of a split. Now, rumours are gaining currency that the state could be in for governor’s rule, as differences between the allies grow over how to handle the present crisis in the Valley in the wake of fresh civilian killings and growing protests that have spread to campuses.
“Is it a war declared against Kashmiris who, despite all odds, cast their votes, reaffirming their belief in democracy? Or it is a war declared to satiate sanguine electoral interests of a particular political party in the country?” asked senior PDP minister Altaf Bukhari in response to media reports about BJP general secretary Ram Madhav justifying the use of human shield by the army with his remarks that “everything is fair in love and war”.
“Madhav seems to be justifying what is unjustifiable under law. These statements smack of a hyper-nationalist environment in the country…unfortunately, people with right-wing approach consider any support for human rights in Kashmir to be anti-national. Let Madhav be reminded that no civilised society can afford to use its citizens as shields in military operations,” Bukhari said in a statement on Saturday.
But within hours, the PDP leader was rebuffed by the BJP. “It is unbecoming of a senior minister (Bukhari) and a minister in our coalition to issue a statement without knowing facts. Such statements encourage separatists and other secessionist elements,” said party spokesman Khalid Jehangir.
A breaking alliance?
The differences within the coalition became visible when the PDP accused its ally of “poaching” one of the six seats from the party during the recently-held elections to the state legislative council. While six seats were up for grabs in the council, PDP spokesman Mehbooba Beg said there was an agreement for two seats each for the allies. The BJP, however, ended winning three seats after independent MLA Zanskar Bakir Hussain, who had supported PDP, cross voted for the BJP. The PDP had to be content with just one seat, as two seats went to the opposition National Conference and Congress.
Accusing the BJP of “back-stabbing”, the PDP targeted its ally for violating coalition dharma. “The party (BJP) resorted to open cheating to snatch a seat from us,” said a senior PDP leader.
However, BJP general secretary Ashok Koul hit back at the PDP for the party’s own faulty floor management. “Instead of blaming us, they (PDP) should have taken care of their own votes. If they have any proof of cheating (by the BJP) they should make it public,” said Koul.
While the controversy was still raging, the remarks by senior BJP leader and industries minister Chandra Prakash Ganga, that youth pelting stones at security forces in Kashmir should be beaten and shot at, led to a face-off between the allies. Describing stone-pelting youth as “traitors,” the BJP minister said the “bullet was the only way to deal with the youth throwing stones in Kashmir”. This was said during a public meeting in Jammu, the recording of which surfaced on Thursday and drew an angry reaction from the PDP.
“These disgusting utterances are not only unjustifiable but perilous as well. It is unbecoming of a senior minister to dish out such a sweeping, sickening and intimidating statement against Kashmiri youth,” PDP vice president Sartaj Madni said.
The party’s spokesman Beg said the BJP minister’s statement shows “their poisonous mindset” towards Kashmir which they need to change. “This will only hurt the alliance,” he said.
The BJP minister had made the statement after the cabinet, in its April 18 meeting in Jammu, expressed deep anguish over the loss of lives in the Valley and directed the security agencies to exercise maximum restraint while handling law and order situations.
“During the past three weeks, the situation has gone from bad to worse in Kashmir. But all that the BJP is interested in is flaring up the situation with controversial statements and acts. This was certainly not the aim for which Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) sahab had shook hands with the party (BJP). Kashmir can’t be made a laboratory for fulfilling your aims somewhere else. If the party (BJP) continues with its unrelenting behaviour then we must take a call on the future of this alliance,” said a senior PDP leader who wished not to be named.
Since the April 9 by-polls, ten civilians have been killed in security force action on the protesting youth. Protests have spread to the campuses after 60 students of the Degree College in Pulwama district were injured in action by the police and the paramilitary CRPF.
Feeling the heat
The PDP leader said there was an opinion within the PDP that it has lost much ground in the Valley because of its coalition with the BJP. Adding to this discomfort for the party are recent developments in other parts of the country, including open threats to Kashmiris in Meerut, UP to leave the state. BJP MP Subramanian Swamy’s tweet asking that Kashmir should be de-populated and Kashmiris sent to refugee camps in Tamil Nadu to curb protests also added to the rage in the Valley.
Amidst the deepening crisis between the PDP and the BJP, Madhav flew to Jammu on April 21 and held a closed-door meeting with PDP leader and state finance minister Haseeb Drabu to try and chalk out the differences. “The discussion revolved around the recent issues and the need to sort out differences,” a top BJP leader told The Wire.
“The coalition may survive the latest controversies, but the PDP is feeling the heat as there has been no progress on the party’s Kashmir-centric poll planks – from initiation of dialogue on Kashmir to demilitarisation and the return of power projects from the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation during the last two-plus years,” said political analyst Ashiq Hussain. “It remains to be seen whether the party (PDP) will continue to play second fiddle to the BJP or assert itself to regain some lost ground in the Valley.”