Friday, 23 November 2018

Why the events in J&K are not good for democracy in the state

Four years into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, it is clear that its actions need to be examined in relation to its election agenda. With general elections coming up in a few months’ time, all its actions are geared to ensuring that the BJP comes back to power at the Centre. The dissolving of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) assembly on November 21 must be viewed against this backdrop. It would be na├»ve to continue expecting the ruling party to place national interest above party interest.
The ruling party’s non-performance on development appears to have left it with little but polarisation to fall back on to woo the electorate and keep its voter base together.
Muslim-bashing by itself has had diminishing returns since the last elections — the elections that had succeeded in pushing the Muslims decisively on to the ropes. The Ram mandir issue is close at hand, to be trotted out some time early in the coming year, once the Supreme Court currently engaging with it has ruled on it.
In the interim, J&K serves to keep polarisation ticking. The challenge to the special status of the state, specifically Article 35A is at the Supreme Court. The BJP wishes to capitalise on the special status issue with an eye on its polarising possibilities.
Another indicator of polarisation informing the calculus is the manner Ram Madhav, national general secretary of the BJP overseeing its strategy for J&K, alleged that theincipient alliance between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference was instigated by Pakistan. He has since withdrawnthe comment.
However, the mention of Pakistan was to legitimise the miscarriage of democracy in the dissolution of the assembly just when the two major parties in the state joined hands to steer it back to democracy.
The governor had earlier indicated that the assembly would continue in a suspended state over the transition from governor’s rule to President’s rule. As it turned out, this was to buy time for the BJP-backed challenger Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC), with two members in the assembly, to stake claim, with support from the BJP and after poaching dissidents off the PDP.
In the event, the PDP-NC attempt at forming a coalition government supported by the Congress, under PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, pre-empted Lone. Though Lone was pipped at the post by the PDP-NC, the governor chose to dissolve the assembly.
The dissolution provides the BJP an opportunity to return to power through the coalition route after fresh elections, to progress its wider game plan of diluting Article 35A and Article 370. Preventing this had been the impulse behind the getting together of arch foes, the NC and the PDP.
The events of November 21 have given the impression that the governor has acted on behalf of the ruling party at the Centre. History shows that such interventions have dire consequences. Three decades back, Governor Jagmohan was appointed by Indira Gandhi with a mandate to remove the NC’s Farooq Abdullah, who was then hobnobbing with the national opposition parties.
The fallout of Jagmohan’s interference in state politics is rather well known. It eventually led to the rigged elections of 1987 and, as they say, the rest is history with the official count of conflict dead nearing 50,000.
This precedence suggests the national security relevance of the governor’s decision. It required consultation with the national security apparatus headed by Ajit Doval. There is also a minister of state-ranking special representative, Dineshwar Sharma, for engaging with interlocutors of all shades and opinion in J&K. That both did not sound the alarm on the national security implications suggests either they were not consulted or were likeminded. This gives the impression that the national security apparatus, which played along with this decision, has been partisan.
The dissolution of the J&K assembly can only firm up a negative view held by many in Kashmir on India’s democratic bona fides when it comes to the Kashmir question and its militarised handling of the troubles in Kashmir. The perception can be expected to feed the ongoing alienation and exacerbate violence.
This puts paid to one of the governor's four reasons for the dissolution, of enabling anti-militancy operations in a stable and supportive environment, presumably better under President's rule than a democratic one.
The advantage here for the ruling party is that it allows an unmitigated militarised template to persist. The turmoil can be projected as Pakistan-fuelled Muslim angst, posing a threat to national security.
This gives the BJP an opportunity to project itself to the electorate as the only party that can deal with the situation, with a strong man prime minister at its helm.