Experiments have dynamics, delivery and destiny of their own. In Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP’s experiment to form a coalition government with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was fated to end in frustration, fiasco and failure. In new age politics, the Ideology of Idealism has been replaced by the Politics of Additionalism. Instead of rationality, the arithmetic of additionality is the new mantra to grab more and more of the political market share. Parties are forging alliances indiscriminately just for power’s sake. The BJP-PDP deal forged in February 2015 was seen as a masterstroke. For the first time, the saffron party became a part of the ruling dispensation in a state where the BJP’s progenitor Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee spent his dying days in despair in a dilapidated jailhouse. BJP President Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi walked the extra mile to accommodate the sentiment and concerns of late J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to form the government on March 1, 2015. For the BJP, it was a chance to bring the Valley into mainstream politics. For the PM, an alliance with a party sympathetic to the separatist cause was a trophy to show the rest of the world that the BJP has the democratic mandate to rule the state. A formal Common Minimum Programme (CMP) was finalised. As long as Sayeed was alive, the coadunation machine was cruising along at a comfortable speed despite the undercurrents of ideological turbulence. Both parties were bound by the electoral verdict to keep the National Conference (NC) and Congress away from power. Over 65 per cent of J&K voters defied the terror threat and voted. But they gave a fractured verdict. For the BJP, it was its best performance ever in the J&K Assembly polls. Though the party’s maximum haul was from Jammu—it polled 23 per cent of the total votes as against 22.7 by the PDP, 20.8 by NC and 18 by the Congress.
But fate is a fickle mistress. Despite the decisive mandate, Sayeed took over two months to form an alliance with the BJP. Shah and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti announced that they had “ironed out” their ideological differences. Finally, Sayeed took over as the CM and senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh was sworn in as the state’s first non-Muslim deputy CM. This implied that the NDA government at the Centre could depend on the PDP’s support in Parliament. But the seeds of discord were nascent in the CMP itself. It stated the coalition government would ensure “all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir” and follow the principle of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (with all, the development of all)’. It was agreed that controversial and contentious issues such as Article 370 and the Arms Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) would be referred to a high-power committee, which would be represented by both parties and a few eminent non-political personalities. But within a few days of swearing-in, Sayeed gave the credit for the high voter turnout to separatists and Pakistan’s non-interference in Kashmir’s tortured politics. “If, God forbid, the Hurriyat and militants tried to disrupt the elections, these would not have been as participative as they had been,” the CM said. This was challenged by the BJP. Over last year, the partners were engaged in shadow boxing over Article 370 and the issue of hoisting the state flag along with the Tricolour. The 56-year-old Mehbooba had always been uncomfortable with the BJP’s ideological push in the state administration. Now, her father’s demise has led both agonised allies to do ideological introspection. Mehbooba had the sudden epiphany that PDP’s association with the BJP was unpopular with her core constituency in the Valley. Sayeed’s agenda had been to get a Central financial package for J&K and very little about issues like more autonomy to the state. Today, his daughter wants the political issues to be settled first before deciding to restore the coalition government. On its part, the BJP leadership, including Modi, has decided to stick to what they call the ‘Mufti Vision’ and refuse to settle for anything less.
Mehbooba is unwilling to lose PDP’s political space to its arch rival NC by making concessions to the BJP. She was shocked to discover that Sayeed’s funeral, held at his hometown in Bijbehara, was poorly attended while a few days later, the funeral of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Shakir Ahmad in nearby Pulwama drew a mammoth mass. Unlike Sayeed, Mehbooba has always had a soft corner for the separatist cause. Though she joined politics in 1996 as a Congress MLA from the Valley, she has persistently opposed the “excessive repression” of Kashmiris by the Central military forces. She was at the forefront of agitations against fake encounters. All of 2015, she had mostly stayed away from any dialogue with BJP leaders; the strategy was to project Sayeed as the dove and Mehbooba as the hawk. Now, she is acting true to form, seeking a credible assurance from Modi to oblige her agenda—scrapping AFSPA, getting the Army to vacate land under its supervision, and the return of power projects from the National Hydro Power Corporation—before forging an alliance. Meanwhile, both the NC and Congress are mounting pressure on her to fulfil the promises made to Kashmiris. The BJP is unwilling to totally abandon its hardline nationalist and Hindutva policy. Most of its leaders, both from the state and Centre, are against giving any concessions to Mehbooba. The party is caught between a rock and a hard place.
The J&K imbroglio has forced it to rethink its strategy on forming alliances with ideological adversaries for the sake of getting a share in the government. In other coalitions, the BJP is suffering because of the unsatisfactory performance of regional allies like the Akali Dal in Punjab and Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP in Bihar. Adventurist exercises like roping in caste dons in the Bihar elections didn’t yield results. Party insiders feel the Politics of Additionalism should be used to add to its kitty more voters and workers instead of caste and communal leaders. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra is already riddled with conflict, bringing disrepute to the state BJP leaders.
L K Advani, the maestro of the Art of Additionality, had roped in a legion of regional parties to form the 24-party NDA coalition at the Centre in 1998. It lost the elections in 2004 and 2009 because most BJP’s allies dumped it to protect their ideological identity. History is repeating itself. Modi and Shah stand to lose the BJP’s core constituency in J&K thanks to the BJP-PDP squabbles. Insiders feel that the party’s leadership should abjure the statecraft of striking deals or risk facing political isolation. To gain a durable and natural expansion of the BJP’s and NDA’s acceptability in the long run, the Twin Turbos need to stick to their intrinsic ideology and agenda for governance.