Wednesday, February 18, 2015

JK government formation: PDP plays hardball, for BJP it’s a win-win situation

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | New Delhi 
When the Jammu & Kashmir assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate, the PDP ignored offers of support from the Congress and the National Conference, for it was bent on a coalition only with the BJP. Two months of warmth and dozens of meetings later, the PDP leadership has sought to create an impression of playing hardball, but the deal it is showcasing makes the BJP the political victor in Kashmir.
Although leaders frequently speak of differences (without coming on record), the two parties have become close enough to vote together twice in two months. They shared three of four Rajya Sabha seats because they voted as partners, and will vote together again for 11 Legislative Council seats, of which they could share up to 10.
Here is why the PDP’s terms for the alliance give the advantage to the BJP.
Self-rule & Article 370
The PDP has already stepped back from its primary agenda: self-rule, demilitarisation, joint mechanisms between the two Kashmirs, a porous LoC for people on either side, etc. The demand that the BJP should agree to status quo on Article 370, in fact, is not an obstacle for the BJP but a climbdown by the PDP. For, the question was never one of abrogation but one of restoration.
The original Article 370 limited the Centre’s jurisdiction in the state to defence, foreign affairs and communication; With its own prime minister and sadr-e-riyasat, J&K was out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and ICS. “From 1954-94, 47 orders were made by the President unconstitutionally, extending to Kashmir 94 of the 97 entries in the Union list and 260 of the 395 articles of the Constitution. It took the kernel out of Article 370 and left the husk,” says constitutional expert A G Noorani, who has written a book on Article 370. “There is nothing to abrogate in Article 370 because it is only a corpse now.”  Noorani says “abrogation of this shell of Article 370 is impossible because Article 1 of India’s Constitution applies to Kashmir only by virtue of Article 370. Abrogate Article 370 and you snap the link.”
A common minimum programme agreed between the two parties will not be binding on the central government. But even if Parliament passes a constitutional amendment for abrogation (which will not happen), it will still need the consent of J&K’s constituent assembly, which ceased to exist in 1956. In any case, the BJP was already softer on Article 370; it went to the polls calling for a debate rather than abrogation. And most parties — PDP, NC, Congress — favour strengthening rather than repealing the article.
Though portrayed as contentious, the PDP’s demand for withdrawal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act within a year is another non-issue. The BJP has already provided a way out — its J&K leadership has made such a decision subject to Army approval, and the two parties need only to work out a way to start the withdrawal of AFSPA from “militancy-free districts” in Jammu first and then press for a phased withdrawal from other areas without a fixed time-frame. And once the government manages the Army seal on such a decision, the BJP will never be held accountable for it.
Pak refugees…
This is one PDP demand that can be contentious  for the BJP — status quo on the rights of western Pakistan refugees. The BJP’s poll promise in Jammu — state subject rights to these refugees — can potentially trigger an agitation in Kashmir. PDP sources, however, hint they aren’t averse to giving in to the BJP. The PDP’s Muzaffar Beig recently said he favours these refugees getting such rights on “humanitarian grounds” — a statement seen as a PDP ploy to gauge the public mood in the valley.
…And relations
The PDP demand that the Centre should “normalise relations with Pakistan” no longer counts, because the BJP can point towards a recent call by the Prime Minister to his Pakistani counterpart and the decision to resume foreign secretary-level talks. As for separatists, the BJP does not seem averse to a dialogue within the ambit of the Constitution, but the separatists will not accept that precondition. With the PDP not having specified a format or ambit for the dialogue, the BJP can easily accept the “demand” without compromising on its own stance.
Now & later
While an alliance gives the PDP the advantage of ruling a state with a favourable Centre, it brings a political windfall to the BJP. It will be part of the government in the only Muslim-majority state despite not holding a single seat in the Kashmir valley. The combination will allow the BJP to blunt criticism over the exclusion of Muslims from the central government. In private, PDP leaders say they know that “for the BJP, the biggest USP in allying with us is beyond government formation, because the PDP’s inclusion in the NDA will help secularise the BJP”.
There is one possible danger to the alliance, though: the two parties can be caught in a web of their own making and their posturing may lead to a situation where the BJP may disagree to Mufti’s demands.
If the deal falls through, it will mean either a brief spell of Governor’s rule followed by fresh polls, or a BJP-NC government, both of which will benefit the PDP, allowing it to go back to its soft separatist discourse and gain electorally. Many in Kashmir feel the PDP should force an election and emulate the AAP’s Delhi victory, but the PDP leadership seems more inclined on a tie-up while trying to limit any adverse political fallout on its Muslim constituency.

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