By Swapan Dasgupta
The easiest way out of the highly fractured verdict in Jammu and Kashmir would have been for all the parties to stick to their individual positions and leave it to the Governor to assume direct charge of the administration. One of the reassuring facets of this J&K election that was marked by a sharp in crease in voter turnout is that this is route few—and certainly not the elected MLAs—wish to take. The people, it is clear, voted for government formation and they must have it.
The choices before the four parties that have a stake is, however, daunting. The unclear verdict suggests that the aggregate popular desire is for a combination of parties to meet each other at least half way. Political and ideological compromise is inherent in the result.
The verdict also suggested a deep geographical schism. The PDP led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed won a clear majority of seats in Kashmir but drew a blank in Jammu. Likewise, the BJP swept the Jammu region but performed dismally in the Kashmir Valley where, for the first, it tried hard to secure representation.
There were also two half-losers. The Omar Abdullah-led NC may have defied media speculation of a total rout but while winning 15 seats it also lost 13. Equally, the Congress’ tally of 15 seats was less than the 20 it secured in the previous election.
In terms of an arrangement that involves making the least compromise, the PDP can restore an earlier alliance it had with the Congress and, with the aid of Independents, form a government with a very slim majority. This remains the default option that can be exercised if all else fails.
Common sense could also prompt Mufti to extend a hand of friendship to the Abdullahs and forge a coalition of regional parties. If Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav can bury the hatchet in Bihar, there is no reason why—in theory at least—the two principal political families of Kashmir to end their blood feud and come together under a common roof for five years. Yet, as everyone is aware, such an arrangement involves unsettling a turf war that is at the heart of competitive politics in Kashmir. Since there is no perception of a rising common enemy in the constituencies, a coalition between the PDP and NC is near impossible.
The fact that the BJP is not considered a threat to the PDP and NC at the constituency level has, ironically, enhanced the bargaining clout of the saffron party. Judging from the trusted grapevine of Lutyens’ Delhi, it would seem that both parties have made overtures to the BJP to explore the possibility of a coalition government. There was a time when the BJP would have preferred to retain its majestic isolation content itself with the Leader of Opposition post. But the emphatic nature of its Jammu nature has made that difficult. Opting out implies depriving Jammu and, by implication, the Hindus a stake in the power structure of J&K.
Ideally, the BJP would like an arrangement with the NC that will ensure its own Chief Minister—a potentially dramatic development for J&K. The problem is that this will imply a disregard for the majority opinion for Kashmir—a dangerous development in view of the unspoken fact that there is a malevolent force waiting across the border to take advantage of any emotional alienation.
In ideological terms, a PDP-BJP coalition will involve the maximum retreat from entrenched positions. The BJP will have to put Article 370 in deep freeze and the PDP will have to shed its commitment to porous borders and dual currency. More important, such an arrangement will necessarily have to be sold to the faithful from the top—through a grand embrace involving Narendra Modi and Mufti.
The difficulties in the path of such a historic compromise are innumerable. But a grand reconciliation between the communities and regions of J&K—if only for a spell of “good governance”—would be as meaningful as Indira Gandhi’s 1974 agreement with Sheikh Abdullah. Through a muddled verdict J&K has actually created an opening for statesmanship. Big heartedness must be allowed to prevail over partisan considerations—if both sides are willing.
Sunday Times of India, December 28, 2014