When finance minister Arun Jaitley presented his budget on Monday, the buzz in Kashmir was that he would announce some development initiatives for J&K to address the demand for Confidence Building Measures from BJP’s estranged coalition partner PDP. But the absence of any fresh budgetary support for the state may have further complicated the ongoing efforts for the resumption of the PDP-BJP government which is in a suspended animation since the death of the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on January 7.
The PDP was expecting Jaitley to announce a special package for the state to buy back at least one of the power projects that National Hydroelectric Power Corporation owns in the state. In November last when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced Rs 80,000 package for the state, he had omitted the otherwise “mutually-agreed financial assistance” to the state to purchase power projects from NHPC.
PDP also expected the finance minister to announce two smart cities for J&K: One for Jammu and one for Kashmir.
Both the demands have already been agreed by the BJP in the Agenda for Alliance which had paved the way for the two ideologically antagonistic parties to form the government following the hung verdict in 2014 Assembly polls.
In recent weeks, the two parties have made some efforts to bridge their differences but as the budget would reveal they have yet to arrive at a common ground. PDP leaders Haseeb Drabu and Amitabh Mattu are in New Delhi to hold consultations with senior BJP leaders including BJP’s pointsman on Kashmir Ram Madhav.
Earlier in February, Madhav had flown to Srinagar for a one-on-one with Mehbooba. She made her by now familiar demands, seeking some immediate CBMs to build a fresh rationale for the coalition, and a credible assurance on the time-bound implementation of the Agenda for Alliance.
PDP believes that in the ten months that the coalition government was in power, BJP showed little commitment to their common minimum programme. The saffron party went back on all its local commitments like the revocation of AFSPA, return of power projects, to say nothing of initiating dialogue with the separatist groups. Besides, the alliance’s single most redeeming feature, its promise of the economic recovery of the state and the rehabilitation of flood victims have so far been realized only in breach.
“We are making no fresh demands and putting no new conditions,” said a senior PDP leader. “We only want good faith implementation of the Agenda for Alliance. And as a CBM we want a beginning to be made somewhere before we close ranks again”.
However, for PDP, the decision to resume alliance may have become only tougher after the political fallout from JNU event on Afzal Guru and the recent RSS condolence meeting at Agra for the slain VHP worker Arun Mahaur where Muslims were warned of a “final battle”. It is no longer only about the implementation of their common minimum programme but the larger ideological challenges that the BJP poses for the PDP.
“These events have once again made it clear that the BJP is unlikely to budge from its hardline nationalist agenda, with Kashmir as its traditional centre piece,” said Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “Even if BJP helps with development funds, the party’s ideological fanaticism would be a recurrent source of embarrassment for PDP and detrimental to its political standing in the state”.
Former J&K Chief Minister National Conference chief Umar Abdullah also rubbed it in. “PDP is again out to form a Government with those people who were now openly advocating one, last open war against the Muslims of India,” he said.
So far, Mehbooba has engaged in a controlled brinkmanship: seeking political and economic concessions from the centre but staying short of speaking about the differences publicly to safeguard the coalition.
On Monday, she made politically correct noises while addressing a rally of PDP workers in her native Anantnag district. “Unlike Pakistan, India has freedom of speech and people can express their opinion. India is a tolerant country, where everyone has freedom of speech,” Mehbooba said. “My father advocated Indian democracy in Kashmir at a time when people here swore by a plebiscite and siding with India was seen as taboo.”
However, she reiterated that the power was not her objective but the well-being of her people was. “It would never be my aim to assume the reins of power in the state so that I and my ministers have sirens, flags and cavalcades of pomp and show,” Mehbooba said. “If I choose to assume power, it would have to be for peace. It would have to be for friendly relations between India and Pakistan which is essential for peace in Jammu and Kashmir”.
But RSS leader Indresh Kumar has snubbed Mehbooba saying a state party had no role in dictating relationship with Pakistan. “Have Muslims of Haryana or Maharashtra ever said what should be our terms with Pakistan? This is not their job. And J&K is no different,” Kumar said in an interview adding also that CBMs are not demanded but built. “Trust builds with trust. PDP and other parties in J&K have to rebuild that trust”.