BJP to jointly govern India’s only Muslim-majority state
NEW DELHI // Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to become part of Jammu and Kashmir’s government for the first time, after joining an unlikely coalition in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
The alliance between the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came after frantic negotiations on Friday, with Mr Modi meeting the PDP’s leader, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, in Delhi to seal the historic deal.
Mr Sayeed will be sworn in as Jammu and Kashmir’s new chief minister on Sunday, ending weeks of political limbo after state elections late last year delivered a hung assembly. His deputy will be BJP politician Nirmal Singh.
In last year’s state elections, the results of which were announced on December 23, the PDP won 28 seats while the BJP won 25. Neither party had enough votes to take the majority in the 87-seat assembly.
The BJP and the PDP were not allied before the elections and they make for unlikely partners, given their respective ideologies and the demographics of Jammu and Kashmir.
While the BJP has close ties with Hindu nationalist groups and has long advocated a firmer hand with Muslim-majority Kashmir, the PDP has advocated greater autonomy for the Kashmir region.
Mr Sayeed himself likened the alliance to “a meeting of the north pole and the south pole,” in remarks to reporters on Friday.
During Mr Modi’s campaign to become prime minister early last year, he promised to scrap Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, giving its government more freedoms than are normally accorded to states.
The clause was designed to quell separatist tendencies in Kashmir, which have existed in some form or another since 1947. Some political movements have also called for Kashmir to join neighbouring Pakistan.
According to Article 370, the federal government needs the state government’s permission to apply any laws to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that do not deal with defence, foreign affairs, finance and communication.
Unlike the BJP, the PDP has long promised to protect the clause, and ruled out any compromise on this front in its negotiations with the Hindu-nationalist party.
On Friday, Kavinder Gupta, a BJP politician in Jammu and Kashmir, said that his party will not act upon its promise to remove Article 370.
“When a coalition has to be formed, both sides need to keep aside divisive issues between them,” he said.
In its campaign for last year’s state elections, the PDP promised to lobby for repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants military personnel enhanced liberties and guarantees against prosecution in crisis areas like the Kashmir valley. The BJP, however, is not in favour of lifting the Act.
No announcement about the AFSPA has yet been made.
BJP spokesperson Ram Madhav said on Friday that the parties had formed a common minimum agenda, towards which they would work once the government was formed.
The agenda, Mr Madhav said, would be revealed after the new government’s swearing-in ceremony on Sunday.
Mr Modi and the BJP are unpopular with Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslims, who form roughly two-thirds of the population.
On social media, the alliance drew irate comments from Kashmiri Muslims.
Dar Jahangir, a 24-year-old resident of Srinagar, said that Mr Sayeed had sold out his principles to attain the position of chief minister.
“He was chanting in the election campaign that [those who] vote for the BJP are the enemies of Kashmiris,” Mr Jahangir wrote on Facebook on Friday. “Now he is going to lead [the] coalition government. Is he not now the enemy of Kashmiris?”
Updated: February 27, 2015 04:00 AM