India’s ruling party forms coalition government in Kashmir
JAMMU, INDIA // India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party was sworn into government in the country’s only Muslim-majority state on Sunday for the first time after an historic power-sharing deal with a bitter regional rival.
Narendra Modi hailed the partnership between his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a chance to fulfil the aspirations of a region which has endured a sporadic revolt against Indian rule since 1989.
“PDP-BJP govt is a historic opportunity to fulfil the aspirations of the people of J&K and take the state to new heights of progress,” the prime minister said in a tweet, referring to Jammu and Kashmir state.
After weeks of intensive negotiations, the parties forged a coalition following inconclusive elections two months ago for the restive Himalayan region’s state assembly.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Muslim head of the PDP, was sworn in as the region’s chief minister, along with his cabinet whose members are split roughly equally between the two parties.
In a symbolic gesture, the 79-year-old Mr Sayeed embraced Hindu nationalist Mr Modi, who was on stage to witness the ceremony, held amid tight security in the region’s winter capital of Jammu.
“We want to make the alliance a turning point in history to win the hearts and minds of all people of the state,” Mr Sayeed said later.
Mr Modi and Mr Sayeed, whose parties are staunchly opposed on a range of critical issues in the region, last week finally agreed on a common agenda to jointly rule the state.
Unveiled on Sunday, the agenda says the government will maintain a constitutional provision which allows Kashmir to make its own laws and guarantees autonomy from New Delhi.
The BJP has long been committed to its abolition, while the PDP is steadfastly in favour of keeping it.
The new government will also keep in place a draconian law that gives Indian forces sweeping search and shoot-on-sight powers in Kashmir, which is seen by critics as a cover for rights abuses.
But Mr Sayeed stressed that he would not hesitate to act against the military if abuses were committed, saying “I am the chief chairman of [a] unified command.”
“It is in my direction they have to follow. I will make them accountable.”
He said his government would also attempt to hold talks with Pakistani separatist leaders over the future of the region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.
Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has killed tens of thousands, mostly civilians.
The swearing-in ceremony comes after December elections that saw the BJP capture 25 seats mainly in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, while the PDP took 28, mostly in the Kashmir valley where Muslim separatist sentiment has traditionally been strongest.
But both failed to secure a majority to the 87-seat assembly, forcing the negotiations.
* Agency France-Presse
Updated: March 1, 2015 04:00 AM