Is Modi’s BJP aiming for the moon in India’s Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is aiming for the moon in Jammu & Kashmir – the Hindu nationalists are pulling out all stops to install a Hindu chief minister in India’s only Muslim-majority province.
The man BJP is desperate to anoint is none other than Jitendra Singh, party MP from Udhampur-Doda in the Jammu region. He is the federal Minister of State for Development of North-East and is considered close to Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
The outcome of the BJP’s “Operation Hindu CM” will depend on its capabilities to engineer a split in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of ex-CM Mehbooba Mufti.
PDP and BJP ran a coalition government in J&K from 2015 until June 2018 when the latter suddenly pulled the plug dethroning Mufti and triggering yet another bout of Governor’s Rule in the troubled state bordering Pakistan.
Significantly, Governor N.N. Vohra hasn’t dissolved the 87-member J&K legislative assembly which has 28 PDP lawmakers besides 25 BJP members.
The National Conference has 15 and Congress Party 12 members, while the People’s Conference, People’s Democratic Front and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have 2, 1 and 1 respectively. Moreover there are three independents.
The assembly is still in what is called “suspended animation”, a new coalition enjoying the support of at least 44 members can easily and legally stake its claim to form a new government.
Evidently, 82-year-old Vohra, a BJP appointee, hasn’t deliberately disbanded the J&K House with the sole intention of helping the BJP to recapture power through the backdoor by engineering defections – a strategy derisively described as horse-trading by losers in the game of numbers.
Jahangir Ganai, former Advocate General of J&K, told Al Arabiya English that “the amended Para 4 of Schedule 7 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution stipulates that if two-third members of a legislative party form a new block, they will evade disqualification under the state’s anti-defection laws”. Hence at least 19 out of PDP’s 28 members must quit the party together to bypass anti-defection provisions applicable in J&K.
Nineteen deserters from the PDP plus 25 BJP legislators add up to 44 members needed for a simple majority in the 87-member House. The strength of the new coalition will be augmented by two members of Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference and three independents increasing its tally to 49, which is more than enough for the Governor to invite the new coalition to form the government.
As things stand, the BJP has already instigated five PDP legislators to openly rebel against Mufti. They are: Imran Reza Ansari, Abid Ansari, Abdul Majeed Padder, Abbas Wani and Javed Hassan Baig. The five have accused the ex-CM of perpetuating “family” rule, patronizing corrupt leaders and civil servants and declared their willingness to join an alternative government.
There is no greater proof of BJP’s machinations and manipulation to split the PDP than Mufti’s public outbursts.
She said in a television interview: “If Delhi intervenes and breaks our party to install a chief minister, it will erode the trust of Kashmiris in Indian democracy. Any intervention from Delhi will be taken seriously.” Subsequently she warned that “if Delhi tries to break PDP, the outcome will be dangerous…”
Interestingly, the BJP is speaking in two voices. While Ram Madhav, General Secretary of BJP and senior-most BJP leader handling J&K, denies all reports of poaching of PDP members and insists that there is no alternative to Governor’s Rule at present, BJP leaders like former Deputy CM Kavinder Gupta are openly saying that they are trying to cobble up a government with those who are unhappy with Mufti.
Installing a Hindu CM in Muslim-majority J&K will be a huge psychological victory for BJP which can then tell its supporters across India that it can achieve the impossible and the unimaginable. Anointing Jitendra Singh will send out the message that the BJP with Modi and Shah at the helm is unstoppable.