Views from Srinagar
Twenty months after the formation of PDP-BJP government in the state, the much touted Agenda of Alliance (AoA) – the governance agreement between the ruling allies– seems to be moving forward on saffron party’s lines, while the PDP seems to have made a quiet surrender. Kashmir Reader took a look at four major contentious issues mentioned in AoA, where the two parties despite holding conflicting stances had agreed to a working agreement after hectic negotiations between the PDP’s Haseeb Drabu and BJP’s Ram Madhav.
Talks with Pakistan and Hurriyat The AOA states that the state government would strengthen the political initiatives of union government and take steps to normalise relationship with Pakistan. Without naming Hurriyat Conference, it said the coalition government would facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections.
PROGRESS: Rather than improving, the India-Pakistan relations hit a new low in the last year, while most of the resistance leadership was rounded up and jailed, especially during the summer uprising of 2016. Political commentator Prof Sheikh Showket Hussain says that the rapprochement between India and Pakistan, and India and the Hurriyat, was “beyond the competence of state government”.
“Once it is beyond their competence, how can they make progress on such an issue of high political significance. The opening of talks with Hurriyat and normalisation of relations with Pakistan is out of the domain of PDP-led government. It falls in the domain of union government which manages foreign affairs and takes policy decisions.” So, why was the issue included in the agenda in the first place?
Prof Hussain says, “It was simply a tactic of packaging an unholy alliance. Politicians sold the issues to people, but they never meant it.” Traditionally, BJP has had negative stances on Pakistan as Hurriyat. While it has held that relationship with Pakistan was the union government’s prerogative, it has been vehemently opposed to talks with the Hurriyat Conference.
Security Matters and AFSPA The AoA states that the situation in the state had improved; hence it should get the “peace and normalcy dividend” by thoroughly reviewing the security situation. It states that while both parties have historically held a different view on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the coalition will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’.
Regional parties like National Conference, PDP, and the resistance leadership, and human rights organisations have been long seeking revocation of AFSPA from the state. However, during the ongoing assembly session, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti made a turnaround on the issue by linking the revocation of ASFPA to the success of “security forces in ending terrorism in the state”. The BJP has traditionally held that the revocation of AFSPA would be a call of armed forces who have fiercely opposed the idea of revoking the law which gives impunity to the forces.
“As far as AFSPA is concerned it is there,” Noted High Court lawyer, Zaffar Shah said. “The government has the power to revoke the law. But the question is do they have the will to do so? State government can revoke it in no time. They have to issue a notification to governor to withdraw the AFSPA. Will they do it?” He said that the BJP being a national party in India, it was politically unacceptable for them to concede to the demand of ASFPA revocation.
“Given their stand on Kashmir, BJP as a national party is in conflict with the agenda of alliance on critical issues. So there will be a deadlock,” Shah said. “The Agenda of Alliance is just a text in English. It has no commitment and legal sanctity. It has inherent flaws. The BJP has to play a peculiar role. It will play it”. “Social & Humanitarian Initiatives”
The AoA states that the coalition will ensure the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity based on their rights as state subjects and reintegrating as well as absorbing them in the Kashmiri milieu.
Apart from Pandit issue, nine more sub issues are mentioned under the same title, but only one issue of West Pakistani Refugees (WPR) got the attention. In both the issues, BJP’s stand became prominent when the issues of separate settlements for Pandits and granting citizenship rights to WPR surfaced.
Both the issues faced opposition from the resistance leadership in Kashmir, following which government claimed that it was neither planning separate colonies for Pandits, nor giving any domicile rights for WPR’s.
“Both the issues of Pandits and WPR were dealt by the government within the framework of BJP’s stand,” said political scientist Prof Noor A Baba said. “Nobody objects to the return of Pandits to Kashmir. Everybody wants their return. But the problem started when it was told that they will be living in separate colonies. It was a BJP agenda. It was not PDP’s stand,” Baba added.
Similarly, Baba said that it was a long held BJP demand that the WP refugees living in the state should be granted citizenship.
“The coalition partners have agreed to give equal focus to all issues. But it is also true that more of the focus was on the issues set by BJP,” he said. “Sainik colony issue too was the making of BJP”. Even though the PDP seems to have given in, Baba said it was under the pressure of the resistance camp the government reconsidered the decision. “Separatists questioned the government moves on separate colonies for Pandits, Sainik Colonies and WPR issue. They government buckled under pressure,” Baba said. Baba says that the BJP held an upper hand in the coalition as it was in the power in centre, and because the PDP “has weakened internally”. Developmental Agenda
Another highlight of AoA was the return of hydro-power projects from the Government of India owned NHPC. It said that the coalition would explore modalities for the transfer of Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to J&K besides revising all royalty agreements, and securing a share in the profits of NHPC emanating from Kashmir waters to the state government. “There has been no headway in seeking return of the hydro-power projects from the NHPC,” Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS) member Shakeel Qalander said.
“When they released the AoA, they said the return of power projects from NHPC, revision of royalties and sharing profits with NHPC will be done in two years. This coalition is almost two years now; there is not even a mention of it anywhere.” Qalander, whose KCSDS is seeking return of power projects, said that the union government had snubbed the PDP-led government when it raised the issue of return of power projects.
“Union power minister Piyush Goyal straightaway said that they will not allow transfer of power projects from NHPC to state. Goyal happens to be a member of BJP. It means central government led by BJP which stitched the coalition and formed agenda of alliance is not in its favour,” Qalanader said, adding that the local unit of BJP was also not in favor of returning power projects to the state. “We had a talk with them (state BJP). They have shown a negative approach,” Qalandar said. “Thereafter, the government has not shown any seriousness in pursuing the union government to return the power projects”. “We in civil society believe that BJP has so far succeeded in taking forward their manifesto while PDP has miserably failed to do so. The PDP made big claims in its manifesto, but could not do anything. The stand of BJP on major issues like WPR, Pandits, AFSPA and power projects seems to be moving forward only,” Qalandar said.
—Courtesy: Kashmir Reader