The only way out
It is not clear why Mehbooba Mufti did not ask Governor N N Vohra to dissolve the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly when she submitted her resignation from the post of chief minister on June 20, minutes after the BJP pulled out of the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party. The governor’s decision to keep the assembly in suspended animation has left the door open to the possibility that if enough legislators get together, a new government could be formed. A few PDP legislators have declared rebellion against Mufti’s leadership, as well as their readiness to join a “non-family” political party. The BJP’s J&K head, Kavinder Gupta, has dropped hints that the party is not averse to forming another government in the state. From further afield have come demands that it is now time for a Hindu chief minister in J&K. Photographs of political meals and get-togethers put out through social media by some of the protagonists themselves seem designed to add spice to the stew. But it should be clear that whatever its hue, a new dispensation from the present assembly can come about only through horse-trading and other unseemly manoeuvres — hardly the prescription for Jammu & Kashmir’s current ills.
A political vacuum is not desirable and long periods of direct rule by the Centre have done Kashmir little good. But an engineered government, far removed from the mandate of 2014 which, in any case, had eroded almost completely by the time the PDP-BJP coalition collapsed, would be worse. It could only lead to more distrust of mainstream politicians, increase the present alienation from democratic politics, and entrench the communal polarisation already evident between Jammu and Kashmir. In short, it can only vitiate the atmosphere further. Kashmir’s post-1947 history is replete with instances of the party in power at the Centre — Congress, for the most part — engineering splits and breakaways to put together the government of its choice in the state. Each such experiment was a disaster, and it would be no different now.
A fresh election will end the vacuum, but as National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has pointed out, the situation may not be conducive just yet for that. This was amply evident during the 2017 parliamentary by-elections. The levels of violence on the ground have also prevented panchayat elections since 2016. Prime Minister Narendra Modi once said he does not need any advice “from anyone in the world” on how to handle Kashmir. That was in 2015. It is now the Centre’s responsibility, through the governor, to ensure that conditions are created for a free and fair democratic exercise to take place sooner rather than later. With the anger over the continuing killings of home-grown militants and civilians spilling over on to the streets every day, this will not be easy. But it is the only way out.