Kashmir Government in Turmoil as Coalition Breaks Down
Posted June 19, 2018 1:12 p.m. EDT
SRINAGAR, Kashmir — India’s governing party ended an alliance with a powerful regional party in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, leading to the resignation of a top official and plunging the disputed mountainous territory into fresh turmoil over its leadership.
Ram Madhav, general secretary of the governing party, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said it was severing a three-year alliance with the top political group in Kashmir, the Muslim-majority Peoples Democratic Party.
“Terrorism, violence and radicalization have risen, and the fundamental rights of the citizens are under danger in the Kashmir Valley,” Madhav told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday, adding that the alliance had not helped to curb a deteriorating security situation in Kashmir. He said power in the area would be passed to the state’s governor.
Shortly after the announcement, Mehbooba Mufti, the top official in Jammu and Kashmir and the head of the Peoples Democratic Party, resigned from her post as chief minister.
Mufti said that giving control to the governor would enable the Indian central government to exert more influence in Jammu and Kashmir, further alienating locals who were already suspicious of Indian security forces.
“We tried our best for dialogue and reconciliation,” she said at a news conference in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. “Unfortunately, we did not get an appropriate response from the other side.”
Kashmir has been at the center of a decadeslong conflict between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, which both claim parts of the Himalayan territory. Three wars over the claims have killed thousands of people.
In recent months, clashes in the area have worsened as protests bring Indian security forces and Kashmiris into conflict almost every day.
A cease-fire announced by the Indian government last month for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan failed to catch hold. And in the last week, at least four civilians have been killed, including Shujaat Bukhari, editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir, an English-language daily, who was gunned down by assailants outside his office. It was the first time a journalist had been murdered in Kashmir for several years.
Last week, the United Nations released its first report on atrocities committed in Kashmir by India and Pakistan. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the global organization’s high commissioner for human rights, called for an international investigation into reports of sexual violence and torture, sharply criticizing Indian security forces as using excessive force on protesters, including firing blinding pellet guns into crowds.
Within minutes of the report’s release, the Indian government rejected the contents, calling them “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.”
The 2015 alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Peoples Democratic Party created a state government in Jammu and Kashmir to try to bring peace to the region.
The two parties came together after months of negotiations over their different views on key issues, including whether to repeal a law that gives Indian soldiers broad immunity from prosecution in civilian courts, including in cases involving the suspected rape and murder of Kashmiris.
Elections held in 2014 drew record turnouts, with the Bharatiya Janata Party winning 25 seats, all in districts with big Hindu populations, and the Peoples Democratic Party winning 28, the most in the Legislative Assembly. At least 44 seats are required for a majority.
But the alliance was always an uncomfortable one, with many Kashmiris characterizing the Peoples Democratic Party’s decision to govern with the Bharatiya Janata Party as a betrayal. In the years since the alliance took shape, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has become highly polarized along religious lines. The Jammu part of the state is a political base for the Bharatiya Janata Party and a Hindu stronghold, while the Kashmir part is a Muslim-majority area.
Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, a lawmaker in Kashmir, said, “Instead of reconciliation and coming together or narrowing the gap between two regions and two communities, the facts remain that the divide has become deeper.”
Still, the end of the alliance surprised many in India, with some observers saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party had left to skirt responsibility for recent atrocities in Kashmir and that the party’s decision could lead to fresh violence.
Noor Ahmad Baba, a professor of political science at Central University of Kashmir, said the Bharatiya Janata Party might have abandoned the alliance for tactical reasons before elections in 2019, when Modi will run for re-election.
Free from the alliance, the central government could have broader authority to exert force in Kashmir, he said. That may help deliver votes from people living in other parts of India, who often view separatist militant groups in Kashmir as being armed and backed by Pakistan.
“New Delhi will push forces to wipe out Kashmiri militants in the woods and sell the killing of militants as its tough stance on separatists,” Baba said. “In India, the Kashmir problem is not seen through the prism of a political issue, but as a Muslim problem in Hindu India.”