Kashmiris, like people in distress elsewhere, search for solace in counterfactual thinking. Had Pakistan invaded Kashmir when India and China were fighting a war in 1962, Kashmir might have been liberated. Had Sheikh Abdullah not surrendered before Indira Gandhi in 1974, he would have been leading the insurgency from his grave as a hero. This thinking resurfaced on Wednesday when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) walked out of the government in Jammu and Kashmir, exposing its alliance partner People's Democratic Party, especially the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, to a deluge of dispiriting ridicule on social media.
Mehbooba's rival and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, "How I wish she had left with her head held high and her dignity intact".
On Twitter, however, Abdullah was promptly reminded that he was no different; an allusion to his decision to stick to power while putting down a public uprising in 2010 with massive force. More than 120 street protesters were killed, thousands injured and hundreds arrested. This decision, he later admitted, led to National Conference's worst ever defeat in the 2014 assembly election. Expectedly, PDP had at that time asked Omar to quit.
Counterfactual thinking, psychologists have shown, can both be beneficial and adverse. But such thinking always reminds Kashmiris of their incremental disempowerment aided in large part by pro-India politicians during the past seven decades.
By pointing to Mehbooba's infirmity, Omar suggests the possibility of a 'dignified' recourse when faced with tough political choices, even though —when faced with similar circumstances — his party has flinched every time. Therefore, it becomes imperative to read PDP's shabby treatment at the hands of BJP in the context of past developments.
Immediate analyses of the BJP's decision to topple the government point to the familiar: The party gave the PDP no opportunity to score even symbolic victories in a place where symbolism has often passed for real politics; BJP is fortifying its turf, the resurgently nationalistic Hindu-majority Jammu region, for 2019 parliamentary elections and imminent fresh assembly polls in J&K. By ruling directly from New Delhi through Governor, the saffron party is potentially freer to carry out its dream agenda of "integrating Kashmir with India" by abrogating laws providing special status to the state in the Indian Constitution. Only in Jammu and Kashmir the governor has the power to legislate during his rule.
Then there has been an all-out offensive against militants, and by extension against their supporters—the majority of the Kashmiri population— during the past four years. The BJP had everything to gain from such muscular approach. But the PDP was left with burdensome task of justifying such policies at every step.
Now, at every political rally leading up to 2019 elections, BJP will revel in saying that during its rule in J&K, hundreds of militants were killed and anti-India dissent was crushed with unprecedented force. BJP can defend, in the "national interest", the partial or complete blinding of more than 1,100 street protesters, by pellet ammunition, since 2016. More than 200 civilian protesters have been killed.
For the PDP, such figures are a toxic blot on its tenure, particularly when Mehbooba Mufti, as opposition leader, rallied on Srinagar roads holding placards depicting gruesome injuries to street protesters in 2010. All PDP legislators and workers live in the neighbourhood of the families of dead militants and civilian protesters. No BJP legislator does.
Given the fanatical popularity of militants, especially in southern Kashmir that was PDP's stronghold, how will PDP go before the people and defend the killing of militants, most of them local boys, after claiming itself as their "representative" in the assembly during its first stint in power in 2002? Will a PDP legislator dare ask for votes in villages where militants give gun salutes to their fallen colleagues and people come in between militants and soldiers during a gunfight?
The party also failed miserably on two other fronts it claimed were its primary motives behind the alliance with BJP. First, development. By aligning with a party that is ruling at the Centre, PDP sold the idea that money will flow into J&K unconstrained. But in
April this year, a PTI report quoted home ministry officials saying that of the Rs 80,000 crore economic package PM Narendra Modi had announced in 2015 for Jammu and Kashmir, only 31 percent of the funds had been released and only 25 percent utilised so far. A 2.4-kilometre flyover in Srinagar, under construction since 2013, has missed several deadlines.
Second, the party faltered in facilitating dialogue on Kashmir, as promised in the Agenda of Alliance with BJP. In fact, the possibility of a dialogue seems remote as ever at present.
By and large, this has been the legacy of every Kashmir-based pro-India party in Kashmir. When India had nearly lost Kashmir in the mid 1990s, Omar Abdullah's father and two-time chief minister Farooq Abdullah was coaxed into reviving electoral politics in Kashmir. He had been cooling off in London. The party fought the 1996 election believing the political autonomy the state enjoyed before 1953, or some variant of it, would be restored.
At the fag end of its rule, in 2000, the National Conference passed autonomy resolution in the state assembly with two-thirds majority (counterfactual wish: only if they had passed a bill). By then, the Congress that had sweet-talked the Abdullahs into elections, had been replaced at the Centre by the BJP-led NDA, which summarily dumped the resolution without even according it the dignity of a discussion in Parliament. Not having learnt lessons, National Conference again aligned with Congress in 2008, only to end up as a shadow of its former self.
Out of power, National Conference and PDP complain about loss of Kashmiri agency, only to end up weakening it further once in power. That is probably why Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed tweeted that "PDP will soon start talking about human rights of Kashmiris" after BJP broke off the alliance.
While straddling between perennially rebellious Kashmir and New Delhi, pro-India Kashmiri politicians have always ceded power. The counter argument runs that they never had any real power. True, but why sell this make-believe dabbling in electoral politics as the real thing? The net result of the abysmal failure of pro-India politics has already started showing up in the most resurgent phase of the current phase of the protracted anti-India insurgency. Despite all the military muscle, the state has not been able to hold by-poll for Anantnag parliamentary seat since last April.
All Mehbooba Mufti could do after the unceremonious end to her rule was to warn New Delhi that its "muscular policy will not work in Kashmir". This, after having partnered in executing the same muscular policy on ground for four years. Her remarks obviously met with scorn and one more counterfactual wish: only if she had stepped down in 2016 when the state was virtually at war with the people.