State of the Nation | Will it be nationalism or ‘vikas’ in 2019?

The snapping of the alliance with the PDP to bring down the Jammu & Kashmir government is a veiled signal that Kashmir, terrorism and Pakistan may dominate the BJP’s election narrative

Why did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abruptly end its alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and bring down the Mehbooba Mufti government in the state? The official reasons for the June 19 move pointed to increased violence, terrorism and radicalisation impinging internal security as precipitating factors. Also, the PDP-led government was charged with failing to fulfil its promises towards the development of the Jammu and Ladakh regions. As a result, after assessing the situation, the Saffron party’s high command, we were told, was left with no other option but to hand over the reins of the state to the Governor.

But there may be more to the decision than meets the eye. It is true that J&K was proving to be an embarrassment for the BJP and being part of the government in the state reflected poorly on its ability to contain terrorism, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. However, the timing of the pull-out has raised eyebrows since there was no immediate provocation for the move. BJP spokespersons' attempt to project the gunning down of journalist Shujaat Bukhari as the proverbial last straw have not been particularly convincing. Since when has the murder of a journalist caused the fall of a government?

The unstated reasons, if one is to go by murmurs emanating from the Sangh Parivar, lie elsewhere. Apparently, the decision to pull the plug should be read as a signal that nationalism, internal security and Pakistan could top the party’s electoral rhetoric in the 2019 general election. It will no longer be achhe din or the promise of vikas (development). And in such a scenario, being part of the J&K government in alliance with the PDP (a party labelled by the BJP in its 2014 election campaign as “soft on separatists”) would be counter-productive.

Alliance diluted Saffron ideology
The need for a sharper focus on nationalism has possibly emerged after the realisation within the party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that the development plank may not, on its own, yield the dividends it was expected to. Indeed, it is felt that the deepening agrarian crisis, unemployment, inflation, the fallout of demonetisation and the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) can no longer be countered with feel good statistics, promises and fake news. Moreover, the feedback from the ground is that the government does not enjoy the same public confidence as it did in its first years of power, and this has been reflected in a string of recent electoral defeats. Adding to the government's woes is rising crude prices which will push inflation further.

Now that the party’s J&K coalition experiment has been discontinued, there are many in the BJP who feel that the Kashmir issue and Pakistan can be more effectively used nationally even in the unlikely event of the regional parties cobbling together an alternative government in the state

Should vikas indeed take the backseat, there will necessarily be a shift in focus of the narrative presented to the electorate. National security concerns and terrorism will have to be employed as core issues to raise the nationalism pitch. And to do this, the military will have to be far more proactive against secessionists and militants in J&K than it is at present. Also, it would have to flex its muscles along the Line of Control (LOC) and the international border with Pakistan.

Having an elected government in Srinagar meant denying the army a free hand. And the BJP supporting a PDP-led government, which preferred a political solution to the Kashmir problem and a dialogue with Pakistan to military intervention, would not have helped. In fact, many BJP leaders are on record that the alliance with the PDP had diluted the party’s stand on Kashmir and Pakistan.

Small price for potentially bigger prize
As it is, there was always bickering within the BJP as well as the Sangh Parivar over the BJP’s unholy alliance with the PDP, and pressure has been mounting of late on the party leadership to snap ties. Now that the party’s J&K coalition experiment has been discontinued, there are many in the BJP who feel that the Kashmir issue and Pakistan can be more effectively used nationally even in the unlikely event of the regional parties cobbling together an alternative government in the state. This seems virtually impossible with most observers predicting a prolonged phase of Governor’s Rule in J&K.

It has been pointed out in some quarters that pulling out of the government will help the BJP minimise losses in the Jammu region where it was invoking the wrath of Hindu groups for being in partnership with the PDP, perceived to be “pro-Muslim”. But was Jammu an immediate factor, considering it only has two Lok Sabha seats? Perhaps, the BJP being out of the government may at best help sections of the Sangh Parivar to project the sensitive Kathua rape-and-murder case as another instance of Hindus falsely charged by the biased J&K police in the brutalisation of an eight-year-old Muslim girl.

With the Opposition breathing down its neck and allegations of corruption flying thick and fast, party insiders feel that the 2019 narrative will be a lot different from the one in 2014. While Hindu nationalism has always been an important staple of any BJP campaign, it may acquire an added priority in next year’s election with Kashmir, terrorism and the threat from Pakistan figuring prominently in the mix.Now that the party’s J&K coalition experiment has been discontinued, there are many in the BJP who feel that the Kashmir issue and Pakistan can be more effectively used nationally even in the unlikely event of the regional parties cobbling together an alternative government in the state.

State of the Nation | When numbers don’t tell the real story 
Far Away and Long Ago | Partition through an extraordinary lens
Jhelum Review | Hugging for sedition
Editor’s Pick More