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EXCLUSIVE: How the PDP-BJP deal was sealed

By Sheela Bhatt/
Last updated on: March 02, 2015 09:28 IST
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An economist from Kashmir and a popular face from the RSS/BJP craftily wove an alliance in what is one of the most difficult agenda-setting exercises in recent history. Sheela Bhatt/ reports.

History has been created in Jammu and Kashmir.

The coalition government, led jointly by the People's Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which came into existence on Sunday, March 1, is a stunning political event.

Who would have imagined that when a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak for many years would be prime minister, the BJP would win 25 seats to influence the course of political and cultural events in Kashmir?

Who knew that one day he would depute his hawkish confidante and party President Amit Shah to supervise the Common Minimum Programme between the BJP and PDP, also called the Agenda of the Alliance -- exaggerated by some as the 'second Instrument of Accession'?

Who would have thought that Shah would depute the BJP's newly appointed General Secretary Ram Madhav, who for years has been a popular face of the RSS, to negotiate a deal with the PDP -- a party known for its soft stand on Kashmiri separatists, whom the RSS dubs as anti-nationals?

The PDP assigned Haseeb Ahmed Drabu, an economist from Jammu and Kashmir and a loyalist of PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Drabu almost turned vegetarian after endless meetings with Ram Madhav in various secret locations in Chandigarh, Jammu and New Delhi.

Ram Madhav and Drabu could click in spite of their political baggage. Drabu, a suave and intelligent economist, had been known to be a 'sympathiser' of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in its initial years.

Both sides have different agendas and perspectives on Kashmir's history. Both sides, as Muftisaab said to the television cameras after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were as different as the 'South and North Poles.' Still, the alliance of the opposite poles has been woven carefully and craftily.

Mufti spoke from the heart when he met Modi for 70 minutes at the prime minister's office. He told Modi and later the media that a flight from Srinagar to Jammu takes 20 minutes and a journey by road 6 hours, but the emotional distance has remained for the last 60 years that should be bridged by the PDP-BJP government.

The momentous time has put a huge burden on the shoulders of Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Sayeed, who will have to work pragmatically to see that their parties ensure the agenda of the alliance fructifies. Both men have an opportunity to turn statesmen.

In Mufti's case, his success will help a torn state that has seen only tragedies to experience peace. The PDP-BJP's harmony, while delivering development and justice to the people, will give the state an opportunity to grow and shed some painful memories. Of course, their success will help not just India and Jammu and Kashmir, but also the geopolitical territory.

If Mufti succeeds, his legacy will strengthen the efforts of his daughter Mehbooba Mufti to carve out her future. Modi can kick start from Jammu and Kashmir the historic transformation of his exclusionist party towards an inclusive political journey.

During the negotiations, people in the know say Drabu used to joke that he was like Sita in the Ramayan, who had only one husband, but Ram Madhav was like Draupadi in the Mahabharat. Ram Madhav had the Prime Minister's Office, the BJP, the RSS and many other nationalist forces in Jammu to keep in focus before he agreed on anything.

Both sides were rigid. It took two full months to seal the deal between Madhav and Drabu as more than half a dozen 'final drafts' were made.

Just two nights before the swearing-in ceremony, the alliance broke down on issues related to the separatist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference.

The PDP insisted that a mention of talks with Pakistan and the Hurriyat was necessary in the final draft. The BJP finally agreed to mention the Hurriyat indirectly.

The Agenda of Alliance mentions, 'The earlier NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of "Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat".'

Amit Shah spent many nights to weigh in on each and every word and comma in the final deal. Neither the media nor the party or the RSS had full knowledge of the negotiations.

Only Modi, Amit Shah, Ram Madhav and Arun Jaitley, on the BJP side, and Drabu, Mufti and Mehbooba from the PDP knew how things were shaping up.

It was one of the most difficult agenda-setting exercises in recent history. Both parties were aware on day one that a consensus was unlikely. There would only be an agreement to understand the differences that could be put it in perspective to run the development agenda.

The BJP had three priorities. One, it wanted the new government to agree on a one-time settlement for refugees from Pakistan occupied Kashmir of 1947, 1965 and 1971. These are largely Hindus suffering unbearable oddities because for the last three generations they have not received citizenship or any legal recognition. Corruption in the system has helped some of them get citizenship and admission for their children in local schools.

The BJP wanted measures for the sustenance and livelihood for West Pakistan refugees.

Another important issue was to agree to constitute a commission to delimit the state's assembly constituencies. This exercise has so far not been conducted in Jammu and Kashmir and is expected to change the state's electoral profile.

The issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act took two weeks to be sort out between Madhav and Drabu.

Even though the PDP wanted the AFPSA to be withdrawn in a phased manner, both sides agreed that the new government would examine the need to de-notify 'disturbed areas.'

This would enable the Union government to take a final view on the continuation of the AFSPA in these areas. Modi will have the final view on the matter.

It is well-known that on the issue of Article 370 -- which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir in the Constitution -- the BJP-RSS position is that it should be abrogated. The PDP, on the other hand, wanted to strengthen and secure Article 370.

The BJP has taken a way out by resorting to the Vajpayee formula. The BJP has repeated its position taken by then prime minister Vajpayee and then home minister L K Advani. Both parties have agreed to maintain all Constitutional provisions for the next six years.

The alliance will be reviewed after three years, but this is not included in the written draft. The BJP has not mentioned that it wants a three-year term for its own chief minster, so technically Mufti is the chief minister for the assembly's six year term.

So, in the common agenda setting exercise, has the PDP won or the BJP? It is difficult to say. Such agendas, however balanced or one-sided, can be judged only after it is put to the test.

Also, since the PDP-BJP alliance faces more odds than favourable conditions, all stakeholders will have ultra-cautious optimism.

If any one side had dominated the agenda it would have made the alliance a non-starter. It seems the BJP will be a little flexible in Mufti's efforts to bring into the mainstream one section of the Hurriyat and separatists leaders, while on the issue of the Jammu region's woes, Mufti will be liberal.

If Mufti can do both, then the BJP and India should thank him.

The BJP had the chance to have its own chief minister if Omar Abdullah had agreed to an alliance. Sources say Abdullah met BJP leaders in New Delhi, but after he returned to Srinagar his party forced him to ditch the BJP.

The National Conference has 15 seats and the BJP 25 in the state assembly. In the 87-member assembly, a BJP-National Conference alliance would have got the BJP its own CM, but Abdullah's party thinks a PDP-BJP alliance is unworkable.

The PDP, the National Conference believes, will be the bigger loser if that happens. And once it suffers a setback, Mehbooba, Omar Abdullah's arch rival, will suffer the most.

If and when the PDP-BJP alliance fails, it is argued Abdullah will be able to deal with the BJP from a position of strength.

RSS-BJP leaders think that Jammu and Kashmir is India's most important state, not just for India's security, but for the country's identity.

Modi has taken up a pragmatic step by not selecting the National Conference, but the PDP to form a coalition government.

Conservative elements of the Sangh Parivar should allow the BJP to work out a development agenda in tandem with the PDP so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir redeem some pain of the past for a better future.

It is time for Kashmir to redeem the baggage of history and create a new one for its own good.

If Haseeb Drabu and Ram Madhav can share the table and if the PDP and the BJP can shake hands, and if Jammu can come closer to Srinagar, then nothing is impossible, perhaps.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed after the swearing-in ceremony in Jammu, March 1, 2015. Photograph: PTI Photo

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Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi
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