By Sheikh Qayoom
There seems to be no end to the troubles plaguing the uneasy BJP-PDP coalition that governs Jammu and Kashmir.
No one had expected a smooth marriage when the Kashmir Valley-based Peoples Democratic Party and the Jammu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party came together after a hung verdict in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
But on issue after issue, the two parties remain clearly poles apart, the BJP more assertive than its senior partner when it comes to the interests of the Hindu-majority Jammu region.
In the process, an event going on since 1947 suffered a hiccup for the first time this month.
On July 13, 1931, a Muslim mob stormed the jail here in a bid to free Abdul Qadir, a cook, who was imprisoned for giving a fiery speech against the Dogra king who Muslims viewed as autocratic.
The maharaja’s Hindu troops fired at the mob killing 22 people. The victims were buried outside the Naqashband Sahab shrine in old Srinagar. The graveyard came to be known as the Martyrs’ Graveyard.
After the Dogra king’s rule ended, July 13 was declared a public holiday in the state. To commemorate those killed in 1931, chief ministers have been visiting the graveyard to pay floral tributes.
On July 13 this year, the BJP stayed away from the function and made public its strong reservations about the “sacrifices” by those killed in 1931.
No BJP minister in the Mufti Muhammad Sayeed-led coalition attended any official function connected with the Martyrs Day commemoration.
And BJP state vice president Ramesh Arora said in Jammu: “Those killed in 1931 had risen against a genuine ruler of the state.”
The rightwing BJP regards the rule of the Dogra maharajas as a “golden period of history”. The last Dogra maharaja, Hari Singh, is regarded as a “hero” in Jammu.
The controversy has added to the wedge between the PDP and the BJP, whose constituents lie in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region respectively.
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the apparent shepherd of the coalition, is clearly not finding it easy to keep the flock together.
Most Kashmiris feel that it is highly unlikely that the tug-of-war between the two ruling partners won’t jam the wheels of governance in the state — at some point or the other.
The first rocking of the boat for Sayeed happened on the very day he was sworn in on March 1.
At his first press conference, Sayeed credited Pakistan, the militants and separatist leaders for the smooth conduct of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and this year’s assembly elections in Kashmir.
The BJP reacted angrily, Sayeed later credited the Election Commission, the security forces and the people as well for the peaceful election.
Sayeed’s decision to free militant hardliner Masrat Alam from prison also boomeranged. The BJP rolled up its sleeves against the decision as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to soothe nerves in parliament.
Eventually, Alam returned to prison.
A controversy also erupted over the Jammu and Kashmir flag. Kashmir — unlike all other states in India — has a flag of its own, and it is flown along with the Indian tricolour.
Sayeed’s administration hastily withdrew an official circular which had been issued to assert the respect to be shown to the state flag at official functions as well as on official buildings and vehicles after the BJP took exception to it.
The latest controversy is: Whether those killed in 1931 were martyrs or rebels?
Undoubtedly, one man’s rebel is another man’s revolutionary. However, the moot point is how many jolts can a ruling coalition take that Sayeed had described as “a marriage between the East and the West”?
For the optimists in Kashmir, time is fast ticking away.