The controversy has now rattled the state assembly, which is in session in Srinagar, exposing the strain not just between the coalition partners in the state government, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, but also within the PDP itself.
On Thursday, an independent legislator, Sheikh Abdul Rashid was kicked around by a group of Bharatiya Janata party lawmakers as he entered the House. Rashid tried hitting back in defense but opposition members from National Conference and Congress party rescued him. The ruckus forced chief minister and patron of PDP, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, to condemn his colleagues’ behavior and demand a statement from his deputy from the BJP. Rashid had thrown a provocative “beef party” in defiance of the ban the previous evening, saying it was legal in the light of the Supreme Court order.
Marriage of opposites
The alliance between Sayeed’s PDP and the BJP has been a difficult one from the beginning, with the chief minister himself referring to it as coming together of “north pole and south pole”. He has managed to keep his flock of MLAs and other party seniors together despite their unhappiness over the alliance.
But a senior PDP leader and member parliament, Tariq Hameed Karra, issued a scathing statement after the assault on Rashid asking Sayeed and the party president Mehbooba Mufti to reconsider the alliance with BJP.
Karra said as the minorities in India were looking towards a united leadership to counter radical Hindutva elements, his party cannot afford to be seen “cozying up to such sadistic elements for the sake of power”. This is the first instance of a senior PDP leader openly challenging Sayeed’s resolve to stay with the BJP.
Already loaded with ammunition against the PDP-BJP government over its failure of reconstruction and rehabilitation after last year’s devastating floods in the state, former chief minister Omar Abdullah echoed Karra, saying the assault on Rashid proved that the accusations that the BJP had been involved in the Dadri lynching incident were right.
On the offensive
“My religion prohibits drinking alcohol and eating pork. So, should I start beating anyone who consumes alcohol or pork?” he said inside the House pointing towards the BJP legislators. “Your sentiments should be respected, so should be ours.”
Though the deputy chief minister and BJP leader Nirmal Singh stopped short of apologising for his colleagues’ behavior, he said it was wrong. “On behalf of my party and myself, I say that this should not have happened here,” he said under pressure from the chief minister.
The apparently synchronous statements by Karra and the opposition neutralised the chief minister’s subtle criticism of the BJP-led central government a day earlier over rising incidents of religious intolerance in India.
It is not the beef row alone. Mainstream politicians in Kashmir have long said that allying with party in power in New Delhi is a necessity more than a choice for the state's ruling party.
For Sayeed, who has tried to break that notion, at least in his rhetoric, it is proving costly. He has consistently been justifying his party’s rocky alliance with BJP as the best combination for evolving religious and regional harmony in the state and initiating an “era of unprecedented development”.
But the general perception across the state is that his government is failing on both the counts.
For example, for Ghulam Nabi, a shopkeeper in Srinagar, tarring roads anew is no big deal. “Even during the worst periods of turmoil doing up the roads was a regular government activity. Is that all there is to development?” Nabi asked. “Where is the much-touted massive flood relief package Mufti said his coalition would bring from Delhi?”
It is on questions like these, and the increasing religious polarisation in the state that the PDP-BJP government is being assessed.
The situation has also generated a sense of foreboding inside Sayeed’s own PDP that is sensing a fast-shrinking of space for its brand of political maneuvering against its rivals in the Kashmir valley. The grapevine has it that the PDP is waiting for an emotive political opportunity to checkmate the BJP.
However, the BJP appears expanding its comfort zone, fast consolidating its influence in the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu region while it has nothing to loose in Sayeed’s bastion in the Kashmir valley.
The coming months will be crucial for the PDP as the party patriarch Sayeed draws from his decades of experience to salvage both his party’s waning credibility and his own legacy.