Political Live-Ins

These days there is a lot of talk about the ‘divorce’ between Jammu and Kashmir’s coalition partners whose tenure is due to end in a couple of months. The term is wholly wrong, though.  Because marriages suggest permanence and there is nothing like that in politics. Coalitions can be better termed as live-in relationships, because invariably what brings any two parties together is lust – for power.

Coalitions are an unavoidable improvisation when no party has a clear-cut mandate; they become a compulsion when you want power badly. In an ideal situation it is the parties which have similar ideologies that would come together to form a government to address concerns they have in common. But idealism in politics exists only in election manifestos. It is not uncommon for parties with diametrically opposite views to come together in a coalition government even if their common minimum program remains limited to sharing power and the spoils that come with it.

The state of J&K has been witnessing the coalition phenomenon almost since the day electoral politics restarted here after a prolonged period of Governors’ rule during the turbulent nineties. In the near future also, there doesn’t seem to be any likelihood of any single party being able to form a government on its own. Coalition politics are here to stay. The centre, which till now has been synonymous with the Congress except for brief forgettable interludes, has always discouraged independent politics in Kashmir. It was in the fifties only when the Sheikh was deposed and arrested that the Congress party started manipulating local politics. It was a much sobered Sheikh who came to power after being consigned to political wilderness for several decades.

Every time the National Conference tried to assert itself, the centre (read the Congress) pulled the rug from beneath it. When the second generation of the Abdullahs came to power, the party tried asserting itself again, but the Congress split the family and propped up an unpopular government which suppressed the local sentiment through curfews extending for days.   It was this that was the prelude to the upheaval that followed only a few years later.

After making its terms clear again, the Congress allowed a watered-down National Conference to gain power in the state. The third generation of the Abdullahs got a taste of the same medicine when the centre aligned with Mufti’s PDP and people began to write the National Conference off as a spent force. When the PDP, riding on popular support, got too drunk with power and began to take a confrontational path it was soon shown its place and the NC once again found itself holding the reins. Now, it seems that once again the shoe is on the other foot.

The political scene in this state has been manipulated in such a manner that no matter how many seats a regional party is able to garner, it remains a zero which, without the Congress party as a prefix, means that it amounts to just that – nothing. With both parties clamouring for support, the prerogative remained with the Congress, a prerogative that gave it enough power to dictate the terms of the coalition.

Of course, reason would suggest that the rival regional parties, that is, the National Conference and the PDP, have much more in common and can form a viable coalition between themselves. But then that is impossible, because coalitions are not about common concerns but power. Besides, the centre has already put a deterrent in place against this impossible union by encouraging a potential ‘third front’ in the form of renegade politicians who enjoy power and privilege beyond the size of their parties and the number of members they have in the assembly.

In the recent past, the National Conference leadership has habitually lashed out at the rival PDP, saying that its very existence was doomed as the alliance between NC and the Congress becomes stronger. The fact, however, is that in politics it doesn’t take long for fortunes to get reversed.

Now, it increasingly appears that it is the National Conference that is doomed. The capitulations the party has made have been progressively abject in nature, and have contributed hugely to the loss of its identity. This time around it has lost credibility even among its own cadres who have often expressed frustration at having had to play second fiddle, with all power and privileges being usurped by the controlling partner in the coalition, that is, Congress. This, coupled with a leadership that is more or less unapproachable, has left party cadres disillusioned.

Now that PDP has come out of its sulk and the Congress has gone into overdrive, it is obvious that the two are all set to launch a new relationship. Much as is being made of this ‘change,’ there is nothing new to it. It is only the dancing partners that change, the waltz remains the same.

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