A fortnight ago, people in Kashmir returned a fractured verdict that gave neither of the contestants in the state's 12th election enough seats to form a government. Yet it was a milestone in its half a century history of suicidal politics. This time people have rejected terrorism, dynastic rule and secessionist sentiment. The Indian National Congress and the young People's Democratic Party (PDP) are in the race for power. Since neither party can independently stake a claim to power, a coalition remains the only way-out. So far, agreement has eluded them and the Congress is seriously bent on forming a government with the help of independent legislators.
There is now a dangerous power vacuum that is likely to undo the best thing that ever has happened to the people of Kashmir. The Congress has a history of spearheading the country's freedom struggle and running the federal government for 45 of the 55 years of the republic. Therefore, it must now find ways of hammering out an alliance with the younger and inexperienced People's Democratic Party and frustrate the attempt of the ousted and discredited Farooq Abdullah's National Conference. Any further delay in forging a bipartisan accord will undo the dream of the people for a better administration.
It is natural for a younger party not to lose its first opportunity to run a government. It is the duty of the bigger and senior party to accommodate the anxiety of a nascent political outfit to occupy the helm. The Congress will have to take the blame for any failure in arriving at a settlement. Its numerical strength is enough guarantee against any separatist tendencies that the PDP is likely to acquire. Any further delay will squander the gains people have made in the face of unprecedented violence.
Burdened with the responsibility to run a government, the PDP can be counted upon to put behind its record of rapport with such movements as Hizbul Mujahadeen. Coalitions seem to be the order of the day and inevitable where the collectivity of the people's will is constantly challenged by divisive forces. The PDP has now a greater understanding of the needs of the Kashmiri people than the Congress that has been out of power for a long time.
Today, it is either coalition or disaster. Any coalition that emerges from bipartisan parleys will have to remember that several political groups have stayed away from the election. This clearly shows the need to make the government more representative by opening the doors of consultation to these groups despite their failure to participate in the electoral exercise. Now is the time for reconciliation and not inflexible ideological postures. Both the Congress and the PDP must see the writing on the wall and reach an accord without delay.
The inevitability of knitting together and running a coalition may lure some parties to raise the plebiscite slogan again. That contingency will never arise if the partners of the coalition can distinguish between the nation and the government. The federal government lost no time in assuring that it will negotiate the Kashmir problem with the parties forming the coalition in Srinagar. This is not a time to gloat over victories however deserving and celebrate the embarrassment of the rivals. The victory does not belong to any party. It belongs to the men and women of Kashmir who thronged the polling booths undaunted by weather and violence. It belongs to the entire nation.
For the present, it is a setback to dynastic manipulations. The Abdullahs are great survivors and cannot be dismissed lightly. With several fence sitters around the corner willing to barter their support for anything, the Abdullahs staging a comeback cannot be ruled out. One danger that must be insured against is the political mischief that a dethroned dynasty is likely to resort to. The Abdullahs have a history of using secessionist politics as a weapon to wrench concessions from the federal government. There is a danger of vanquished sections helping the Abdullahs in their designs against the federal government for short-term gains and pique.
Contributed by Dasu Krishnamoorty
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