India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has pulled out of a coalition government in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, potentially destabilizing the already restive region ahead of national elections in 2019.
With violence rising in recent years, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said in a news conference Tuesday the political agreement between the two unlikely allies had become untenable.
“Keeping in mind the larger national interest of India’s integrity and security, keeping in mind the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, in order to bring control over the situation prevailing in the state, we have decided that it is time the reins of power in the state be handed over to the governor,” Madhav said.
The Hindu-nationalist BJP has jointly governed with the Muslim-backed People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state since 2015, a highly unusual arrangement in the fractious region. Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state.
The BJP’s decision to pull out of the coalition government has frustrated members of the opposition parties, who have accused the ruling party of threatening the stability of the region.
Tensions in Indian-administered Kashmir have repeatedly flared up in recent months following the death of Burhan Wani, a young militant leader who reach out to Kashmiri youth on social media, in 2016.
His death sparked a new wave of unrest that claimed more than 90 civilian lives and left thousands wounded in 2016. Prominent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen Thursday in the state’s summer capital of Srinagar.
With India’s general elections due to be held by May 2019, the ruling BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is preparing its campaign strategy.
Speaking to CNN, Happymon Jacob, an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who has written extensively on India and Pakistan, told CNN that the BJP’s decision to pull out of the coalition as “political opportunism.”
“The BJP now knows going into the 2019 general elections with the PDP is not going to be very useful on a national level,” said Jacob.
Indian-administered Kashmir has been plagued by separatist violence since 1989. More than 42,000 lives have already been lost in the violence, according to the official count, although rights groups say it could be as much as twice that figure.
With the elections on the horizon, the BJP’s “tough on terror” stance may prove beneficial with voters in the province.
“The PDP has what they call a ‘soft separatist stance.’ The BJP wants to use the (Indian-administered) Kashmir issue in a more robust manner in the upcoming elections,” he added.
The move comes just days after India’s Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced an end to a ceasefire between militants and security forces proposed by the PDP’s Mufti as a peace initiative during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“In order to stabilize the security situation, pro-active military operations will go up. This will lead to a lot of bloodshed and violence…The BJP will say we are going to go after the terrorists, we will carry out operations and that will be used as part of the success story of this government in the upcoming elections,” said Jacob.
A controversial coalition
Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned shortly after the BJP announced it was ending its three-year alliance with her People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“We forged the BJP-PDP alliance after much deliberation under the vision, under the impression that the BJP is a large political party and that the Prime Minister has received a popular mandate,” Mufti told reporters after submitting her resignation.
“We didn’t form this alliance for power. This alliance had a broader objective, of unilateral ceasefire, dialogue … We didn’t do this for power,” added Mufti.
The December 2014 election saw the PDP win 28 legislators in Jammu and Kashmir while the BJP had 25. In order to form a government, a majority of 44 seats out of 87 is required.
In a statement posted to social media, Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, accused the BJP of incompetence and arrogance.
With a new coalition government unlikely, Jammu and Kashmir will now will be under governor’s rule until fresh elections are called, an option that will suit the BJP in spite of them pulling out.
“The opportunistic BJP-PDP alliance set fire to Jammu and Kashmir, killing many innocent people including our brave soldiers. It cost India strategically and destroyed years of UPA’s hard work. The damage will continue under President’s rule,” Gandhi said in a statement statement.
Despite pulling out of the coalition, the BJP will still retain control through the central government in the Indian capital, say analysts.
“Even though the BJP has pulled out, it will still be able to rule Jammu and Kashmir through the Governor who has to go by the diktat of the Union Ministry in New Delhi. Secondly, the Governor will appoint advisers to run the state who will be appointed based on the Union Home Ministry’s recommendations. They will recommend its own people so even though the BJP is not in power in Jammu and Kashmir, they will enjoy all the fruits,” said Jacob.