A groundbreaking ruling coalition for the contested state of Jammu and Kashmir was announced Tuesday, which will be helmed jointly by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It will be the first time that BJP plays a role in the region’s rule.
The status of the territory of Kashmir has long been a transnational sticking point between India and Pakistan. When the two countries partitioned in 1947 after the end of British colonial rule, the majority-Muslim princedom’s Hindu ruler was unable to decide to which nation to pledge allegiance. The resulting “standstill” between the two states has led to decades of borderland conflict. Today, Kashmir is split into sections that are controlled by India, Pakistan, China, in addition to an autonomous region. The long-running bad blood over Kashmir control was heightened by India and Pakistan’s ascension to the status of nuclear powers in 1998.
In this context, the BJP-PDP coalition is a relatively unusual step for a region that is still plagued by intermittent sectarian violence. Though neither party has a decisive upper-hand: out of 87 total seats in the Kashmir parliament, BJP now holds 25, compared to PDP’s 28. According to Amit Shah, the president of BJP, “In a few days, Jammu and Kashmir will get a new PDP-BJP alliance government. The deadlock that has existed on some issues has been broken…after several rounds of discussion, a common minimum program has been arrived at.” It is still unclear what the broken deadlock entails, but one important issue of contention between the two parties is almost certainly Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
The joint-coalition has attracted its fair share of attention. Proponents close to the Kashmir state government have reportedly praised the agreement as a solution to outbursts of violence that continue to erupt over Kashmir’s spot in a decades-long tug-of-war. But critics — including many leaders of the insurgency fighting for an independent Kashmir — are highly skeptical of the alliance. Some separatists have accused PDP of joining forces with Delhi for self-promotion and power as opposed to actual Kashmir interests. Other critics have argued that a collaborative coalition will actually stoke uncertainty about Kashmir’s identity and future, not assuage it.
There is compelling evidence for each argument. Relations between India and Pakistan have cooled in recent months. In October, around 10,000 Kashmir citizens were reportedly displaced by insurgent attacks, propagated by fighters largely believed to have strong Pakistani ties. But while most insurgents in the past were suspected to be Pakistani nationals, there has been a recent upsurge in homegrown militants from Kashmir itself. According to some estimates, these numbers are at a 20-year high. Last year, around 70 mostly-educated Kashmiris joined the anti-India insurgency, which has caused alarm among Indian troops stationed in the area.
What effect the BJP-PDP coalition will have on these enduring tensions remains to be seen. The question will likely depend on each party’s commitment to collaboration and compromise.