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Monday, December 29, 2014

BJP: Opportunity cost of pawning political ideology in J & K

It is entirely possible that by the time this appears on the web the BJP would have sealed an alliance either with the PDP or the NC in Jammu and Kashmir. There are indications that this time the party would like to make a serious bid for power in the state. There is nothing exceptionable in that. Political parties contest elections to come to power.

Some of the party’s supporters in the social media and opinion-piece writers in online portals would like it ‘not to let go’ of the opportunity. But every opportunity has a cost. In economic theory this is called the opportunity cost. If the party has achieved a majority or was able to form a government with a ‘near majority’, the opportunity cost would have been payable at the end of the term based on its performance in office during the intervening period, which in the case of Jammu and Kashmir is six years.

The opportunity cost that a political party pays for immediate gains can have far reaching consequences, not all of them economic and not just for the party. The polity of the state and the nation, as stake holders will pay a cost too. The cost could be in terms of stalled development, internal disturbances or external threats. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had paid costs on all these accounts in the last sixty seven years. This was in addition to the cost that was paid in advance, a cost that was not payable and not even demanded. The additional cost paid in advance was the referral to the United Nations and Article 370 which excluded the state from the national mainstream. There is no need to go into Jawaharlal Nehru’s reasons or motivations on why he paid the two additional costs that were not even demanded, but they, it turns out are not one-time costs.

Opportunity cost relates to the cost one has to pay not only for availing an opportunity but also for foregoing an opportunity. Unfortunately the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the nation paid opportunity costs twice more in 1965 and 1971 for foregoing opportunities.

The ‘pro-power’ BJP supporters argue that this time around the BJP has achieved a quite impressive tally of 25 seats in the 87 member assembly and more importantly the largest vote share. The inherent anomaly in the first-past-the-post electoral system made political parties win fewer seats with larger vote percentages in the past too. It has to do with the concentration of winning seats in a region of the state. It has happened this time too with the BJP winning more seats in the Jammu region and may be losing some seats in the Srinagar Valley with slender margins.

The ‘pro-power’ BJP supporters’ argument runs like this: ‘if in an alternative scenario the non-BJP parties, the NC and the PDP were to come together to form the government, it would be un-representative of the Jammu region. Therefore the BJP should seek to be part of the power-centre, no matter what the cost.’

There were many instances in the past when governments at the centre and states were formed by parties which had no representation in several states or regions. For example in 1977 when the Janata Party came to power at the centre the Congress won 41 out of 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh and 26 out of 28 in Karnataka. In a further twist when Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the lone Janata Party MP in Andhra Pradesh was elected President even that seat went to the Congress. Closer in time, the present BJP government is in power with its party unrepresented in Kerala, has just one MP in Tamil Nadu and two in Bengal.

The second argument that is advanced is that letting go the opportunity now might result in losing ground to the other party which could utilize the opportunity to consolidate its political position. There were quite a few instances in the past when parties with ‘near majority’ adopted short cut methods to come to power by what the mainstream media would like to call ‘cobbling’ majorities. As a result of this, unstable regimes came to power in the past in states like Goa, Jharkand and Manipur but seldom saw out their full term in office.

BJP’s earlier experiences in Goa, Jharkand and Karnataka were none too comforting. By compromising on its core values for aligning with the Janata Dal (S) it not only wasted years in Karnataka but lost so much ground politically that it might be some time before it can even look at power in the state again. The argument that spurred the BJP then was that it was the first time the party would come to power in the South. It is similar to the one put forth now that it would gain foothold in the Muslim majority state of J & K, another first for BJP. Just as the perception of an unholy alliance between Congress and RJD in Bihar benefited the BJP, JD (U) alliance in 2006, the perception of an unholy alliance between the BJP and JD (S), the wrangling for the Chief Minister’s post by rotation and the even un-holier ‘fabricated majority’ with which Yeddyurappa ruled the state benefited the Congress in 2013.

What ideological compromises will the BJP have to make for a stab at power in J & K? The better option is to align with the National Conference and independents in which case the BJP, being the larger partner, would get the Chief Minister’s post. According to a report in Eenaadu, the quid pro quo being worked out between the BJP and the NC is the post of a Governor for Farooq Abdullah and a berth in the union cabinet for Omar Abdhullah through the Rajya Sabha route. Farooq of course would love the sinecure with all its pomp and ceremony sans responsibility. But the Hindus of J & K have painful memories of his reign when as the Chief Minister he abdicated responsibility and left them to the tender mercies of foreign and home-grown terrorists like Ali Shah Jelani and Yasin Malik. The half-a-million Hindus exiled then are still out in the cold.

The second option is to align with the PDP in which case it will have to settle to play second fiddle, perhaps for the post of a Deputy Chief Minister. As a precondition the PDP is demanding that the BJP should unambiguously declare that it would give up its stand on Article 370 forever and rescind the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Agreeing to make Article 370 a permanent feature of the Constitution will foreclose any option a future central government may have of a rethink on it. This is similar to Jawaharlal Nehru’s folly of recognizing Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in 1954. No Indian government can retract it.   

Any move to rescind the AFSPA is fraught with serious practical consequences. The state has been the victim of terrorism exported by an enemy which vowed to bleed India through a thousand cuts. The unfortunate aspect is the terror machine has local support too.

Lastly the political ideology of the PDP is worrisome. It is a soft-line version of the more militant hard-line Hurriyat Conference. By aligning with such a party would not the BJP provide some legitimacy to it?

Would it not be therefore advisable for the BJP to sit out in the opposition; let the contradictions of the NC, PDP alliance play out and make a bid for power in 2020? The alliance is not likely to last the full term except in the highly unlikely event of the two merging. In the meantime it can play the role of a constructive opposition and keep the ruling clique in check.