It was a rainbow alliance: Ram Madhav on why BJP split with PDP

In an interview BJP general secretary Ram Madhav explains why the party ended its alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, and what comes next

Ram Madhav is a national general secretary of the BJP, who played a key role in stitching up an alliance between his party and the Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Madhav worked closely with Sayeed and then with his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, steering the alliance through a difficult course between 2015 and now. He spoke about the reasons that led to the break-up between the two parties and what is in store for Jammu & Kashmir: Edited excerpts:

What was the immediate trigger behind Tuesday’s decision to pull out of alliance with the PDP?
In view of the developing situation in the valley, some thinking was going on for the last couple of months. This included handing over the state administration to the governor for some time. Security forces were also demanding. Politically, we felt the gap between the two parties’ approach towards J&K issues was widening. We hold larger national interests and concerns above everything. Being a regional party, regional political considerations were important in PDP’s decision making. We felt that time has come for us to call it a day.

Can you give specific instances where PDP presence’s in the government impeded security operations?
We tried to convince our partner about a tough stand against terrorists, handling the over-ground operatives through strong legal means. Valley needed an active political engagement. Suspension of operation was a decision taken at the insistence of State government and Mehbooba Ji. Some of us were not very much in favour of it. However, there was a feeling that let us give it a chance. It was not out of weakness. It was a goodwill gesture. Such gesture needed some reciprocation from terrorists and separatists, and also some active political engagement. Neither happened. We saw the broad day-light murder of journalist Shujaat Bukhari. Terrorists exploited suspension of operation. The required political initiative did not happen.

Are you accusing Mehbooba Mufti of being soft on security issues and not reaching out politically?
She headed the unified command and the security forces largely have had their way. They were able to execute whatever operations they had planned. My larger point is about the much needed political activism. A message was constantly conveyed that we need soft approach, we do not want operations and we need to talk to Pakistan. We felt this will further vitiate the atmosphere. We noticed growing radicalization, growing attacks on the army and CRPF convoys in the last a couple of months. We felt it was time for us to hand over the administration to the governor for some time.

You changed you ministers in the government one and a half month back. Between then and now, the suspension of operation and its return were major developments. Do you blame it for the fall of the PDP-BJP alliance?
The recent reshuffle was thrust on us. Two ministers had to quit because of Kathua incident. We had to bring new people. Then we thought why not make bigger changes. Honestly speaking, we always thought or tried to see if we can run this government for its full term. But, there was a feeling in the past also, and in the last couple of months it further fortified, that it was becoming untenable to continue.

Was the ceasefire decision a mistake?
No. It was a goodwill gesture by the government. We did it out of strength not out of weakness. It is another thing that the opportunity was lost. It was not ceased by the other side – the separatist elements, the terrorists and the political establishment in the state.

How strong were the electoral calculation and the pressure on you from Jammu region and the rest of the country to get out of the alliance?
If pressure or electoral calculations were to be the reason, we would have done it long ago. We had tremendous pressure on number of occasion, whenever there was a big incident in the valley. Situation in the state was the only and only consideration behind Tuesday decision. BJP has a commitment to restoring peace, curbing terrorism in valley and also the larger political mission of national integrity. That is the only factor that played the role in yesterday decision. Never in our discussion with Prime Minister, Home Minister or the National Security Advisor, did any political consideration come up for any discussion.

When you forged alliance with PDP, you said it will bridge the emotional gap between Jammu and Valley; and between Kashmir and the rest of the country. Looking back, do you feel it is also your failure?
Not really. Why was that alliance formed? We are ideologically poles apart. Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) Saheb used to describe us as the North and the South poles. Ideologies can be in black and white, but politics in a democracy has many shades, many colours. You have to manage this variety of colours. You can create a rainbow. By its very nature rainbows are short lived. Any alliance is difficult. Atal Bihari Vajpayee government fell in 1999, because J Jayalalithaa pulled out. We had no ideological differences with her. Alliances are formed with an objective, but it is always difficult to run alliances. The whole objective was to let us try and bridge it (the gap). We do not believe in political untouchability. We tried to give it a chance and to a great extent it worked. We could succeed in bringing development to different regions in the state.

How can the BJP absolve itself of responsibilities about the worsening law and order situation when it was part of the government?
This is a very silly question. If you take that as a technical question, then I will say home ministry is not with me. It a technical answer. Governments are essentially run by the head of the government. The head of the government was also holding the responsibility of security and in any case, and as the head of the unified command, she had her issues. But, Mehbooba has allowed security forces to operate, that is why in last three years we have been able to neutralise close to 600 terrorists. The PDP started taking a political stance of late, probably for political reasons. The BJP cant not be supporting a party for a soft approach that means raising issue of Pakistan again and again, or talking about muscular approach, getting Shujaat killed, getting army soldier, policemen and civilians killed. We felt that, probably because of the local political considerations, our partner has started taking a slightly different stance. That is when we felt it is not tenable. The mismatch is growing

Was there a fear that Mehbooba might dump the BJP, and did you try to preempt such a situation by pulling out first?
National integrity, interest of the nation and people of valley and the state entire were the only consideration for us.

The PDP allied with the BJP despite the valley rejecting the BJP. Has the BJP weakened a pro-India force such as the PDP and strengthened the separatist forces by ending the alliance?
I do not agree with the analysis that we have straightened the separatists. We wanted governor rule to ensure that the campaign against terrorist continue with further vigour. We had planned a four pronged approach for Kashmir. One, neutralise the terrorist to the last man. Two, tackle over ground network of terrorists through legal means. Three, approach all stakeholder through dialouge. Four, work for the development of state. All four dimensions are important. We would want the present administration and the governor to pursue. There is no way that separatists or terrorists will succeed in the Kashmir valley.

BJP’s is facing criticism about the point that dialouge has not happened and Mehbooba, too, blamed the centre for not doing enough.
I don’t think, Mehbooba said that. Let us give her the due. She, in fact, criticized others for not responding to the home minister’s open appeal for talks, even with Hurriyat. Government has appointed a former DIB as interlocutor for Kashmir. He is continuing his work and will continue his work. I can tell you that there was some definite progress about talks with Hurriyats. Unfortunately, things suddenly deteriorated and Shujaat’s killing happened. I think there will be some stalemate for some time.

Is the talk options on the table now?
We never closed that option. Government is open to talking to all the sections. I don’t think that position will change.

Looking forward, are you looking at ramping up security operation?
The four pronged approach that we put in place in the last couple of years in J&K will also continue under governor’s rule.

How do you rate Mehbooba as a chief minister?
Mehbooba is a senior politician. She understands politics very well. In the last two years, she understood the larger point of India’s national unity and national integrity also. Mehbooba is a senior and mature politician. Probably because she is a senior and mature politician, local political compulsions demands also weigh on her.

Is the BJP keeping options open to form an alternate government?
Right now the priority is that the governor rule should effectively work on the four pronged approach that we have taken. We will see what unfold in the coming months.

Would you be now open to advancing your political agenda, such as article 370, and re-settlement of Kashmiri pundits, that you had kept in reserve because you were in an alliance?
Even in the agenda of alliance, we stated very clearly that BJP has a commitment on the issue of article 370. Please remember, whenever we formed alliances, there were occasion, when we kept it in some kind of abeyance for some time. It happened in 1999.

Will there be a push now that you are out of alliance?
Our commitment to abrogation of 370 it is a political position that will never change. But the point here is who has the authority to actually take that decision – it’s the parliament. Pending that, we can work together with other parties, in a pragmatic manner.

Is it something you would like to advance in the next year, when you have such a majority in parliament?
We don’t. It requires a different kind of a majority.

So it is not something you would push immediately?
Right now the government is focusing on certain developmental issue. We will go to people on those. But our ideological commitment on issues like, 370, Ram Temple and Uniform Civil Code is an ideological question, which continues.

The term of J&K governor, NN Vohra is ending. Will he be replaced?
That is a decision that the home ministry and the PM will take

What is the time frame you are looking at for the state to be under governor rule?
The state has an active assembly, whose tenure is there for another two and half years now. Elections are due in the first quarters of 2021. We have to wait and watch whether to go for elections, or may be other parties come together after some time and want to form the government. I don’t have any immediate answer to that question.

Are you worried about the prospect of holding election in Kashmir? You have not been able to hold the by-election to Anantnag parliamentary seat.
It is a personal view that I will certainly share. Not holding Anantnag elections was not a right decision. But Election Commission had its own reasons for not holding the election. It is up to the EC, whenever it decides, it can hold election there.

Is the option of a cross-border strike on the table, in case there are terror attacks or the security situation deteriorates?
These are decided by the Defence Ministry and PM. But we are all watching the political development in Pakistan also. Pakistan is heading for polls in next couple of months. What kind of a government comes in place in that country and what will be its approach to its relations with India – these will decide the future of India-Pakistan relationship.

How concerned are you about the security of Amamrnath Yatra?
There was certainly increased free movement of terrorists in certain areas, particularly South Kashmir, because of the month long suspension of operation. Now the suspension of operation is over, forces have started acting tough against these elements. Next few days are very crucial. Yatra corridor needs to be sanitized. Forces will work hard to ensure that yatra passes off peacefully. I really don’t see any danger for yatra. Yatra begins on June 28. The additional security forces required for the yatra have already reached Kashmir valley.

You personally spent a lot of time building this alliance. Now that it has broken, do you regret it? Are you disappointed?
I don’t regret. This was a historic alliance. It will remain a historic alliance. In a democracy, you have to experiment and learn to live with parties that do not share your ideology. That is the beauty of the democracy. I feel sad that something that we put so much effort in has finally ended half way through. I would have ideally liked it to complete the full term. To that extent, yes, I feel sad.

Would things have been different with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed?
The first setback for the alliance was his sudden and early demise – just 11 months after we had put things together. Had he lived longer, probably we would have succeeded in taking it forward. But, I don’t blame Mehbooba ji either. She tried her best in last two years to make it work. Apart from one or two major issues, J&K did not see daily quarrels in this alliance like elsewhere. Kathua incident was the only flash-point. We tried to run it smoothly. But finally, we had to call it a day.