On the evening of 14 June, the day before Eid, Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the centrist newspaper Rising Kashmir, left his office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave locality to attend an iftar, the traditional evening meal that breaks the Ramdan fast. Within minutes, his colleagues, working to put the next day’s edition to bed, heard a burst of gunfire. When they looked down from their windows, Bukhari was lying dead in his car.
His death became the pretext for the Bharatiya Janata Party to pull out of its alliance with the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP), effectively bringing down the state government. The fall of the government means that Jammu and Kashmir is now directly administered by the BJP government at the centre—a move that seems to be in service of the party’s campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP-PDP alliance was an unlikely one to begin with, and it reflected the demographic and political incongruities of the state. When the alliance was formed, the then head of the PDP, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had likened it to the coming together of the “North Pole and South Pole.” The PDP wanted nothing discussed that would in any way suggest a weakening of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, while this status was anathema to the BJP. The PDP wanted a dialogue with separatists, while the BJP wanted to use the Army and police to come down hard on militant groups in the Valley. The uneasy compromise that had existed for four years has now come to an end.
Given that the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir is no different today than it has been for the last couple of years, the government’s decision to administer Kashmir directly has little to do with the state itself, and everything to do with how the BJP will make use of it in the rest of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seen his popularity diminish, even while enjoying a clear lead over his nearest rivals, and the BJP has lost a series of by-elections in states that will be critical to the electoral outcome in 2019. As growth falters and new jobs fail to materialise, the BJP is likely to run its campaign on its core Hindu nationalist platform—tough against terror, tough against Pakistan, with a consistent emphasis on the Islamist threat to the country.
As a Muslim-majority region enjoying special constitutional status, Jammu and Kashmir is central to the party’s campaign pitch. Contributing only six out of the 543 legislators in the Lok Sabha, it has little actual influence on Indian legislative politics but has always had an outsize role in the BJP’s electoral rhetoric. The role it will play in the party’s rhetoric for 2019 is already being shaped.