New Delhi: Two seminal questions surface from the BJP-Sangh Parivar’s decision to quit the Jammu and Kashmir coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti. The first question is this: Does the BJP have a future as a mainstream national party that can take along multiple communities and regions without internal contradictions? The answer is obvious. The question has a geopolitical angle too because Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed border state. The second question is rather more commonplace. Will governor’s rule bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir? Well, obviously not. It could also make things worse.

The single greatest consequence of the BJP pullout from the J and K administration is that it puts a ceiling on the party’s growth in the state and elsewhere in the country. The party has returned to its parochial Jammu roots with no hope of making inroads in Kashmir. Despite losses, the Congress party has a footing in both regions and in Ladakh besides. This gives it its special national and mainstream appeal. The BJP, on the other hand, prefers the communal/ regional straitjacket. A party that accepts the straitjacket and proudly wears it cannot grow. By re-identifying with Jammu, there is danger that the BJP will attempt to trivialize the Kathua outrage. Once that occurs, the party will lose support in the rest of the country. The BJP may already be on the slippery slope.

Looking back, the party’s decision to ally with Mehbooba’s Peoples Democratic Party was almost A. B. Vajpayee in character. Vajpayee was an outlier in the BJP and had no trouble in running the country’s largest and most diverse coalition government at the Centre. Diverse expectations brought Narendra Modi to power with the BJP having its own Lok Sabha majority. The J and K decision now reinforces the BJP’s old narrow image of a Hindutva party. It is a very insubstantial plank to approach the 2019 elections. Vajpayee rose above Hindutva to make common cause with Indian citizenry. Narendra Modi’s BJP, seeing danger in that direction and fearing loss of power, is desperate to win its old support base. It may or not win its base back but it has severely limited its appeal out of fear. You do not need to be a clairvoyant to figure where the BJP is headed. The decision to withdraw from the Mehbooba government, moreover, could not have been the Modi regime’s alone; it is highly likely that the RSS forced the decision.

Which brings us to question number 2: What’s the chance of governor’s rule returning a modicum of peace to the Valley? Next to nil. Indian democracy gets legitimacy with an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir, not governor’s rule. Indeed, governor’s rule is a victory for Jammu and Kashmir’s chief foreign claimant, Pakistan. Governor’s rule brings some cohesiveness to security operations but the loss of political vision in the process is irreparable. Capable and good force commanders will tell you they can bring down the threshold of violence at best but never entirely eliminate it. For that reason, a political solution cannot be endlessly deferred. Having covered the state, this writer can say with certainty that the transition from governor’s rule to popular government is frightfully arduous. Where the local population does not greatly matter in the calculus of governor’s rule focussed on security, the priorities are reordered if not reversed under a popular government. And in Jammu and Kashmir’s special circumstances, elected governments are seen as “agents” of the Centre which erode their credibility while limiting their reach, delivery and efficiency. Even so, Vajpayee knew the extraordinary importance of having an elected government in J and K, which is why he pulled out all the stops for the state’s fairest and freest polls in decades. In contrast, the Modi government is hoping to build a “muscular” narrative in J and K in time for the 2019 general election. The flaw in the plan is that a muscular approach will fail in the state. It already has.

Rather than delay elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the sooner they are held, the better. Kashmir should not become an issue in the general election. It is highly dangerous to start the blame game on Kashmir. The BJP is unlikely to profit in 2019 by taking a hard line on Kashmir because it will rebound on the Indian state. The external environment is not in the nation’s favour. Beyond a point, Pakistan cannot be pushed around. It is the closest in its independent history to its all-weather friend, China, which is slowly but surely increasing its stakes in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. China has already thrown the gauntlet by offering to mediate between India and Pakistan. If the PDP had pulled out, the BJP, rather than lose face, would have risen in stature as a mainstream party attempting to carry all sections along. In the event, it has succumbed to Jammu hotheads and RSS narrow nationalists. Redemption lies in calling early elections and in intelligent and effective conduct of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations with minimum violence and publicity. While Pakistani terrorists cannot be completely eliminated in the foreseeable future, insurgency can -- and must be -- denied a fertile ground to grow in mass. Governor’s rule is fatal in the circumstances.

Method & madness” will be further serialized later this week.