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Asia

Kashmir - Modi's BJP and its alliance partner off to a rocky start

The release of a separatist leader has strained ties between Indian PM Narendra Modi's BJP party and its ruling coalition partner People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir. DW examines.

The freeing of 44-year-old Masrat Alam, leader of the Muslim League party in Kashmir, by the PDP-led government over the weekend has unleashed a political storm in India. Alam spearheaded stone-pelting agitations in the Kashmir valley in 2010 in which over 120 people died and thousands others were injured. There are over 27 cases, including charges of attempt to murder, sedition, and rioting, which are registered against the separatist leader.

Many of the cases against Alam carry a sentence of death or life term, and since 1990 he has reportedly spent a total of 17 years in jail. But following his government's policy of freeing political prisoners, Jammu and Kashmir's chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed ordered Alam's release from prison.

The move, however, has caused a rift between the PDP and PM Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the former's alliance partner in the state. In late February, both parties announced a historic power-sharing deal that led to the formation of a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indien Masarat Alam Bhat Separatist aus Kaschmir

There are over 27 cases registered against Alam

Huge outcry

Members of the BJP have heavily criticized the state government's decision, accusing the PDP of taking unilateral actions. "This (decision) is unilateral and unacceptable. We categorically do not agree with this decision. This is neither the BJP's decision nor the coalition government's decision. It is a decision of the PDP alone," Jugal Kishore Sharma, a senior BJP leader, told DW.

The issue has also rocked the ongoing budget session of the Indian parliament with opposition parties obstructing proceedings - forcing Prime Minister Modi to intervene. "I share the sense of outrage which prevails in this House and the country," Modi said. "I assure the country and the House that whatever is happening there (in Jammu & Kashmir), the union government was neither consulted nor informed," he added.

Despite the criticism, Kashmir chief minister Mufti Sayeed said his administration would continue with its policy of setting free separatist leaders in a renewed attempt to revive peace talks in the state.

For his part, Alam seemed unruffled with the controversy over his release. "Nobody has done me a favor. My release was facilitated by the law. I was detained under the PSA (Public Safety Act) but charges were not pressed for six months," he told DW on the telephone from the state capital, Srinagar.

Unnatural alliance

The decision to release the separatist leader, however, has laid bare the differences between the PDP and the BJP, despite their coming together to form a government. The alliance came to power early this month after protracted negotiations by both parties over a workable common minimum program.

This was after the Muslim-dominated PDP won in the Kashmir valley in the state elections held in December last year, while the Hindu nationalist BJP dominated in the Jammu region of the state.

Soon after assuming power, Mufti Sayeed triggered a controversy by giving credit to separatists and militant outfits from across the border for the smooth conduct of the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP, however, was quick to distance itself from the statement by the chief minister.

But tensions between the two sides have continued to mount, with legislators from the PDP demanding the return of the mortal remains of Afzal Guru, who was convicted for his role in a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Guru was hanged in 2013. The PDP has always maintained that Afzal Guru's hanging was a travesty of justice.

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed

Kashmir chief minister Mufti Sayeed said his administration would continue with its policy of setting free separatist leaders

An 'uneasy marriage'

Even though these moves raised eyebrows in New Delhi, they failed to attract enough political traction. However, many analysts believe the separatist leader's release could turn into a serious flashpoint in the newly-formed alliance.

"This was never going to be an easy marriage. This decision to free Alam has only exacerbated the cracks in the BJP-PDP alliance in its first week in power," Rashid Bhatt, a political scientist at Kashmir University, told DW.

The reason for the PDP's decision, experts say, is the need to initiate some bold moves to regain the trust of the people in the Kashmir valley - which the party may have lost for joining hands with the BJP.

On the other hand, the BJP, too, has its reasons not to jeopardize the alliance, analysts underline.

Having tasted power for the first time in India's Muslim majority state, the BJP wants the coalition to work. But further independent moves from the PDP, experts warn, could test the limits of the party's patience and perhaps result in the honeymoon ending sooner than expected.