India's Ruling Hindu Party Shares Power in Kashmir

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IN-modi-sayeed-620-March2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) hugs Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at his swearing-in ceremony in Jammu, March 1, 2015.

India's ruling Hindu nationalist party Sunday was sworn into government in the country's only Muslim-majority state for the first time after an historic power-sharing deal with a bitter regional rival.

Narendra Modi hailed the partnership between his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) as a chance to fulfill the aspirations of a region that has endured a sporadic revolt against Indian rule since 1989.

"PDP-BJP govt is a historic opportunity to fulfil the aspirations of the people of J&K and take the state to new heights of progress," the prime minister said in a tweet, referring to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

After weeks of intensive negotiations, the parties forged a coalition following inconclusive state assembly elections two months ago.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Muslim head of the PDP, was sworn in as the region's chief minister, along with his cabinet whose members are split about equally between the two parties.

In a symbolic gesture, the 79-year-old Sayeed enthusiastically embraced Hindu nationalist Modi, who was on stage to witness the ceremony. It took place amid tight security in the region's winter capital of Jammu.

"We want to make the alliance a turning point in history to win the hearts and minds of all people of the state," Sayeed later told a press conference.

Accountable for abuses

Modi and Sayeed, whose parties are staunchly opposed on a range of critical issues in the region, last week finally agreed on a common agenda to rule the state jointly.

Unveiled on Sunday, the 16-page agenda says the government will maintain a constitutional provision that allows Kashmir to make its own laws and guarantees autonomy from New Delhi.

The BJP has long been committed to its abolition, while the PDP is steadfastly in favor of keeping it.

The new government will also keep in place a draconian law that gives Indian forces sweeping search and shoot-on-sight powers in Kashmir, which critics see as a cover for rights abuses.

But Sayeed stressed that he would not hesitate to act against the military if abuses were committed, saying "I am the chief chairman of (a) unified command."

"It is in my direction they have to follow. I will make them accountable."

He said his government would also attempt to hold talks with Pakistani separatist leaders over the future of the region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.

Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.

Rebuild after deadly floods

The swearing-in ceremony comes after December elections that saw the BJP capture 25 seats mainly in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, while the PDP took 28, mostly in the Kashmir valley where Muslim separatist sentiment has traditionally been strongest.

But both failed to secure a majority to the 87-seat assembly, forcing the negotiations.

Both parties benefited at the polls from widespread discontent at the state's then-ruling National Conference party over its handling of floods that killed more than 200 people in Kashmir in September.

Analysts warned that the coming together of two ideologically different parties could fuel discontent among Hindus in Jammu as well as Muslims in the Kashmir valley.

"A big challenge will be to shore up credibility among voters in both regions of the state," said Siddiq Wahid, a columnist and historian.

"What direction the discontent will take will depend on whether civil rights, like holding peaceful protest marches, will again be curbed."

The PDP had pledged during the election campaign to halt the BJP's growing influence after right-wing Modi swept to power at general polls in May.

The new government also faces the tough challenge of rebuilding after the floods also destroyed U.S. $16 billion worth of property and infrastructure.


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