June 19, 2018 / 9:11 AM / 10 months ago

Withdrawal of India's BJP from Kashmir government could herald "muscular policy"

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quit the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir state on Tuesday and called for federal control over the disputed Himalayan region, citing a deterioration in security that could herald a new crackdown.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti gestures as she addresses a news conference in Srinagar, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yawar Nazir Kabli

The Hindu nationalist BJP entered into an unlikely alliance with a regional party after an inconclusive election in 2014 to govern the Muslim-majority state, which is claimed by neighbouring Pakistan and where Indian forces have struggled to quell a revolt for decades.

“It has become untenable for the BJP to continue in the alliance government in Jammu and Kashmir,” Ram Madhav, party general secretary, told reporters.

Madhav said the security situation in the state had worsened and it should be put under “governor’s rule”, or direct rule from New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a general election earlier in 2014, vowing to end the insurgency in Kashmir but militant violence has worsened in recent months.

Last week, India rejected a U.N. report that accused it of having used excessive force in Kashmir to kill and wound civilians since 2016. The United Nations also called for an international inquiry into accusations of rights violations.

Direct rule by the central government would give the BJP a free hand to control the state ahead of a general election that must be called within a year.

Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, of the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said she had resigned and that her party would not seek the support of other parties to restore a majority.

“A muscular policy will not work here,” she told reporters.

The BJP has long favoured a tough approach to quell the revolt, while the PDP had advocated a softer touch to address the grievances in the state where tens of people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1989.

More than 130 people have died in escalating violence in Kashmir this year. Last week, gunmen shot dead a prominent newspaper editor in the state capital, Srinagar, who had been a strong advocate of peace in the region.

Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir and have twice gone to war over it since independence from Britain in 1947. India blames Pakistan for fomenting the rebellion in its only Muslim-majority state.

Pakistan says it only provides moral support to the insurgency.

Any intensification of the insurgency or deterioration of the situation in Kashmir carries the risk of prompting confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

This month, the federal government ordered a suspension of operations against militants during the holy month of Ramadan, a concession promoted by Chief Minister Mehbooba of the PDP.

But militant attacks continued, weakening her hand and the truce was lifted soon after the fasting month ended.

“Basically, keeping in mind the larger national interest of India’s integrity and security, in order to bring control over the situation prevailing in the state, we have decided that it is time the reins of power be handed over to the state governor,” Madhav said.

(This version of the story has been refiled to add Modi’s title, paragraph 5)

Reporting by Malini Menon and Nidhi Verma; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel

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