India's ruling party, Kashmir party to form state government

AP News
Posted: Feb 24, 2015 8:01 AM
India's ruling party, Kashmir party to form state government

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said Tuesday it will be part of a coalition government in Kashmir, the first time the Hindu nationalist party will join the leadership of the predominantly Muslim region.

The BJP and the regional Peoples' Democratic Party finalized an agreement to form the coalition government at a meeting in New Delhi after nearly two months of negotiations.

BJP President Amit Shah said the two parties resolved most of their differences and agreed on a common program that will be announced in the next few days when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the head of the PDP, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

No party won a clear majority in elections in December for Kashmir's 87-seat assembly. The BJP won 25 seats while the PDP received 28 seats.

It was unclear how the two parties will bridge their wide differences over issues such as impunity for the Indian army in Kashmir, and whether the state should continue to have enhanced autonomy and special legislative powers. The BJP has opposed a special constitutional status for Kashmir, while regional parties including the PDP support it.

"This coalition's real challenge will be smooth governance," said Noor Mohammed Baba, a political science professor at Kashmir University. Politicians are "quite marginalized in Kashmir, as there are alternative power centers" in the region including separatist leaders, he said.

Separatist groups in Kashmir have been fighting Indian forces since 1989, seeking independence from India or the merger of the region with neighboring Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in rebel attacks and a subsequent Indian crackdown.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of the region, which is divided between the neighbors but claimed by both.