Celebrating low cunning in Jammu & Kashmir

If the BJP had to pull the plug on its government in alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), there were many more moments in the past two years when the security situation made it seriously more “untenable” than at this time. The turbulence in 2016 following the killing of Burhan Wani was such a moment and there have been others since then. 

So was this just bad timing? Or should the nation know by now that the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team always has a cunning plan up its sleeve especially if it can be made to yield electoral dividends. 

The challenge before the BJP in the run up to the general election next year is how to prevent its Hindu vote bank across India from splitting along caste lines. It also needed to address the erosion in its support base in Jammu after the Kathua rape case and subsequent developments. By withdrawing from the PDP alliance the BJP may have done just that by polarising Jammu and Kashmir along communal lines.

As party President Amit Shah’s speeches show, the BJP is now free to portray the PDP as a party sympathetic to the separatists, blame it for security failures, and project all Kashmiris as Islamic terrorists.

If this strategy of Hindu consolidation is to succeed for the 2019 election, the government will also have to take off the gloves with Pakistan. As the international community will not allow a prolonged conflict, it may not be more than some ratcheting up of diplomatic tension or even some limited action on the border.

With the imposition of Governor’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir the moderating influence of an elected government is gone. It is quite possible that in the encounters between the security forces and the militants, civilian casualties may now increase. Lists of Kashmir’s most wanted are already being issued. These are the kind of optics that allow the Modi-Shah duo to fuel jingoism among voters.

Why then did the government declare the unilateral cease-fire during Ramzan? It seems to have had only one perverse result – to paint the militants as intransigent and provide a rationale for even more aggressive counter-insurgency operations. Had it been a serious move, the cease-fire would have been preceded by an understanding with the militants, separatist leaders as well as Pakistan and followed up with a roadmap for the future. Both efforts were absent.

However, the ceasefire has exposed one important lie in painting the Kashmiri youngsters as militants. The incidents of stone-pelting in fact went down by over 90 per cent during the cease-fire when the security forces were restrained. Despite such drawing down of force by the government, during this period 24 militants were killed.

The imposition of Governor’s rule in the state could have been an opportunity for starting a dialogue with the resistance leaders in Kashmir as well as with Pakistan. Without these twin dialogues, Kashmir will remain on the boil.

However, its ideological predilections, the impending elections in Pakistan and the short run up to the next general election in India have tied the Modi government’s hands. It is next to impossible for it to initiate anything now.

Maybe it never wanted to do anything substantive or substantial at all. What else explains how it easily discarded the “Agenda for Alliance” which misled the PDP into partnering it in the first place? 

Recall that in that document the BJP and PDP had claimed: “The purpose of this alliance is to form a coalition Government that will be empowered to catalyse reconciliation and confidence building within and across the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K thereby ensuring peace in the state.”

It talked of normalising ties with Pakistan and declared, “The coalition government will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the [Union] government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in the peace and development within the sub-continent. … the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.”

If after such high sounding claims, the BJP did not take a single step in that direction in the last three years of running the governments at Srinagar and in Delhi, it is unlikely to do so now. It suits it more to embrace a communal paradigm instead.

In doing so, however, the BJP has privileged the party over the nation. It is trying to stereotype all Kashmiris as “Islamic” militants and those who speak outside the communal paradigm as supporters of terrorists and anti-national. It is attempting to convert the political discourse in J&K to “Hindu Jammu” vs. “Muslim Kashmir” and in the rest of India as between “Hindu nationalists” vs. “Anti-nationals” who support a peaceful resolution in Kashmir.

In this nefarious electoral game, the BJP is handing Kashmir on a platter to those who argue that the Muslim of J&K cannot live honourably with their rights and privileges safe under a “Hindu India”. It is completing the unfinished agenda of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League.

Under BJP rule, India’s secularism is fast going into hiding in the pages of its Constitution. A time could come when it may become difficult to sustain the claim that we are citizens of a secular state. The continuing failure of the state to protect its minority citizens will not create confidence in the people of Kashmir that they are secure within democratic India. 
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi

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