View: The call Modi takes will shape how J&K evolves among its post-1990 generation
BJP has never come closer than this to alter, even if partly, the special status of Kashmir.
No doubt this is a difficult time for the Centre as the state is under President’s Rule. But it also comes with a political temptation that will test the leadership in Delhi. BJP has never come closer than this to alter, even if partly, the special status of Kashmir.
The merit of the proposition is not the issue here. But the notion to be able to do so from a position of strength and authority could reap rich political dividends. This is an obvious plus in an election year. But it comes with caution written all over it.
So why does the present situation present the best opportunity for BJP? Given India’s current global standing, the international community is unlikely to get agitated about J&K as it did in the past. The US, usually the one to tilt the scales in such matters, is reticent to being an interventionist.
More so, when it comes to India, it is guided by the goals of its strategic partnership. For instance, it went along with India’s call on Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh despite massive pressure from anti-democracy and human rights groups.
The withering away of the ‘9/11 consensus’ further decouples Kashmir from any larger Af-Pak interest. More significantly, it opens up space for countries in the region to secure their individual interests.
Pakistan has already begun to flex its influence after US President Donald Trump showed willingness to explore a deal with the Taliban to effect a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
For the Pakistan deep State, this would mean expanding its activities in Kashmir, which gives India the justification to take all measures its deems fit without obligation to any post-9/11‘coalition against terror’.
On the domestic front, too, there is unlikely to be any significant opposition in the wake of increased terror attacks in the Valley. Most national parties would have to take nuanced positions in a charged environment. Besides, BJP already has a majority government in Delhi, there’s President’s Rule in J&K, and the credibility of regional parties is low in the Valley.
Some may even argue that the stars are aligned for a tectonic political shift in J&K’s terms of integration with the Union itself. The truth is, such moments have occurred in the past as well, leaving behind deep scars. That’s why caution is important.
Congress had such a moment in 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi joined hands with Farooq Abdullah to sign an accord that formed the basis for Congress and National Conference to contest the state polls as coalition.
On the other side was the Muslim Unity Front (MUF) backed by Jamaat-e-Islami. That election saw one of the highest turnouts, before going down infamously for massive rigging.
Abdullah formed government but never enjoyed legitimacy. MUF leaders went on to form Hurriyat Conference and armed struggle was seen as the only way.
The extremist line gained ground from the early 1980s and the Pakistani deep State found a fresh breeding ground. Kashmiri Hindus became the first target of this rapid radicalisation, many killed, and forcing many more to flee the Valley.
Abdullah’s government never finished its term and J&K went into Governor’s Rule. That was the beginning of a decades-long insurgency, the price for which India continues to pay till today.
The peace effort has faced many reversals, but the one success was the gradual return of democracy in J&K, in howsoever imperfect a form. The 1980s also were a turbulent phase in the region. The former Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89 and then collapsed in end-1991.
Mujahideens, who had fought against Soviet forces, were readily available to Pakistan for deployment in Kashmir, making it a long and difficult war for India.
This time around, the big change is China’s entrenchment in Pakistan. China did all it could to dilute, if not derail, the effort of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to come out with a statement condemning the Pulwama attack.
It sought three extensions and held back the statement for eight days. And the one objection that it hung on to until the end was for ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ to be referred as ‘Indian-Administered Kashmir’.
China let go only after it was certain that in lieu of its comprise, there will be no reference to Pakistan in the statement. What’s noteworthy is that China didn’t mind being the only the holdout in the 15-member UNSC.
There should be no delusion that India is up against a Pakistan-China combine this time. Forcing a move on Kashmir runs the risk of incentivising radicalisation like in the 1980s, which pusheda generation of Kashmiri youth into terrorist camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). While there may be short-term political dividends, the consequences are fraught with long-term danger.
In many ways, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, perhaps like many of his predecessors, faces a watershed moment on Kashmir. The call he takes will shape the way Kashmir evolves among its post-1990 generation. Either way, one thing is clear: there’s a lot more at stake than just an election.