What is BJP's Kashmir policy?

What is BJP's Kashmir policy?


Kashmir has remained in the headlines for the last two years. It began with the killing of Burhan Wani, followed by surgical strikes, attacks in Uri (and Pathankot in neighbouring Punjab), the house arrest of Pervez Khurram and increased stone pelting.

It then moved on with the more recent events of the video of a CRPF jawan being heckled and then the photos of a Kashmiri being tied to the jeep also going viral, finally culminating in the statement by the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that the government will announce a policy frame for ‘final settlement’ of the Kashmir problem.

If the issue survives and keeps hogging the headlines, will it be the contentious issue on which the BJP will fight the general elections in 2019? Kashmir is one issue that holds a pan-India appeal and a chronic crisis in the Valley and a growing threat of its secession from India will create the anxiety that can consolidate the support for the BJP.

Kashmir is an emotive issue that has the potential to sideline all other issues including that of development, growing unemployment and inflation, dipping GDP and the agrarian crisis. It is an issue that combines nationalism with communalism and is in line with BJP’s anti-Muslim mobilisation that seems to have yielded results in Uttar Pradesh.

The media and the response from the government has gradually built a common sentiment that while India is tolerant and willing for a dialogue and also develop Kashmir, it is Kashmiris who are unreasonable, unrelenting and intolerant, because the demand grows from a growing Islamic sentiment. Rising stone pelting, growing militancy from across the border, a palpable support to it and early signs of a rising Wahabism and Sa­lafism replacing the more tolerant Sufi-Kashmiriyat, stand testimony for this.

In popular imagination, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced development packages, inaugurated new roads, the topper in the UPSC was a Kashmiri a few years ago and 14 of them got selected this year. Further, Modi seems to have made concerted efforts to extend a meaningful hand of friendship with Pakistan, made friendly overtures by visiting his counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s family event, shook hands, spoke to him in international gatherings and even presented a saree to his mother.

In return, what we are getting back are militant attacks, sustained conspiracies, unrelenting Kashmiris refusing to dialogue — a tolerant India being repeatedly rejected and insulted by the Kashmiri leadership and aided by Pakistan.

The way leading post-colonial scholar Partha Chatterjee has been hounded and reprimanded for his argument that tying up of a Kashmiri to the jeep is the `Gen Dyer’ moment of post-Independent India is a case in point. Not many bothered to read the critique of Chatterjee of Pakistani army in the same article and it remained wilfully ignored.

The conflict and the crisis are simmering even as more than 100 chapters of the Jammu and Kashmir study forums have been launched more than two years ago across India. These forums are being used to project a sustained version of how Kashmir was a Hindu land that witnessed mass conversions and has henceforth displaced the Pandits. This narrative eventually has the potential to recreate a consolidated Hindu-sentiment that overlaps with hyper-nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment across India.

It also has the potential to create a craving to hit hard and respond more brutally. The debate, the forced consensus created around the use of a Kashmiri as a human shield and the ensuing felicitation of the army man who executed this by the chief of the armed forces, is a glaring evidence. What then could be the permanent solution that the home minister was referring to?

Hurriyat ban?

Could it mean banning of the Hurriyat? Arrest of its leaders, including hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani? An attempt to repeal Article 370? If any of these steps were to be taken by the current dispensation, the Valley will erupt in unprecedented violence, dividing the nation vertically into those who wish to stand for an integrated India and those who wish to aid in weakening it.

In such a scenario, even the liberal constitutionalists would feel the pressure to stand by a dispensation that is fighting a tough battle in Kashmir. Going in for a general election in such an atmosphere can only be best left to the imagination of the readers.

Can Kashmir be handled differently? Many of the surveys have projected the fact that not many Kashmiris support the idea of merging with Pakistan and have come to see it as a failed state. In my own survey couple of years ago, many responded by saying that there is nothing much left in Pakistan other than `bomb blasts’. There is much less support to the militancy in comparison with the 1990s, and many of them, especially the older generation, see militancy as eroding the social life while offering no palpable solution.

However, many will have a problem with remaining with India but this is, however, on the issue of autonomy and dignity and not essentially on religious grounds. Religion plays a role to the point of becoming the medium and the matrix of the dissent and disenchantment in the Valley. When young men waive the flags of the terror group IS, it is more to create anxiety and hurt the sentiments in India than a belief in its ideology.

When young men pelt stones, it is less of an urge to create an IS and more of a compulsion as mosques are the only public spaces left to congregate for the Kashmiris. This, however, does not mean the young Kashmiris do not have the potential to move towards making Kashmir into a religious-fundamentalist/religious-nationalist demand from that of its current demand for self-determination. This to a large extent depends on how we engage with Kashmir and treat them as citizens and not subjects of a history denied.

(The writer is with Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi)