J&K: Shah needs to move the needle

As the union home minister, Amit Shah’s first major challenge is to deal with the situation in Kashmir, which is effectively under central rule for the past one year, first under Governor’s rule and then under President’s rule. He made his first visit to the state as home minister last week, conducted a security review and held talks with Governor Satyapal Malik, state BJP leaders and some civil society groups. He did not meet any other political leaders. After his return, Shah secured Parliament’s approval for extension of President’s rule for another six months, with only a vague promise of holding assembly elections in the state by the end of the year. He has no doubt about why there is a problem in Kashmir and why one-third of the state is with Pakistan. According to Shah, it is the successive Congress governments at the Centre and the first prime minster of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, who should be held responsible for all the ills, and he claimed that issues pending for years are being settled now. 

Shah’s tirade against Nehru is in line with his and his party’s policy of demonisation of Nehru, conveniently forgetting certain parts of pre-Independence and pre-Partition history and the context of decision-making in the early months and years after Independence. But rather than fighting the spectre of Nehru and summoning up demons from the past, Shah should try to address the problems of Kashmir in the present and find solutions for them. It is not clear which issues that were pending for years were settled by the prime minister last year, as Shah claimed. He also said that the government would have a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and terrorists within the state and in Pakistan would be targeted. All this is reiteration of the government's past positions and policy on Kashmir which, however, did not improve the situation there in the last five years. 

Kashmir needs a new initiative and policy to move forward from where it is now. Governor Malik has claimed that the temperature in the Valley has come down and “things are looking much better now.’’ He has also said that the separatists, meaning the Hurriyat leaders, were ready for talks, perhaps at the same time hinting, in a reversal of the government's policy, that the government may also be ready for talks. Shah did not say this, but only asserted the BJP’s known position on Article 370 -- that it was a “temporary provision.’’ Recently, there were also reports about the government's plan for delimitation of the state’s constituencies. These are all pieces and fragments of policies and it is not known whether they would make a workable strategy together. Shah has in public reiterated only the government’s old positions. 

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