Despite its splendour and idyllic environs, Kashmir continues to evoke images of conflict, dissent and discord- the conflict which has been raging for decades, both ‘for’ and ‘within’ the state arousing embittered emotions. Having said that, Muslim dominated Kashmir ‘was’ and ‘remains’ secular India’s Achilles heel, and the manner the socio-political future unfolds after the taking over of the PDP-BJP combine, can either take ‘progressive’ India, and with it the state forward, or keep it entrapped in the quagmire it has been mired in since partition/independence.
…the PDP and the BJP must get their act together and collectively work towards mitigating decades of distrust and discord.
Notwithstanding its turbulent past and despite the tilt shown towards the Hurriyat and Kashmiri separatists by Mr. Mufti, the new Chief Minister in the conference following his swearing in, it would be premature to pronounce the failure of the (unique) Modi-Mufti experiment even before it has been able to hit the blocks – peace needs to be given a chance!
Now that the dice has been cast, that too after protracted negotiations, the PDP and the BJP must get their act together and collectively work towards mitigating decades of distrust and discord. Both parties need to introspect, and define/redefine red lines, especially in the public conduct of their leaders. On one hand, it is for the PDP to realize the importance of Mr. Modi flying to attend the swearing in ceremony in view of its uniqueness, at the same time, it is for the BJP who may have not expected such a public embarrassment, to re-work its strategy. Having said that, both know that they cannot survive in power without the other; thus the importance of Red Lines in this unique relationship. Both parties also need to realize that they are there only because of the mandate of the people and the public cannot be let down after both sides had offered much promise and hope in their election campaign.
It is also important to interject that keeping in view of the larger strategic context of Kashmir in terms of the embittered Indo-Pak relations, the terse Sino-Indian relations, and the (growing) potential of the Sino-Pak collusion, especially with China’s enhanced involvement in the volatile region of Gilgit-Baltistan, New Delhi would do well to concentrate on securing India’s strategic future. Foreign Policy being the domain of the centre, this needs to be made clear to Mr. Mufti and his political heir, Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, and needs to be ensured by the BJP in J&K, being the second largest party in the ruling combine.
Mr. Mufti may have his compulsions, but advocating the case for separatists is unwarranted.
The story of Kashmir, unfortunately is one of innumerable follies and missed opportunity and the acrimony we see is the aftermath of six decades of conflict and strife. The first in the long list was the manner the barbaric tribal (sic) invasion of 1947 was handled which ipso facto resulted in the longest (fourteen months) and infructuous (from India’s point of view) shooting war Independent India has ever engaged in. Another opportunity came India’s way after the 1971 war to close the dispute once for all, but for some reason this was never taken up; indeed even the Shimla Accord was a considering India’s exponential advantage.
Later, murky politics of the seventies and eighties were allowed to muzzle democracy, and with it hope in the people of the state. The decay of the political system in Kashmir, as indeed, it was the case in the rest of India, exacerbated by the ‘coalitions of opportunity,’ became yet another reason for the people of Kashmir to lose faith in the power of the ballot. As pronounced by Mr. Sumit Ganguly: “The singular political tragedy of Kashmir’s politics was the failure of the local and national political leaderships to permit the development of an honest political opposition…..As a result of local chicanery the national laissez-faire, every election, except two (1977 and 1983), since the first in March 1957, was marked with corruption and deceit.” Now that the state had witnessed ‘free and fair’ elections, in which the people’s participation has been unprecedented, the expectations of the people are sky high.
Both parties would do well to conduct themselves as mandated by the people and close the ugly part of the state’s recent history and get on with the task of governance and meeting the aspirations of the people as also bringing the state to the mainstream through well focused and sustained development.
Mufti’s advocacy of the Hurriyat needs to be denounced as the Hurriyat is nothing but a front of Pakistan and her sponsored separatists.
Mr. Mufti may have his compulsions, but advocating the case for separatists is unwarranted. Having said that, in all fairness to the new Chief Minister, there is another side to the coin which merits attention. While it may be fashionable for New Delhi to brand all calls for ‘Aazadi’ to be separatist, within this cacophony are entrapped cries that need to be understood in a humane manner. For the average Kashmiri, caught up in a life of strife and conflict, which to a large extent is not of his making, the only ‘Aazadi’ he/she yearns for is to lead a life of ‘dignity’ without the fear of the gun and without transgressions made in his/her personal space, family and way of life – these primordial calls need to be heeded to. However, at the same time, shrill voices spreading discord and hate in whatever form need to be dealt with under the law of the land.
If Mr. Mufti is advocating the former’s case, admittedly, he has a point that merits attention. Conversely, his advocacy of the Hurriyat needs to be denounced as the Hurriyat is nothing but a front of Pakistan and her sponsored separatists. In case Mr. Mufti feels otherwise, he needs to present their case cogently and dispel New Delhi’s apprehensions.
Though the BJP essentially represents the people of the Jammu region, it needs to take up the interests of other parts of the state for the larger collective good of the people. Having said that, the PDP also needs to introspect, and now that it is in the driving seat, work towards genuine development of the state – not merely speak for the people of the Valley. Both parties need to rise above petty politicking and pursue development as a tangible goal. It may be pertinent to recount that the state’s highest GDP growth was recorded in the post 1971 war period, which proves that the state has the potential to excel when the environment is free of conflict; in fact, this was the only period when the state’s GDP rise was above the other, so called ‘progressive’ states of the Indian Union.
WHAM needs to continue to focus on eradicating ‘inner’ grievances in a fair and transparent manner, and at the same time, mitigating ‘external’ (Pakistan’s) influences within for instilling a sense of ‘security’ for its citizens.
Winning the Hearts and Minds (WHAM)
On its part, while ensuring good governance should be the focus, furthering the work done by the WHAM campaign thus far needs to be given priority by the new government. WHAM needs to continue to focus on eradicating ‘inner’ grievances in a fair and transparent manner, and at the same time, mitigating ‘external’ (Pakistan’s) influences within for instilling a sense of ‘security’ for its citizens. It needs to be underlined that WHAM, being a long term campaign, cannot and should not be reduced to episodic responses and/or made a publicity campaign for short term narrow gains. This takes time and perseverance for it to succeed. Apropos, the target populace and theme(s) need to be well thought out and actions well executed on ground. More importantly, WHAM needs to concentrate on ‘conflict and violence’ avoidance, and the new government needs to bring in change by involving the people. The task of identifying and providing fillip to the theme(s) and setting priorities is therefore the main challenge for the government in Srinagar.
In terms of themes for the WHAM campaign, ‘all inclusive’ and ‘all round development’ should be the focus. With a supportive party like the BJP, both in the centre and state, and Mr. Narinder Modi seen as a harbinger of change, the stage is perfectly setfor ushering in an era of well-directed and sustained development. This advantage must be leveraged by Mr. Mufti. Kashmir and Kashmiris of all regions should be made self-dependent and prosperous, which calls for large scale infusion of capital for time-bound action plans, the emphasis being on involving the youth productively – this is where the Prime Minister could make a major difference.
Harnessing the Potential of Kashmir
Economic. Reviving the economic health of the state needs to be taken up on war footing. This is a multi-faceted task which on one hand would revive the economy and increasing prosperity levels; on the other, this would reduce the burden of the central grants that sustain the state currently. Psychologically, this would help by adding to the feeling of well-being and encourage the people to contribute to their own future. Peace in the state is a pre-requisite for economic growth and needs to be ensured by providing prophylactic security, rather than visible deployment of the Security Forces. Such a security needs to be active and/or even pro-active but definitely never reactive – this requires a rethink in the ‘modus operandi’ and even in the role and nature of operations required of the Security Forces for ensuring security.
A start by Mr. Mufti could be the rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pundits and the countless refugees from Pakistan in the state, whose existence even today lacks legitimacy.
Tourism and Infrastructure Development. Kashmir, apart from being one of the choicest tourist destinations of the world, has much more to offer than the valley and Ladakh; more areas, especially in the interiors of the state need to be opened up and developed. The vast area east of the Jammu-Srinagar highway like Doda, Baderwah, Kishtwar, Bani, Padam etc. needs to be opened up and developed for tourism. In addition to conventional tourism, the state with its natural environment, has the potential of becoming the nation’s centre of ‘higher education,’ and also become a destination for ‘medical and religious tourism.’ These opportunities need to be encouraged, as they would not only usher in prosperity but also offer opportunities for employment.
Youth. The Kashmiri by nature is intelligent and proud and this is amply evident in the youth. The Kashmiri youth is also acutely aware of the developments taking place outside the state and, given a chance, would be willing to step outside for higher education and employment. Such endeavours need to be encouraged as external openings on one hand keep them from negativity and at the same time making them empowered citizens helps the people of the state. The youth need to be trained enabling fruitful employment, both within and outside the state and encouraged by special scholarships and placements. Sports provide yet another field to fruitfully channelize the energy of the youth. Though, it is heartening to see the number of young boys playing cricket, yet surprisingly, only one has made it to the national squad so far. This is due to the lack of appropriate sports infrastructure and professional coaching, which require to be accorded priority.
Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat, which has the potential to be a secular beacon for a nation as disparate as India, needs to be revived in the spirit it espouses. The essence of Kashmiriyat, which essentially is an ‘all inclusive’ philosophy, without distinctions made on the basis of religion, caste, colour or creed, needs to be made vibrant and palpable once again. A start by Mr. Mufti could be the rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pundits and the countless refugees from Pakistan in the state, whose existence even today lacks legitimacy. In the same breath, there is little logic in only advocating restoration of ancestral property rights of people who by choice or otherwise have migrated to Pakistan of Pak occupied Kashmir, if the same is not reciprocal and includes refugees who came to Kashmir during partition.
…it cannot be denied that the role of the security forces continues to be important. However, rather than concentrating on the interior, they need to focus on eliminating/reducing infiltration across the LC and IB, apart from providing prophylactic security within.
Political Issues or Non-Issues
AFSPA and Declaration of Disturbed Area Act. Undeniably, with a change in the security environment, there is a case for withdrawing the ‘disturbed area’ status, and with it the AFSPA, the roll-back needs to be progressive and situation based. Having said that, it cannot be denied that the role of the security forces continues to be important. However, rather than concentrating on the interior, they need to focus on eliminating/reducing infiltration across the LC and IB, apart from providing prophylactic security within. Thus, while on one hand, there is a case for a review, at the same time, there are even stronger reasons for the government and Security Forces to work together in a synergized manner.
Review of the Unified Command. Though it may seem premature since the results of the change are still to be visible, there may be a case for re-constituting the Unified Command in the state. If the situation improves, there is merit in relieving GOC 15 and 16 Corps from their role of being Advisors to the Chief Minister and leaving them to safeguard the LC, which is a high priority requirement in view of the proxy war from Pakistan. At the same time, since the Counter Insurgency grid ‘was’ and ‘remains’ the fundamental reason for the changed security environment to have come abot, the Director General of Rashtriya Rifles (who had been brought in from Delhi for the task during the Kargil War), could well be shifted to Srinagar and entrusted with the task of being the Advisor as well as the man in charge of Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorist operations. Such a move could well become a catalyst for change as this would not only signal a change, but would also entrust the right man for the sensitive job, freeing the Field Commanders to do their primary task.
The people of the state have clearly spoken for peace and development and it is for the leaders to deliver.
While change is the call of the day and hope permeates the air, for the PDP-BJP experiment is to be successful, not only must both sides dispense with rhetoric, but Mr. Modi and Mr. Mufti needs to think out of the box and come up with a new narrative. Collectively, they need to combine their vision and energy to synergise their efforts. The call of the time is for them to come up with a ‘Truman’ type of doctrine, combined with a pro-active but humane ‘Marshall’ type of plan for reviving and bringing back Kashmir and the Kashmiris to the mainstream of ‘Team India.’ Now that a beginning has been made with the fusion of the (seemingly) disparate PDP and the BJP, a corresponding change must be visible to the people on the ground. The people of the state have clearly spoken for peace and development and it is for the leaders to deliver.
Given the circumstances, Mr. Modi and Mr. Mufti may well succeed where many of their successors foundered. Having said that, both sides of this unique political experiment need to remember that ‘faith’ is a two-way relationship that needs to be nurtured by both sides. At the same time, while it is understood that sticking to this well-meaning path in the vexed politico-social real world of Kashmir’s politics is difficult, we wish them success in their historic mission, and the people of Kashmir luck on their new journey – indeed in their success lies the success of Secular India and therefore peace that has come to Kashmir after decades, deserves to be given a chance to succeed.