The BJP must understand Kashmir's political dynamics


One of the main areas that the People's Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janta Party coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir promised to address was a reconciliatory process within the state and with Pakistan. In its “Agenda of Alliance”, the guiding document that came out after two month long intense dialogue specifically mentioned that both the governments and in Delhi and Srinagar would pursue the process.

“The union government has recently initiated several steps to normalize the relationship with Pakistan. The coalition government will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in the peace and development within the sub-continent. The same will be pursued by taking confidence building measures, such as enhancing people to people contact on both sides of the LoC, encouraging civil society exchanges, taking travel, commerce, trade and business across the LoC to the next level and opening new routes across all three regions for enhancing connectivity,” reads the agenda.

Instead of slowly approaching towards this commitment, the BJP led government almost took a u-turn as the events, which unfolded after the release of hard-line separatist Masarat Alam apparently unnerved it. Under pressure from a hawkish national media to the right wing forces such as Rashtriya Swamysewak Sangh (RSS) the ideological fountainhead of BJP, it forced the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to re-arrest Alam and even do the tough talking on the issue of Pakistani flag being waved in Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Geelani’s rally. It is interesting to note that from 2005 to 2014, Mufti had been boasting about his action of releasing Geelani from jail in 2003 and helping his treatment in a Mumbai hospital, calling the dissension in political narrative as “battle of ideas” that needed to be dealt with democratically.

However, he not only had to re-arrest Alam but also went to extend of saying that action could be initiated against the same Geelani for provocation in his public meetings. The Agenda of Alliance clearly states that “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”. Now that the coalition government has reverted back to the policy of putting these leaders with different ideologies under house arrest and curtailing their movement in the manner the previous government by Omar Abdullah did, it is difficult to see the initiation of meaningful and sustained dialogue. Even though the BJP is signatory to the document that could see two ideologically divergent parties coming together and forming a government, its leaders have openly violated the guiding principles laid out in it to run a smooth government. For example BJP’s state secretary Ashok Koul told a local newspaper on May 4 that there was no move to invite separatists for a dialogue. “There is a mention of involving all internal stakeholders, but as of now we have no plans to invite separatists for talks. At present, our focus is on development of the State,” Koul said. Mufti’s close confidant and Education Minister Naeem Akhtar has also echoed the views admitting that issues like flags have derailed the process. “It has definitely affected the atmosphere wherein GoI can’t invite separatists for talks,” he asserted.

No doubt the government is grappling with the issues of governance and empty coffers and cry over delay in rehabilitating the people hit by September floods have overshadowed other issues, but to attend the political issues is important for running a smooth government. The PDP itself has raised the expectations of people of addressing the issues arising out of political discontentment and if it is forced to abandon them, it will not only cost the party dearly but will also not help to build an atmosphere that could lead to development.

So far government in Delhi has not shown any inclination to further promote Confidence Building Measures as emphasized in the agenda. It has also not pushed the stalled dialogue process with Pakistan that is imperative for strengthening a peace constituency within Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did call his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief in February followed by sending Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to Islamabad in March. But it has not helped to break the ice.

If Modi wants to do something really different he will have to follow A B Vajpayee’s policy towards Kashmir and Pakistan. When the fresh hand of friendship was extended to Pakistan by Vajpayee from the soil of Srinagar on April 18, 2003, it turned tables vis a vis the strand relations. It led to then President Musharraf changing the stated positions of Pakistan and responding in the same manner. He turned the tap off the infiltration that declined the number of attempts to an unimaginable level from 2003 onwards and helped Kashmir to regain its path to a peaceful atmosphere.

The way normal, if not too friendly, relations are key to peace in Kashmir, the same way the road to friendship between Delhi and Islamabad passes through Kashmir only. That can be done only by moving away from the beaten track that has always been guided by a hawkish mindset. Modi will have to shut his eyes towards the jingoism that seems to have made the BJP government hostage as far as Pakistan and Kashmir are concerned. This will also help him to see a stable government in Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time, BJP is in the power structure of Jammu and Kashmir and it should not prove to be their last time, if they continue to see it as an internal and law and order issue. It should sincerely follow its Agenda of Alliance to start a new chapter of reconciliation in the region, even though it does not provide the complete framework for the final resolution of the issue.

Kashmir’s political dynamic in the backdrop of a strong sense of alienation and dissent and Pakistan factor is must to see, otherwise BJP too will have live with an apologetic legacy the Congress has been going with as far as Kashmir issue is concerned.