Modi has been unable to build a consensus on a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem.
S Nihal Singh
Op/Ed, 24 April 2017. All the do-gooders seeking an out-of-the-box solution to the Kashmir imbroglio miss a central point. Can a BJP government at the Centre and in a coalition in the state surmount its inherent limitations to prove equal to the task?
The answer, as events in the Kashmir Valley prove each day, is a qualified “no”. To begin with, the BJP’s ideological blinkers and narrow definition of nationalism make any solution of the problem more difficult.
Added to this mix, the macho culture the BJP cultivates, as opposed to its concept of weak coalition governments of the past, is eminently unsuited to tackling the problem. Witness the suggestion of a BJP minister in the state Cabinet recently suggesting that stone-pelting protesters should be shot.
The tragedy is that the one politician who could make a bold move to untangle the situation is inhibited by his own upbringing in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its long arm over the government’s decision-making process.
To add to a series of failures, Prime Minister Narendra Modi erred in believing that the impasse would work to his advantage even as the frustrations among the young in particular grew.
Besides, the decision to speed up the “Hinduisation” of the rest of the country inevitably riles the people of the Valley.
Mr Modi’s limitations can best be judged from his public declaration some time ago that a vast majority of the cow protection units were goons, only to eat his words in less than 24 hours to suggest that goons were participants in only a few of such units.
We are living with the consequences of such mixed signals: the lynching to death of a Muslim dairy farmer transporting cattle and, more recently, of a nomad family severely beaten up in Jammu because they were with their cattle, their only source of livelihood.
Proposals for a solution of the Kashmir problem have been repeated ad nauseam. Begin serious talks with all sections and parties in the Valley, including the separatists, and set up parallel talks with Pakistan.
The latter prospect has receded in view of Pakistan’s decision to hang an Indian to death after a secret military trial on spying charges. But there is nothing to prevent discussions with Kashmiris in the Valley, once the ground has been prepared.
Mr Ram Madhav, the BJP’s pointman for Kashmir, had to make a quick trip to the state to try to stem the growing fissures in the coalition; whether he administered a slap on the wrist of the erring BJP state minister for his foolish comment is not known.
On his part, Mr Modi seems unable to discipline his partymen to refrain from making provocative remarks that seek to raise issues of cow protection and other concepts to keep the communal pot boiling.
Thus far, for party political reasons or otherwise, Mr Modi has been unable to build a consensus on a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem. The abysmal scale of voting in the Srinagar byeelection made the country sit up and even the May date for the bye election in Anantnag seems unrealistic.
Members of mainstream parties, including the state’s ruling party, are hiding, instead of campaigning, with terror of the gun dominating the environment.
The projected meeting of the state chief minister, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, with the Prime Minister will lead nowhere unless the latter is clear on how to begin resolving the problem. If he can get rid of his own inhibitions, he must convince the RSS leadership that the country requires a different approach to Kashmir.
The only BJP leader who had a measure of credibility with Kashmiris is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who headed a coalition government, and sang the song of insaniyat (humanity). But you cannot begin the process if your leitmotif is to shoot the stone-pelters.
In a sense, the question boils down to Mr Modi’s capacity to make a sharp U-turn in the larger interest of the country by prevailing upon the RSS to give him the room to resolve an old problem which bears the burden of the subcontinent’s tragic partition and its murderous consequences.
He could get past the RSS for a time in Gujarat, but it was one state, not the whole country, and the RSS is riding high with the BJP’s victory in the 2014 election bringing three decades of coalition governments to an end. Its dream of a Hindu rashtra is within grasp.
Before setting out for Rawalpindi as the first Indian newspaper correspondent to be posted in Pakistan after the 1965 war, I had a meeting with Indira Gandhi on the morning of April 21, 1967.
In her view, Field Marshal Ayub Khan had to give in to pressure from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (then foreign minister) and associates to adopt an anti-India stance because the latter felt that only such a posture could keep Pakistan together.
She said no Indian government could placate Pakistan on Kashmir, adding, “And what new solution can there be on Kashmir?”
The actors on the two sides have changed, but Mrs Gandhi’s words ring as true today as it did then. It is thus essential to begin the task of reconciling with the people in the Valley in a dramatically changed environment in India.
She espoused secularism and although the secular creed is still enshrined in the Constitution, Mr Modi’s followers in the BJP and the RSS are doing everything in their power to push their concept of the Hindu rashtra.
Where do we go from here? There is only one sane argument: create the mood for reconciliation by making moves on the ground. Mr Farooq Abdullah’s suggestion to impose President’s rule is no answer.
Rather, the answer lies in building bridges to the people of the Valley. Inevitably, terrorists of the local and Pakistani provenance must be answered with the gun.
But New Delhi’s best answer would be otherwise to sheath the sword and befriend the Valley and its people by assuring them of autonomy and fair play.
S Nihal Singh has four editorships under his belt, with globetrotting stints in Singapore, Pakistan, Moscow, London, New York, Paris and Dubai.