The international community’s unease over the continued incarceration of three former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir – Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti – since the dilution of Article 370 that took away the erstwhile state’s special status in August as well as the issue of Assam NRC, has grown every month.
Several statements by Germany, Sweden, Finland, the European Union and the US Congress have suggested that the situation in Kashmir is not “sustainable,” that India must start talking to Pakistan, and that any political resolution must take the “wishes of the Kashmiri people” into account.
The Narendra Modi government has ignored all these suggestions; and last week, it pulled off a diplomatic coup and received what could amount to the much-needed ‘support’ – from its ally Japan.
In the teeth of rising concern that India was isolating itself by refusing to join the China-led bloc of nations that had signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Japan announced it would also not sign the RCEP dotted line if India was not going to do so.
A day after, the two countries held the 2+2 dialogue between the foreign affairs and defence ministers in New Delhi.
The Modi government will draw a lot of hope from Japanese deputy minister for economy, trade and industry Hideki Makihara’s comments on the RCEP. Tokyo would have never done something as significant as this if its chief friend and ally, the United States, was not on board. Certainly, the Japanese want India to assert its influence in the Indo-Pacific to contain China.
Support from flagging economy
So, what gives Japan the confidence that India is powerful enough to play the big round against China? The same thing that makes Sweden stay positive towards India despite raising concerns about the lockdown in Kashmir.
India’s large market, of course.
Even though domestic growth has dropped to 4.5 per cent, the lowest in six years, the possibility of India’s large middle-class voting with its wallets will have both Japan and Sweden excited.
Japanese retailer Uniqlo last week opened its second clothing store in the National Capital Region. The first store that was opened in Delhi in October had earned Rs 2 crore in the first couple of days.
Uniqlo realises it must capture the Indian market to spread its business, even if the Indian market has taken a pounding because of demonetisation and the ham-handed manner in which the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented.
The long queues at Swedish retailer H&M stores in India may have thinned, but furniture retailer Ikea has managed to sell goods worth Rs 407 crore at its Hyderabad store since it opened in August 2018. The Swedes continue to be interested in selling the Gripen fighter jet to India.
Significance of visits
Countries like Japan and Sweden, the Modi government believes, will hopefully show the way and dull international criticism on Kashmir. First steps on reviving the Indian economy have been taken and more are expected. A cabinet rejig is expected later in the month.
So, despite their foreign minister’s concerns on Kashmir, King Carl XIV Gustaf of Sweden and his wife, Silvia, are continuing their visit across India. Other recent visits to New Delhi include foreign and defence ministers of Japan and Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
And despite the two hearings in the US Congress over Kashmir, the US later this month will host India’s defence and foreign ministers for the second round of its 2+2 dialogue.
In 2002 as well, after the Gujarat riots, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had rejected the international critique on human rights violations. India has not only grown by leaps and bounds ever since, the Modi government believes that the long list of international visitors has boosted the global community’s enthusiasm for India.
In less than two weeks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in India and PM Modi will escort him to Imphal, Manipur, where the Japanese Imperial Army fought a big bloody battle against British Indian troops in 1944, during World War II.
More importantly, Modi and Abe are expected to sign the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), enabling both nations to share defence capabilities and supplies, sources told ‘Japan Today.’
Certainly, international unease regarding Kashmir can only make a difference if it ties into domestic uproar on this matter.
The tipping point, on the other hand, could be the economy. For the first time in five years, corporates are now speaking out against the “fear” that has enveloped corporate India. But if PM Modi can invite the world to increase its stakes in India and turn the economy around, he will help mitigate their unease over issues like Kashmir.
This is the strategy that China has successfully followed over the last 40 years. The signs are that Modi is taking a leaf out of Beijing’s book.