The predominant narrative from Kashmir since the Narendra Modi government abrogated Article 370 has been of communication clampdown and political vacuum resulting from the house arrest of several politicians, including three former chief ministers. It remains to be seen where the mainstream regional political parties go from here, and when does democratic politics – in the form of assembly election – return to Jammu and Kashmir, the new Union Territory.
There are some indications about the latter. A delegation of German Members of Parliament, on a visit to India last week, was informed during an interaction with bureaucrats and diplomats in New Delhi that the Centre plans to conduct the next assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir by July 2020. The essential element of this political transformation will be the characters – a new set of leaders – that New Delhi plans to support, hand-hold and push for revival of Jammu and Kashmir’s institutional apparatus democratically.
Letting Pakistan play a role
Successive state governments led by National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Congress and lately Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with covert concurrence of the Centre have only incentivised separatism and secessionism in Kashmir. On the one hand, this policy led to erosion of state institutions, including the Jammu and Kashmir Police; on the other hand, it created more gaps between New Delhi and Kashmir. The defeatist policy even made the likes of pro-Pakistan Hurriyat and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which provoked violence, relevant in New Delhi’s scheme of things. Under this political roadmap, engaging with separatists, giving freebies in the name of healing touch, and leaving scope for further autonomy or alienation became the main agenda instead of peace and development. It became a question of New Delhi’s survival in J&K, leading to a permanent policy paralysis.
Over the years, Pakistan has also built a massive constituency in Kashmir by investing its focus and energies on several separatists as well as certain mainstream Kashmiri politicians to propel its propaganda campaign coupled with Islamist extremism. The support from across the border, however, shouldn’t be seen in isolation. The game plan of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to influence the young Kashmiris has been successful because of New Delhi’s failure to encourage fair politics and implementing instead a policy of appeasement by attaching a premium with separatism and anti-India rhetoric. With help from the investigative agencies, successive governments at the Centre have let internal rabid elements prosper in the Valley who have colluded with Pakistan to demonise India and let the hatred grow against ‘Hindu India’ from a more ‘Muslim Kashmir’.
No back-door policy now
While hectic parleys are underway between the chosen negotiators of the Modi government and the detained politicians to make them agree to the ‘new normal’ in Kashmir, all indications suggest there would be relaxation in communication clampdown and release of a few political detainees by the end of September or early October. The challenge for the government would be to not repeat the same blunders and mistakes of the past while creating a new leadership within the valley. A political leader has to cultivate his or her own ground among people instead of letting money, security from the government or accommodation on the posh Gupkar Road do the talking. The decision-makers of North Block have to let the political leadership emerge from the front door, since the back-door policy has failed miserably to create a sustained political roadmap for peace.
The formation of the PDP in the late 1990s gave a hope for alternative politics in Jammu and Kashmir, which traditionally had the NC and the Congress as the only significant political players. Two decades later, while the BJP compromised on its core ideology to form an ‘unholy’ alliance with the PDP in its bid to reach the corridors of power, it soon learnt its lessons, and learnt them the hard way. After kneeling down to almost all diktats of then-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, and succumbing to the pressures from the PDP, the BJP finally pulled out of the alliance. The PDP, which was backed by New Delhi to counter the NC, became the Modi government’s worst nightmare because of the continued policy of encouraging secessionism.
Engineer Rashid, a former MLA from North Kashmir, is another example of the degeneration of mainstream politics in Kashmir. Rashid, who is under arrest by the NIA in a terror funding case of 2017, is believed to have been in good terms with both New Delhi and Islamabad. Known as a rabble rouser, Rashid was popular because of his provocative statements and drama he enacted in front of the cameras.
After his sustained questioning for days in New Delhi, Rashid reportedly called a top Army functionary, pleading and begging him to help strike a deal with Home Minister Amit Shah. Rashid was reportedly willing to support the BJP, welcome Article 370’s abrogation, and even commit to paying back by winning 7-8 assembly seats for the BJP in exchange for dropping all charges against him. Today, Rashid who had entered into a political alliance with bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal is inside New Delhi’s Tihar Jail. While his friend Faesal remains detained in Srinagar.
Avoiding repeat of past mistakes
New Delhi understandably is desperate for a political outreach and a way out of the complex situation it has put itself into in Kashmir. There is talk of a new breed of leadership emerging out of the current status quo. This time, if New Delhi prepares to prop up a new crop of leadership in Kashmir, it must make sure that this crop doesn’t become a bigger proponent of secessionism than the PDP. Kashmir isn’t just a horrible tale of deceit but also of political corruption and double games.
Today, as we stand on the cusp of history, the new political dictionary of Jammu and Kashmir has to let the Indian Constitution prevail fully with rule of law and democracy. If the power corridors yet again back a certain breed of puppets without any ground support or those that are willing to compromise for money, it would lead to a bigger nightmare than 1990 and make radicalisation more mainstream. It would revive the now defunct terror ecosystem in Kashmir.
Days before the abrogation of Article 370, a top union minister had told a group of journalists that ‘unprecedented situations demand unprecedented measures’ in Kashmir. Now that these measures have been taken, let’s not put Kashmir back on a ticking time bomb with its detonator across the border in Pakistan. Let New Delhi take the road less travelled, one which doesn’t go through Gupkar.
The author is an independent journalist. Views are personal.