PM Narendra Modi
PM Narendra Modi | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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Finally, Article 370 of India’s Constitution is dead. The real uphill task begins now. For long, the essence of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy was “engage and manage”, which had created a win-win for all the stakeholders rooted in the status quo. For the first time, a government at the Centre has taken a courageous step to resolve the Kashmir issue. However, it opens the floodgates of challenges too.

Kashmiris are fiercely protective about the special status of Kashmir. It is an issue that has brought the so-called pro-India mainstream politicians and the separatists on the same platform. Though there is a strong sense of fatigue, the possibility of a massive civilian uprising cannot be ruled out. Such civil unrest has the potential to last about four to five months. Hence, the Narendra Modi government must take adequate measures to minimise violence and civilian casualties.

Tread carefully

In 1987, the allegedly rigged Jammu and Kashmir assembly election, which the alliance of Congress and National Conference swept, gave rise to militancy, which turned brutal and bloodier with time. The Modi government has to ensure that 2019 does not turn out to be a repeat of 1987. For Kashmiris fed on lies by Pakistan’s propaganda machinery and the opportunistic local politicians, the relationship with Delhi is that of mistrust and betrayal. By no means I am condoning New Delhi’s blunders in creating the distrust. Given the long history of foreign occupation and suppression, Kashmiris are politically very conscious and sensitive. They are most likely to perceive the proposed reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory as another betrayal by Delhi and an affront on democracy.

Hence, the Modi government must start the journey with an honest and sincere public outreach initiative to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. The mainstream politicians and the separatists have lost credibility because of corruption, nepotism, and bad governance. Pakistan also stands exposed as an opportunist that used religion and innocent Kashmiris to pursue its geo-strategic goals. Although India too faces a huge credibility issue, this moment of vacuum gives New Delhi an excellent opportunity to win over the locals. The newly-elected panchayats can play a robust role in doing Delhi’s bidding. The government has to empower them and ensure that they emerge as people’s leaders and the real custodians of the idea of India in Kashmir.


Also read: Modi’s Kashmir move is biggest test for Indian democracy – and for the silent liberals


Beyond the development narrative

It must be kept in mind that relying solely on the development narrative won’t serve the purpose. The Modi government will have to address the sense of alienation among the youths and overcome the existing trust deficit. For this, a process that encourages dialogue and participation of people in governance will be required. The government must not fail in this because Kashmir sits on the verge of becoming the most vulnerable hunting ground for transnational terrorist groups like the al Qaeda and the ISIS, especially in a milieu where political Islam is becoming a new buzzword of Kashmiri freedom movement and suicide bombing has become a new craze among the youths. After the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s arrival there, Jammu and Kashmir will become vulnerable to terrorist groups entrenched in Afghanistan. New Delhi has to ensure that democracy and governance do not fail this time, or else the state could become another Syria.

Over the last three to four decades, the state has become a hot-bed of all kinds of experimentation by secret services. Common people refer to it as ‘agency-raj’. In downtown Srinagar, people sarcastically say that each household works for about six intelligence agencies. Besides the domestic ones, there is no shortage of international players like China, Israel, Iran, and Turkey, informed sources have told me. Hence, the overall feeling is of mutual suspicion and distrust. This has kept the notions of accountable administration and good governance, considered as the privilege of peaceful and stable states, on the back burner. Every government move, including the usual development and engagement initiatives, is viewed with suspicion. The dark virtue of “secrecy” has become a part of people’s lifestyle.

In the economy, people are attuned to Hawala transactions, smuggling, drug-peddling, and working for agencies. Corruption, inefficiency, and nepotism are rampant. The governance is pathetic, and bureaucracy works in a feudal manner. This will have to change and Kashmir’s status of Union Territory will go a long way in achieving this goal. We cannot look at Kashmir merely from the security-cum-intelligence point of view, any more. The Modi government-appointed Lieutenant Governor who will take charge and his administrative team will have an arduous task ahead to overhaul the state’s work culture.


Also read: Cautious RSS tells supporters to welcome Modi govt’s J&K move without being jingoistic


Bridging trust deficit

The challenge is to make Kashmiris feel that they are now citizens of India, and they must have faith in the Indian constitution and the government. So far, Kashmiris have remained in the state of ‘dual loyalties’ towards India and Pakistan. After Monday’s decision, legally, Kashmir becomes one with India.

To bring Kashmir into the mainstream, the new administration will have to focus on sanitising the educational institutions, administration, religious institutions, the police force, and the media. Pakistan-supported extremist organisations like Jamaat-I-Islami and Ahl-i-Hadith have made deep inroads into the state’s academic, social, economic, cultural and political life. So far, state action has only been superficial. If Kashmir is to be really mainstreamed, then such entities will have to be firmly dealt with. The Modi government will have to send an administrative team that can lay strong foundations of good governance, the secular ethos of our Constitution, and a secular education system.

With its deeply entrenched network of OGWs still intact, Pakistan is likely to boil the state, once the FATF pressure eases off, after FATF meeting in October. Further, with the US pressure on Pakistan already showing signs of relaxation after Imran Khan’s deal with Trump, Pakistan will be emboldened. After the US withdrawal, Afghan safe heavens will be available for Lashkar and Jaish terror camps. The relocation of terror camps in Afghanistan will provide deniability to Pakistan. Hence, militancy-related challenges are not yet over.

In no circumstance should the Valley be allowed to become a laboratory for xenophobic and hyper-nationalist forces. The friction between Jammu and Kashmir is enormous, and both have in the past complained of discriminatory treatment by New Delhi. Under the new set-up, there are chances of Jammu-centric leaders imposing their mindless dominance on Kashmir. In the national interest, the Modi government must wean out these differences and bring the two regions closer.

Lastly, the government must also ensure that the unique cultural identity of Kashmir is not threatened. Many of my Kashmiri friends have expressed fears of Kashmir going the Palestine-way, with illegal encroachments by outsiders in a nasty bid to change the region’s demography. In words and deeds, the government has to ensure that such comparisons do not find a foothold. It can frame rules to ensure that the tourism industry remains under the control of the locals and their economic interests are not threatened.

The unfinished story of the Kashmir issue has made the most significant stride towards its final and logical fate, remaining only one step short of the ultimate solution. Once New Delhi navigates through this successfully, the march towards the final solution will begin — most likely, the theatre will be Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin.

The author is a policy analyst specialising in counter-terrorism, India’s Foreign Policy and Af-Pak geopolitics, and a graduate of Public Policy from Cornell University. His book on radicalisation will be released soon by Vivekananda International Foundation and it has a special case study on Kashmir. Views are personal.

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11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. India has indulged Kashmiri separatism and majoritarianism for far too long. Enough of that! From now on the Government must ensure that Islamists and separatists are rooted out. Kashmir will never be an equanimous part of India until these issues are addressed. Comparing it to Palestine is not appropriate because Kashmir is integral part of India. But if it means an infusion of Hindus, starting with the return of the destitute Kashmir Pandits, is needed to redress the tendencies of the past several decades then so be it. But at the same time every effort must be made to provide security, stake and belief in the future among the Kashmiri Muslims. India will always remain committed to pluralism. Sadly Islam does not accept such an approach to life and therefore the current almost exclusively Muslim character of Kashmir is inimical with such a pluralist society. So I think the way forward is fairly clear and no amount of hyperventilating by the Left and Liberal elements should allow India to deviate from this objective. Let them define it by foreign equivalents as they wish. It is time PM Modi cuts the pipeline of Central Govt funds to the couple of families which did not share it with the larger population of Kashmir and kept their position in tact by playing every stakeholder against each other. A new democratic structure that is working in the interests of the ordinary and poor Kashmiris has to supplant the current elite.

  2. Instead of raising a question, would you like to elaborate on how it should be avoided. For gods sake this government has the guts to do things in action rather the gas what the congress keeps spewing . And would like to see efforts being put into shutting the external countries on judging what is happening in our country. We truly know that what Modiji has is truly right. Stand with him and help the government succeed

  3. Only Kashmir centric issues highlighted yet true. Smartly Biased thought. If you want to see changed Kashmir try feeding correct and whole information.

  4. if the muslims behave like palestenians, they will be lynched and shot at. first they must learn to behave and obey the law of land. if they cannot,, then they have no right to live in india

  5. One point I disagree on is the comparison to Palestine. Illegal encroachment (not to mention who is responsible for it) is a problem in the entire country. I hope the author is bit more realistic when drawing parallels.

  6. The Print is quick to get every Tom-Dick-Harry to write a report with anti-India mindset. They will be vomitting for next few weeks until they become so week to write anymore. Major political party Congress got decimated due to that approach and some of the media personnel also follow soon.

  7. Under the circumstances of political landscape, it is convenient to wear the shoes of super power (USA) to engage our political ambitions in relation to part-take achievements/ goals in neighbourhood countries! Scaling new heights would experience leadership role! Balancing act on bringing the solutions with regard to harmonize the pluralistic issue with economic empowerement would add extra feather to National credit, instead of creating euphoria about minority which represent 15 to 20% of India’s population. The most vulnerable issues the Nation is facing the challenges is dwindling economy; education; health; environment and insecurity of citizens!

  8. Small things matter. At a time when the Valley is locked down, make arrangements to minimise hardship to citizens, in terms of availability of daily necessities, keeping hospitals functional. If the thinking is to subdue people by force, the tragedy will continue, with dangerous new elements the column refers to getting added to the mx. As far as the venal nature of the mainstream politicians is concerned, the same template works in the north east, for broadly similar reasons. A very bold step has been taken. May it bring Acche Din for Kashmiris.

  9. Only an anti-India mind set would say that Kashmir would become a palestine. For next few weeks, Modi haters would empty their hatred in English media.

  10. All the talk about hearts and minds is plain nonsense. No body knows how to win hearts and minds. For seventy years various kinds of attempts have been made and they have all failed. It should now be teated as a national mission for the next half century to integrate JnK. A new leadership class needs to be created with special attention to marginalized sections like tribals and sc. Maybe some liberal people don’t like it but change in demography must be a part of future plans. We must steal ourselves as a nation as we will have to lose our lives and many of our sons and daughters for the next fifty years before this problem is solved. I think the people of this country are ready to make the sacrifices but maybe some intellectuals and politicians lack the courage or conviction for the long fight.

  11. Why is there no mention of Kashmiri Pandits in anything that the Print covers. Why is their plight overlooked as if it never happened. Kashmir’s are fiercely protective about their special status is factually incorrect. The truth is Kashmir muslms are trying to Islamism Kashmir to make it an issue. The Print is extremely biased in its approach and such articles give birth to terrorists.

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