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More than G20 Kashmir event, the real normalcy in J&K lies in a free and fair election

The BJP leadership, particularly those involved in Kashmir, must realise that forced calm, temporary measures, and PR exercises won't bring meaningful and lasting change.

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New Delhi is getting nowhere in Kashmir and the G20 summit was just another botch-up in a series of disasters that began in the lead-up to the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in 2019.

In one of most scathing statements on Kashmir in recent memory, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, criticised India for organising a G20 meeting in Srinagar. Varennes highlighted the dramatic increase in human rights violations since the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on 5 August 2019. The representative’s strongly worded communiqué expressed a fear of forced demographic change by citing the loss of political autonomy and the implementation of the new domicile rules. It also contradicts New Delhi’s claims of international support on the Kashmir issue.

India expectedly condemned the statement as “baseless and unwanted.” 

Enough with PR exercises

In a desperate attempt to showcase peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi has brought the region back into international news. However, the choice of Kashmir as the venue for the G20 summit should have indicated the challenges ahead. China protested, and major G20 members Turkey and Saudi Arabia did not attend. Even Egypt, a special invitee and Republic Day parade chief guest earlier this year, skipped the meeting.

Previous attempts at PR exercises had similarly backfired. Inviting European parliamentarians from far-right parties to visit Kashmir in October 2019 caused outrage, especially as India’s own parliament members were not allowed to visit at that time. A visit by 24 foreign envoys in 2021 failed to showcase normalcy in the region. The screening of local journalists at the G20 summit venue did not improve the government’s image either.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh got worked up when he was asked why India was reluctant to start a political process in the Union Territory when it could organise an international event like the G20 summit. Caught seemingly off-guard, the minister questioned the mindset of the journalists asking such questions. He was also involved in an argument with a foreign journalist who questioned the heightened security and closure of schools. The minister’s unsavoury responses to other questions as well clearly exposed the pretence that all is well.

Many schools in Srinagar remained closed on 22-24 May, while shopkeepers complained they were forced to keep their shops open in defiance of a separatist call for a shutdown. The eerie calm and an unusual security movement was quite palpable even during the build-up to the event.

Also read: Middle East can be crucial ally for India on Kashmir. Its G20 absence shows challenges ahead

BJP can’t escape election

The BJP leadership, particularly those involved in Kashmir, must realise that forced calm, temporary measures, and PR exercises will not bring meaningful and lasting change. The credibility of New Delhi is at an all-time low among the majority of Kashmiris. Only a serious, sincere, and transparent initiative can restore normalcy.

Achieving lasting peace requires sustained efforts based on genuine understanding, rather than wishful thinking. Ignoring the concerns of the common people and relying on police and bureaucracy will not improve the situation. Genuine politicians who can connect with the masses are needed, not mere proxies.The BJP leadership should learn from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s open-minded approach to shape opinions and improve the situation.

A free and fair electoral process is essential for peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir and the entire region. Even if it means the BJP does not achieve its desired electoral results, it is important to consider the dissatisfaction among both Kashmiris and people from Jammu since August 2019.

Shabir Hussain is the Editor of Srinagar-based Kashmir Newsline. He tweets @Hussainesque. Views are personal. 

(Edited by Prashant)

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