The Modi government claims it does things differently from the Congress. It seeks to change the status quo, usher in a "New India", and dismantle the nexus that kept alive the old establishment elites of Delhi.
It is strange, then, that his government's policy towards Kashmir is no different from that of the Congress's. If anything, it's worse in the same direction. The policy is to abdicate the political responsibility of Kashmir to the security establishment, choosing to cop out of the hard task of conflict resolution and taking the easy route of conflict management.
Every year you think the situation in Kashmir has become so bad, it can't get worse. Every year it gets worse. Year after year since the mid-2000s, Kashmir has screamed for resolution and closure. Year after year New Delhi's answer has been to pretend that no closure is needed, no nothing, Narendra Modi's speeches on and in Kashmir sound the same as the Congress's speeches: we are offering you India, the Indian economy, Indian opportunities, will you please stop doing violence at Pakistan's behest?
Modi government's policy towards Kashmir is no different from that of the Congress's. If anything, it's worse in the same direction.
This is no different from the Manmohan era. For all of the Modi establishment's claims of thinking out of the box, where is the big idea on Kashmir? Allying with the People's Democratic Party in the hope that it will help 'moderate' the PDP, has only eroded the PDP's credibility in the Valley, whatever credibility it had.
The old establishment consensus in Kashmir continues. The consensus is to repeat a collective national lie until we believe it. We delude ourselves into thinking the only problem in Kashmir is Pakistan and terrorism. Pak, terror, Pak, terror, Pak, terror — repeating it ad nauseam isn't going to solve the problem.
The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge there is a problem.
The problem in Kashmir is that Kashmiris don't identify with India, Indians, the Indian flag and Constitution. We want to pretend that's a small section of society who've been misled by Pakistan and Islamism. For the Hindu right, Kashmir means Muslims, and Muslims are by themselves a problem.
With renewed vigour every summer, Kashmiris make it clear their popular will is not with India. Delhi keeps saying terrorism, Kashmiris turn out in support of terrorists, joining militant ranks, throwing themselves into encounter sites, marching in their funeral processions, hailing them as martyrs. Our response is even greater repression, which only produces greater rebellion. The cycle is so old and banal by now it seems New Delhi's attitude towards rebellion in Kashmir is to not worry about it. It's a seasonal story, like the monsoonal drought.
For the Hindu right, Kashmir means Muslims, and Muslims are by themselves a problem.
That the international community is willing to look the other way is not good enough reason to not look at Kashmir politically. To do so, one will have to engage with the a-word which we pretend not to hear. Kashmiris want azadi, but New Delhi cannot give them independence. What New Delhi can give them short of azadi is a sense of closure and resolution. To do so, it will first have to recognise that Kashmiris have suffered, to acknowledge they are articulating a problem.
By doing so, Narendra Modi can have the ultimate comeuppance on the Congress way of doing things. What can be a bigger example of the failure of the Congress party than the mess in Kashmir? Modi can turn around and say, 'Congress created this mess and I cleaned it up'. Modi can say, 'I saved the lives of so many soldiers, reduced the threat of terrorism we always lived under'.
When Prime Minister Modi told Kashmiris last year they were free to enjoy the azadi that every Indian had, he was failing to acknowledge the prison Kashmiris feel trapped in. It's the prison of history, the pain of hearing older generations narrate tales of brutality, oppression, rigged elections, massacres.
Indians are quick to say 'What about Kashmiri Pandits?' but in doing so they don't realise that just as Kashmiri Pandits have suffered, Kashmiri Muslims have also suffered. When you undergo trauma, you need healing. When Vajpayee first allied with the PDP in Kashmir, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's "healing touch" was a step in the right direction. There were other steps, such as a bus and travel permits across the Line of Control.
The Manmohan government lost that thread. If Modi is to continue the Vajpayee policy in Kashmir, as he claimed last year, it can't be reduced to clichés of "insaniyat, jamhoriyat, Kashmiriyat," (humanity, democracy, Kashmiri identity). These have to mean something in policy terms. These words have no meaning when your only response to a mass rebellion is bullets and pellets.
So what should it mean in policy terms?
Firstly, New Delhi has to acknowledge that Kashmiris have suffered great trauma (regardless of who is to blame).
Secondly, New Delhi has to stop pretending Kashmir has nothing to do with Pakistan. The two are interlinked and need a unified political initiative, not just security management. The view that the only problems in Kashmir are Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and Pakistan's illegal occupation of a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state is in contradiction with the idea that Kashmir and Pakistan are not interlinked.
There can be no solution to Kashmir without talking to Pakistan, and vice-versa.
Modi will have to convince everyone that he is sincerely willing to solve the conflict and isn't just doing the usual routine of talking to buy time.
Thirdly, the only possible solution is one with a win-win situation for all three, India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Such a solution is not impossible. In fact, it's been discussed. All that Modi has to do is give a Modi-esque acronym to the four point formula that seeks to make borders irrelevant, replace the death zone of the LoC with a joint administration across both sides of J&K. With the four-point formula, all sides can say they got Kashmir. We can move from fighting over whom Kashmir belongs to to making Kashmir belong to everyone.
Fourthly, the Delhi consensus over the Simla agreement needs to be challenged. That India and Pakistan must resolve all disputed bilaterally is not a scripture in the holy books. We cling on to that Cold War era idea as if India and Pakistan's place in the world have not changed. Today India matters a lot more in the world than it did in 1972, Simla is called Shimla, and forty-five years later, India-Pakistan relations are defined by unrest in Kashmir, not the creation of Bangladesh. In short, third party intervention in Kashmir can be beneficial for both India and Pakistan. It is the involvement of third parties that has prevented the two countries from going to war over the sharing of river waters.
Fifthly, thanks to the Congress approach of conflict management, Modi will have to convince everyone that he is sincerely willing to solve the conflict and isn't just doing the usual routine of talking to buy time.
It's strange Modi doesn't want to think out of the box on Kashmir, given that he can. He is India's strongest prime minister in 30 years, if not more, and has enough political capital today to take political initiative in Kashmir. All that it will take is coming out of the Congress way of dealing with the Valley.
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