As the Mughal emperor Jahangir , son of Akbar and father to Shah Jahan, lay on his deathbed, he was asked what he cherished the most.
"Kashmir. The rest is worthless," he replied.
Deferring to the late emperor's words, one may assume his sentiments are echoed even today, as Indian leaders strive to do what so many have tried to do and failed miserably - retain Kashmir at any cost. What we fail to see is that Jahangir loved Kashmir for what it was, not where it was.
To win Kashmir, or rather, win back Kashmir, India needs to be the first among the three contesting nations (India, China, and Pakistan) to realise that, in order to win the Kashmir conflict, owning the land is not as good as winning the people over. This effectively means doing something no Hindutva leader would approve - drop our guns and shells and pick up our hard hats and hammers.
"In order to win the Kashmir conflict, owning the land is not as good as winning the people over. "
What we need to do
What the Modi government should do in Kashmir with its 5 years in power is something Pakistan cannot do in 15 years, because Pakistan seems to be catching up to us in almost every decision we make.
When India deploys troops in Siachen, Pakistan does the same. When we set up artillery on the border, Pakistan does the same. When we beef up our troops, Pakistan does the same. And when we build nuclear weapons, Pakistan is right behind us.
So the only fail proof plan to win Kashmir is to do the only thing Pakistan cannot do at all - proliferate prosperity on an unimaginable scale. In other words, for every dam Pakistan wants to build in Kashmir - build five, and for every school, ten. Pakistan cannot hope to keep up.
For all its merits - from good food to wonderful people - Pakistan is an impoverished country that blows a big chunk of its national income on defence expenditure. As former Pakistani PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto remarked when India was building the nuclear bomb, "If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own."
Pakistan does not have the infrastructure, vision, interest, or resources to conduct industrial development in Kashmir on a scale that Prime Minister Modi should have already envisioned by now.
"So the only fail proof plan to win Kashmir is to do the only thing Pakistan cannot do at all - proliferate prosperity on an unimaginable scale."
Why this will work
Ignore the wonderfully sane speeches of Hindutva leaders like Yogi Adityanath and Sadhvi Balika Saraswati, as well as radical Muslim leaders like Masarat Alam.
War is not a rational (dare I say, Indian) solution to this conflict. Basic economics is. The Kashmiri people will side with those who will care for them, not their land. These people can't eat bullets - they need bread. And the first government to drop its guns and give them the basic amenities to survive wins the game.
It's really that simple. It was economic stratagem that won the cold war, and it is the same stratagem that allows China to influence impoverished African nations.
If every Kashmiri cared about the words of Pakistani radicals more than survival, we would have had a revolution by now. The fact remains that most Kashmiris know that India can provide what Pakistan cannot - economic and societal stability.
"The Kashmiri people will side with those who will care for them, not their land. These people can't eat bullets - they need bread."
According to the erstwhile Planning Commission - ground water development in Kashmir is at a meagre 1.33%. Pakistan and China have begun development activities for the same, what are we waiting for? According to the same Planning Commission report - out of the 20 Indian government owned companies in Kashmir, 16 are running at losses. The opportunities exist, but we're too timid to chase them down.
Saving Kashmiris from a flood - despite being heroic - means nothing if we can't build them a home for them to feel safe in their own lands. A home where both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims can share the prosperity that development brings, not the fear that war carries with it.
Make in Kashmir
To win Kashmir back, we need industrialists and entrepreneurs, not soldiers and generals. Economics will be our guide in this conflict, and long after the guns have rusted, as Kashmiris turn away from the militancy that poverty encourages and move towards Indians schools and Indian factories - we will curse ourselves for not having seen the solution decades earlier.
For 60 years we've tried bombing Kashmir into our lap, with the only results being death, destruction, and distrust. We need to stop treating Kashmir like a child that needs overprotection. Cut the leash, provide the industry, and most of all, deny Pakistani entry into the economy - and you will win Kashmir.
Ultimately, to win Kashmir, do what every "political pundit" thinks is an immature decision - treat the Kashmiris like the people they are, not some silent mass of human flesh occupying a trophy piece of geography that can be cut up like a cake at the whims of men who've never spent a night under the stars in a houseboat on Dal lake.
Prime Minister Modi, the foreign investors at Hanover Messe can wait - make in Kashmir, and win the Kashmiris!