WHEN Amit Shah was handpicked by Modi as the party chief, many applauded the move. Part of the credit for Modi’s landslide win was vouchsafed to Amit’s smart electoral strategy. And rightly so. No one can deny that the unprecedented victory of the BJP was the handiwork of these two individuals.
So when the duo descended on the J&K scene, hopes ran high. The electorate had delivered a fractured verdict. So it was possible to have varying combinations of coalitions, provided the partners buried their individual egos, indulged in a lot of give and take and built a common minimum programme that satisfied their constituencies. Mufti was an old campaigner and tried to drive a hard bargain. The BJP saw this as a unique opportunity to make inroads into the Kashmir valley, as also a golden possibility to subvert the PDP from within. The PDP felt that becoming a partner in governance with the BJP, which had secured an unbeatable mandate at the Centre, would help the PDP to extract concessions which would put it ahead of the competing political factions in the State.
While the partners were still jockeying for a vantage position, Mufti Sahib passed away and the mantle fell quite predictably on the young shoulders of Mehbooba. She possibly miscalculated and instead of gracefully seating herself in the Chief Minister’s chair, she decided to lay down impossible conditions for a continuance of the previous arrangement. This gap in the governance structure of the sensitive State has not enhanced Mehbooba’s political stature, with rivals such as Omar Abdullah questioning her core strategy.
Now that the impasse has been resolved and the government installed, it is time to examine how the political landscape of the State is seen today by informed observers.
The Congress is in disarray all over the country. Rahul Gandhi has changed his strategy from being an invisible inaudible non-leader who sometimes surfaced for a monosyllabic comment to a brash belligerent bugaboo who pays a visit to every spot where there is the slightest possibility of political turmoil. Ghulam Nabi Azad did not show his mettle even when he had a brief stint as Chief Minister of the State. Now he has more or less migrated to the centre, leaving the Congress to act like a bit player on the political stage.
The National Conference is also more or less leaderless, with Omar not being able to chart a course of action that would endear him equally to the separatists and the nationalists, the Pro-India and Pakistan lobbies, and generally resolve the inner contradictions that bedevil this border state.
The BJP has slightly improved its position, by strengthening its grip on the Jammu region and making a humble start in the valley. Its generally soft policy has not really endear ed it to the separatists, which see it as a tool of the Hindutva brigade that is busy flexing its muscles in the rest of India. They look upon such sops as the munificent Prime Minister’s package as a forbidden fruit that will poison the consumer. They look upon the blow-hot-blow-cold policy towards Pakistan as a clever subterfuge which ought not be taken at face value. They keep on testing the waters to see how far the Modi Government would go.
The PDP is currently poised at a critical point where Mufti positioned it, a sort of bridge between the malevolent Central Government that holds Kashmir in its illegal, illegitimate grip and the extremely weak separatist lobby that rears its head now and then to demonstrate that it is still alive. It pretends loyalty to the Constitution of India and at the same time promotes the singing of the Pakistani national anthem, waving of the Pakistani national flag, shouting of anti-India slogans that border on sedition, and other “populist” activities.
The latest shenanigans at the NIT Srinagar where some students waved the Indian tricolour and shouted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and were beaten up both by the separatist students and the J&K police is a sad commentary on the working of the Mehbooba Government. It has shown Mehbooba in a rather poor light. She comes across as a political innocent who exposes her true intentions and is not able to demonstrate the duplicity for which her father was justly famous. Although Ram Madhav has made light of the whole chain of events, it will not be long before there are cracks in the alliance.
Kashmir is such a tangled web of truths and half-truths that it is difficult to unscramble the knots. About the psychology of the Kashmiri Muslim, there are several theories held equally vehemently by different observers:
Some people hold the view that the Kashmiri Muslim is all for Pakistan. There used to be a doggerel in the 1960s which summed up this sentiment. It went like this:
“Zuh jaan vandaha hindostanas
Dil chhum Pakistanas kun”
(I would have sacrificed my life, my everything for India But my heart is with Pakistan).
Others think that this is a canard spread by the separatists who are in the pay of the Pakistan army and the ISI and spread the canards that they are paid to circulate. Most Kashmiris are aware what treatment the Kashmiris of Pak-occupied Kashmir have received at the hands of the Pakistani establishment. They are also aware of the pampering they receive at the hands of the Government of India. They are sore at the treatment they received from the terrorists who were smuggled into the valley by the Pakistanis. Most of the younger women were raped by these foreign liberators and as many as 60,000 youth are supposed to have perished in the anti-terrorist operations.
A third view is exemplified by the story narrated by a Pakistani general to General ML Chibber, then GOC-in-C Northern Command. A Pakistani, an Indian and a Kashmiri died on the same day. When the Pakistani’s soul reached heaven, he was asked where he would like to be sent. He asked, “O Gibrael, where have you lodged the mother of my children?” On being told that she had been sent to Jannat, the Pakistani opted for Dowzakh. The Indian was a Lalaji who wanted Swarg and Narak to be described. On being told that Swarag was like Haridwar and Narak like Lahore, he opted for Narak. But the Kashmiri asked the Angel Gibrael whether there could be a third option, other than Heaven and Hell, a sort of border area between the two, so that one could play them against each other and draw benefits from both.
WHATEVER may be the truth, it is difficult to formulate a Kashmir policy that would be acceptable to all. If you try to befriend the separatists, you will be accused of trying to bribe a people into submission. If you act tough, you can be accused of unleashing a reign of terror. If you are just in your approach and modest in your dispensations, you might be reproached for being unstatesmanlike.
Those who know Narendra Modi from his past achievements can well believe that there is more to his Kashmir policy than meets the eye. He is an astute politician who has sorted out difficult problems with consummate ease. He is also a master of realpolitik and would not be easily taken for a ride. They speculate that under his direction, the BJP would be able to extend its presence in this supersensitive State. He might also stoke the ambitions of leaders like Beig who are seen to be abler and more astute than Mehbooba Mufti. We can only keep our fingers crossed and wish him luck!
MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India. (The views expressed are those of the columnist.)