A Blueprint Of Modi's Kashmir Policy

5 July 2014
Greater Kashmir
Happymon Jacob

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Kashmir was uneventful: he returned to New Delhi without making any radical policy announcements, 'positive or negative'. Indeed, it may be too early to predict his Kashmir policy and one visit may simply be too little to gauge what Modi's policy towards Kashmir will eventually look like. That said, what is abundantly clear is that Modi's visit was nothing more than a 'business trip' to Kashmir and an analysis of this may give us some insights into the kind of Kashmir policy that Modi has in mind. His immediate predecessors, UPA's Manmohan Singh and NDA's Atal Behari Vajpayee, had also made 'business trips' to Kashmir, but what distinguishes them from Modi is that they also had their own political visions for Kashmir, which they articulated during their visits to the Valley. Modi's just concluded visit did not articulate any political roadmap for Kashmir even as he looked keen on addressing the various economic issues plaguing the state. Modi did refer to his BJP predecessor Vajpayee in his address: 'I want to give a message to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the journey started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the state will be taken to its logical conclusion'. But this mention seemed more like an attempt by BJP's new Prime Minister in claiming the much-eulogised Vajpayee legacy, than adopting the political strategy Vajpayee promised to address Kashmir with, as epitomized in his 'insaniyat ke dayirae mein' speech in Kashmir. But he does seem to have a certain vision for Kashmir, though this may not be to the liking of many Kashmiris. 'Economic development' clearly tops the list of to-do things that Modi has vis-à-vis Kashmir: 'My objective is to win the hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through development, and this intention for the welfare of the people has nothing to do with politics.' This statement by Modi is spot-on: its development, and not politics that will be the focus. But then, the so-called economic development of J&K was given priority to by all governments in New Delhi, at least in theory. If all this time they were so focused on economically developing J&K, one wonders, how come the state continues to remain so underdeveloped. Unless, of course, it was only a convenient 'political' slogan. The second element of Modi's evolving Kashmir policy seems to be on de-emphasising the role of 'Kashmir politics' in J&K. The major part of this agenda would be to do away with, or at least try to, the special status given to the state through Article 370. Clearly, it affects Kashmir more than Jammu, as Jammuites are mostly unconcerned about Article 370. The second part of this plan would be to make Jammu the focal point of New Delhi's engagement with Kashmir. There are a number of reasons behind this: New Delhi finds it easier to deal with Jammu than Kashmir; BJP's influence is stronger than ever in Jammu today; Pak-sponsored militant infiltration into Kashmir is at an all-time low and so the security concerns vis-à-vis Kashmir are bound to recede; and Jammu is likely to play a major role in Srinagar after the State Assembly elections, which is likely to see BJP gaining massively in Jammu, and so there is a need to promote Jammu region's interests. The third element of Modi government's Kashmir policy is likely to revolve around the return of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs). For sure, KPs must return and they have a right to do so, with respect and honour. But merely focusing on the return of KPs to their rightful home in Kashmir without any talk whatsoever about doing justice to Kashmiris is an exercise in selective justice. More so, New Delhi must be very careful about its plans for creating separate settlements-rehabilitation zones for KPs in Kashmir as doing so could potentially create social tensions. Ideally, KPs must be given their homes and lands and not rehabilitation zones, which, in all likelihood, will eventually have habitats worse than those in Jammu's Muthi camp where thousands of Kashmiri Pandits live in squalor. To start with, New Delhi should make the living conditions of such camps more humane. In the long term, Kashmiri Muslim leadership should be engaged to ensure that KPs return to their homes without any fears and concerns. In other words, resettlement of KPs should be a joint effort of the government and the civil society in Kashmir. Any attempt by New Delhi to bring back the KPs through the use of rehabilitation zones will not be a lasting solution. In New Delhi's political imagination, under the new Prime Minister, Kashmir issue is a thing of the past. New Delhi will continue to play the waiting game, which it has been doing for a long time; but now with increased confidence, to finally normalize and win back Kashmir. New Delhi realizes that the time is ripe for changing the discourse in Kashmir. In the 1990s and early 2000s, high profile visits from New Delhi to Kashmir would be welcomed with terror attacks or bomb blasts. Today, such visits meet shutdowns. This is a huge change, whether or not we realize it.