Can BJP Home Minister Amit Shah Solve Kashmir Issue?

27 June 2019

Amit Shah
Union Home Minister Amit Shah with J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik [pib]

It is reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed his right-hand man, Amit Shah, as Home Minister, with a view to solve the Kashmir issue. Amit Shah is known to have political skills of a high order and was said to be instrumental in the BJP's landslide electoral victory in the last Lok Sabha polls. He is also known as a master manipulator. But the big question is whether Shah can make any headway where Kashmir is concerned?

The biggest problem is the way most political leaders in India view the Kashmir issue. Most see it as a problem of insurgency, militancy, law and order and so on. They are not prepared to recognise that at the heart of the dispute lies a political question, which is the status of the Kashmiri people and the nature of their relationship with the Union of India. As long as Indian politicians do not understand this fundamental aspect of the Kashmir imbroglio, they will not be able to solve it.

So far, the approach of successive governments in New Delhi has largely been military. The aim has always been to restore some sort of normalcy in the Valley through the operation of security forces and intelligence agencies. This has resulted in temporary peace or a lull in hostilities but violence has invariably flared up again.

The latest flare-up in armed violence started in 2016 following the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani. The gunning down of this darling poster boy of Kashmiri militancy dismayed the young and started a fierce round of militancy.

The BJP government responded by a so-called “muscular approach” which basically meant that it would not compromise or go easy on the military means to curb the violence. The idea of dialogue with any party, especially the separatist camp, was also ruled out.

Not surprisingly, as many as 733 terrorists have been killed by Indian security forces since 2016. This year alone, 113 militants have been gunned down as per figures presented in the Indian parliament. These killings have not ended the militancy and are unlikely to do so.

This realisation may have dawned on the BJP leadership in New Delhi and therefore alternative strategies must have been thought up. What could these be? And what are its implications for the Kashmir Valley where the insurgency is based?

In his first term, Prime Minister Modi repeatedly talked about economic development of the J&K state, especially the Valley, in the hope that this would assuage the angst of the young generation. This did not work for several reasons.

For the young, apart from the larger political question of the right to self-determination and so on, the everyday reality of obtrusive security forces operation in their daily life and the sheer power of government agencies over their fate are a major reason for disaffection. Daily humiliation and interference in their lives has prompted many a young Kashmiri to pick up the gun despite the knowledge that by doing so he is writing his own death sentence.

Pakistani agencies have added to the fire by sending in highly indoctrinated, trained fighters to ostensibly aid Kashmiri militants but actually to control and motivate them. The Pakistani elements have been instrumental in committing atrocities and targeting the security forces in a manner designed to provoke disproportionate response and further violence.

The mainstream politicians have largely exploited the situation for their own end and have even manipulated elections in order to remain in power. Their sole aim has been to make money from the system and consolidate their hold over the common people. They have sucked out all the money meant for development and sent it abroad or built lavish villas for their own use.

They have used the azadi (independence) card in one form or the other to manipulate the common Kashmiri and make them believe they are fighting for their objectives when actually they are making secret deals with New Delhi.

The mainstream Kashmiri politician is perhaps the worst as they are not sacrificing their lives like the militants and only enriching themselves and aggrandising themselves. They have become the new maharajas on Kashmir Valley while abusing New Delhi and laying every blame on the doorsteps of New Delhi. This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

The Separatists in the meantime are receiving money from Pakistan and other sources, some of whom are genuinely for the Kashmir cause, while others are only interested in cynically exploiting the situation to see that the violence continues and the Indian Army remains tied down in Kashmir.

Is there any strategy that could change this dynamic? And does Amit Shah have it in him to understand the situation, let alone change it? One can only speculate.

If Amit Shah's first visit to Kashmir as Home Minister is any indication, then a few points emerge. First, his priority will continue to be the maintenance of law and order which means the crackdown in militancy will continue with full force., leading to more deaths and tribulations.

However, the "muscular policy" could be diluted somewhat insofar as the matter of dialogue is concerned. Governor Satya Pal Malik and others have indicated that New Delhi is finally willing to talk to the Hurriyat leadership. Moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has indicated he too is ready for talks. This might not be the case with Syed Ali Shah Geelani. But the start of some dialogue would be welcome in Kashmir.

Third, Amit Shah will try is every way to ensure that BJP wrests control of the state government in the assembly elections slated to be held later this year. Once a BJP government comes to power it would be able to pass all kinds of legislation to dilute the autonomy of J&K and perhaps even abrogate articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution, among other things.

Also, in order to achieve the aim of winning the next assembly elections, Shah will do his best to destroy the mainstream political parties particularly the National Conference and the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). This would not be bad thing as these parties have long outlived their utility and have long ceased to serve the Kashmiri people. They are also hugely corrupt and arrogant and need to be booted out, if not by the people then by someone like Amit Shah.

The BJP could well come to power in J&K despite the grave reservation of the people. This would serve Amit Shah's cause but would it solve the Kashmir dispute? Only time and the people of J&K can tell?

Md. Sadiq

27 June 2019