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J&K: Terror Surge May Polarise Voters, or Lead to Postponement of Assembly Polls

The series of attacks, four in four days, might be a curtain-raiser for what will happen in J&K during Modi 3.0.

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The spate of terror — four attacks in the last four days — in the Jammu region is shocking and condemnable. It comes so close after the Lok Sabha elections that it seems almost as if the end of the elections was the switch that turned on the violence. Indeed, the dastardly attack on a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims, in which scores could have been killed, coincided with Modi’s oath-taking ceremony. 

It may, in fact, be a curtain-raiser for what will happen during Modi 3.0. More immediately, this violence is setting a high-security, politically charged stage for assembly elections in the union territory of J&K, which are meant to take place in about three months.  

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Pakistan and More

Let us look at various theories and consequences. The most obvious is that those in charge in Pakistan see the Modi government in its third stint as weak, and therefore, more easily vulnerable to unsettling interference.

However, the violence could end up playing to the benefit of the ruling party. One scenario is that violence could become intense enough for the J&K elections to be postponed.

That might suit the ruling party, for the BJP’s showing in its strongholds in Jammu was disappointing. Despite the propaganda that made it seem in April that the BJP would sweep back with 400 seats, the Congress polled about 80 per cent as many votes as the BJP did in those largely Hindu-dominated areas—in the first two phases of polling, in April.

As for the Kashmir Valley, not only did the BJP not contest, after initially making preparations, two of the three local leaders who it backed (including former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad) also got cold feet. And the one who did contest came in a sorry third in north Kashmir. 

Discourse of Hate

An alternate scenario, if the elections are not postponed, is that this violence could help to draw back the Hindu electorate to the BJP—if the government acts tough. Muscularity could be directed at the infrastructure of militancy, against Pakistan, or possibly against the Muslim population at large.

The last option was suggested in extreme terms — "an Israel-like solution to Kashmir," interpreted by some as a call for genocide — by a government supporter during a chat hosted by a leading video agency. The pro-government agency head, who hosted the chat, highlighted that blatantly unconstitutional portion of the recording instead of excising it. 

That sort of discourse could be calculated to drum up hard-knuckled religion-based nationalism and to polarise people — Hindus versus Muslims as well as Right versus Left. Polarisation has the potential to strengthen the BJP, not only in the Jammu region but across the country.

In case that sort of 'give-no-quarter' thinking gains ground across the country, it could have major political repercussions. For, fighting fresh elections—a mid-term poll—on a plank of hard nationalism may seem like a better option to some ruling strategists than trying to make a coalition work for five years. The plight of Pandits has been a potent emotional issue for three decades. It remains. 

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POJK Option

A continued spate of attacks could revive talk of "taking back Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir," of which there has been much talk in the 'nationalist' ecosystem over the past couple of years. Some observers even thought a situation might arise earlier this year in which an assault might be undertaken. That could have fuelled patriotic and nationalistic fervour. 

The postponement of the appointment of the next chief of army staff towards the end of the election process had for a while caused further speculation on what might lie ahead. For, extending the incumbent’s tenure by a month brought the three senior-most officers after him into contention. One was thought to be a favourite.

However, on Tuesday, the government announced the appointment of the senior-most of the three, Lt-General Upendra Dwivedi. He is not known to be a sabre-rattling sort who would push gung-ho towards war. 

In any case, a foray across the Line of Control would be a risky gambit, which would bring major world powers into play. Both the US and Russia leaned heavily on Pakistan to return Wing Commander Abhinandan when his IAF aircraft crashed in Pakistan territory a few weeks before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 

The Kargil war too wound down after then-US President Clinton yelled at Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on 4 July 1999. But world powers other than Russia might not be as supportive now. In fact, China is likely to back Pakistan.

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Congratulatory Message

Although Pakistan was the only South Asian head of government not invited to the new cabinet’s induction ceremony, Sharif, who controls power in Pakistan again, tweeted his "warm felicitations" to Prime Minister Modi on his re-election. "Let us replace hate with hope and seize the opportunity to shape the destiny of the two billion people of South Asia," he wrote, evidently alluding to the SAARC grouping.

Responding with a backhanded dig, Modi tweeted that "the people of India have always stood for peace, security and progressive ideas. Advancing the well-being and security of our people shall always remain our priority." 

Another BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had staked his premiership and health on a back-breaking effort for peace and cooperation across South Asia, which culminated in a potentially world-changing but short-lived agreement on 6 January 2004. 

Twenty years on, that seems like a different world. These terror attacks indicate that, in this phase, peace may have very little chance, particularly on the ground in and around Jammu and Kashmir. 

(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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