As Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti grapples with the deteriorating crisis in the valley, the BJP leadership in Delhi is said to have given her an unequivocal message that first tasks her with bringing the situation under control.
Mehbooba was in Delhi last week to meet her coalition partners, followed soon after by J&K governor NN Vohra, to request the senior BJP leadership to initiate a dialogue process with Opposition mainstream parties as well as the separatist Hurriyat leadership.
But both the chief minister and the governor are being given the same answer: Get the situation back in control. Law and order must prevail. Talks can follow later.
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Centre Takes a Tough Stand
In fact, Mehbooba is said to have even been given an informal deadline by which time sanity must prevail, with the Amarnath Yatra scheduled for June end.
The blunt message has been reiterated by BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav in recent days: Stone-pelting and talks cannot go together, he said.
So on 4 May, the army carried out its largest “cordon and combing” operation in 15 years in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. As many as 4,000 soldiers and paramilitary personnel, including four battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles, eight companies of CRPF, five platoons of J&K police, 30 women constables, as well as the Reserve Police, were involved in this massive operation.
Wearing bullet-proof jackets and travelling in mine-protected vehicles, the security forces laid a cordon in 20 villages across Shopian district.
Writing in the The Indian Express, Arun Sahni, former army commander of the South Western Command, said that one of the reasons for the gathering crisis is that the army’s authority has been constantly diluted by political authorities engaged in political one-upmanship.
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Delhi Hasn’t Learnt Its Lessons
But the question that Sahni and all of us should ponder over is why the army is being treated only a little better than a police force in many parts of India – especially in J&K? Certainly, it is not the army’s job to confront its own civilian population as it has increasingly become accustomed to doing.
In some ways the current tragedy of Kashmir is worse than the terrible times of the early 90s, because Delhi has refused to learn any lessons about human rights and democracy in the valley even after 27 years.
That Kashmir and Kashmiris are being betrayed on a repetitive basis reflects the failure of India’s political imagination. In fact, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi isn’t able to rescue Kashmir very soon, he will prove Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” in the 70th anniversary of independence – and partition – of India.
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Hindutva or Harmony?
It doesn’t seem as if the BJP understands either the terrible history of the past decades or Kashmir’s more contemporary anguish. The state has decided to come down with a heavy hand – painting stone-pelters, separatists and terrorists all with the same brush-stroke – instead of reaching out to the ordinary Kashmiris and political parties.
Off the record, though, some BJP leaders concede that the state is fast spiralling out of control and measures must be taken quickly to bring it back.
Certainly, the BJP is divided about the course in Kashmir. On one hand, it feels honour-bound to promote its Hindutva agenda in the state, especially as it feels that an opportunity like this to share power may not come again soon.
On the other, it realises that statements by state BJP minister Chander Prakash Ganga (who said that stone-pelters should be shot, beaten with canes) are hardly conducive to peace for the coalition as well as the Valley.
Pinning Hopes on Amarnath Yatra
In this politically fragile situation, the smooth culmination of the Amarnath Yatra – which begins in end-June and goes on till mid-August – has become paramount. Last year, 2.2 lakh pilgrims participated in the yatra, which ends in a mountain cave in south Kashmir and travels through parts of the valley that is gripped with tension these days.
The BJP knows that if the Amarnath Yatra is hampered, or far worse, isn’t held at all, it will be a tight slap on the face of its declared toughness with which it is trying to deal with the rising tension.
The BJP leadership is hoping that the involvement of ordinary Muslims in the functioning of the yatra – which is a crucial element of the yatra itself, like travel on horseback, accommodation, food, etc – will bring back a semblance of normalcy.
The fact that the pilgrims are Hindus but their caretakers are Muslims, has been emblematic of the philosophy of “Kashmiriyat”, which has been battered these past several years.
But what if the yatra isn’t possible this year? That possibility is too fearsome to contemplate. In fact, the sword of President’s Rule may be hanging over the Mehbooba Mufti government in case the Amarnath Yatra also turns out to be a fiasco.
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President’s Rule Not a Viable Option
Certainly, blackmail isn’t an option between the coalition partners. The BJP knows it has no option but to support Mehbooba in power. The option of President’s Rule also means that the BJP loses power – something it is not at all keen to consider.
On top of the domestic crisis has been heaped the worsening situation on the Line of Control, with the mutilation of a soldier and a BSF jawan last Monday. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has accused the Pakistan army of barbaric cruelty, pointing to the trail of blood that has been left behind.
The BJP’s key plank of nationalism seems to be coming apart at the seams. From its inability to handle Kashmir on the border with Pakistan to containing the fallout of the recent Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh, the lack of a vision on how to deal with the various ideas of India is tragically apparent.
Modi’s default position with the crisis in Kashmir has been to take an even tougher stand. As things have worsened significantly in the year since the killing of Burhan Wani, one wonders to what extent the Centre will go in its bid to control the situation, before the PM can be proved right in his assessment.
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(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi and writes on the overlap between domestic politics and foreign affairs. She can be reached @jomalhotra. 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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