Cong, BJP Manifestos on National Security: Pacifism vs Jingoism
While Congress has taken a conciliatory approach to Kashmir, BJP’s manifesto has claimed a tough stance.
With elections drawing close, political parties have released their manifestos, projecting for the nation their promises in the years to come. How many promises will would be kept, how many ignored, remains a moot question. The Congress Manifesto, titled ‘Hum Nibhayenge’, was released on 2 April, while the BJP Manifesto, titled ‘Sankalp Patra’, was released on 8 April.
While development, offer for sops, and seeking to project better governance is common in both manifestos, the two parties’ documents differ in their approach to national security and Kashmir. While the Congress has adopted an all-round development approach, the BJP has stressed on nationalism as its main plank.
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BJP Clubs Kashmir Under ‘National Security’, Congress Assigns Separate Chapter
In a rather interesting development, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi met Lt Gen DS Hooda, the erstwhile Northern Army Commander who oversaw the first ‘surgical strike’ into Pakistan after the Uri attack, and announced that he has been requested to create a ‘national security doctrine’ for the party. Lt Gen Hooda put together a team, and submitted his doctrine before the Congress released its manifesto.
Surprisingly, neither the doctrine nor any references to it, found place in the released Congress manifesto. Hence, the reason behind creating the doctrine, other than to seek political mileage, remains a mystery. This lack of inclusion has impacted the way the Congress views national security and Kashmir in its manifesto.
An analysis of both manifestos indicate the variation in viewpoints of the parties. Kashmir has specifically been covered by the Congress under a separate chapter, while the BJP covers the same as part of national security. Both the parties have adopted a different approach to the state.
The Congress’s approach appears conciliatory and a repeat of the past, where it seeks to merge the population by a soft approach, whereas the BJP seeks to project a tough stance and talks from a position of strength.
But Who Will Address Question of Kashmir Stakeholders?
The Congress manifesto’s Kashmir section covers nine points. Of them, a few need further analysis. It commences by announcing its intention of appointing three interlocutors, open dialogue with all stakeholders, redeploying the Army from the interior to border security, and reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). With regard to AFSPA, there is a specific reference to ‘balance the requirements of security and protection of Human Rights’.
A simple analysis would indicate that these issues have been picked from earlier manifestos and placed. The Manmohan Singh-led Congress government at the Centre, had in 2006, conducted a series of ‘round table conferences on Kashmir’, reports of which appear to have been dumped. It had, subsequently in 2010, appointed three interlocutors: journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, Prof MM Ansari and Prof Radha Kumar. Their reports too appear to have been ignored all through its tenure upto 2014. What it hopes to gain by reappointing them again, is anybody’s guess.
No political party in India, including the Congress and BJP, has thus far, defined who the stakeholders in Kashmir are, and yet they continue to harp on talks with stakeholders. Kashmir Valley-based political parties consider the separatists and Pakistan as stakeholders, while the Centre does not.
Hence, such terms in the Congress manifesto mean nothing. Redeployment of the Army from Kashmir has been attempted on multiple occasions, only to be reverted as terrorism rises when the Army moves out. Each time this happens, it becomes tougher for security forces to regain the advantage.
Congress Manifesto Omits Issue of Kashmiri Pandits, BJP Plays to Galleries
AFSPA has always remained controversial, and will remain so. In Kashmir, with continuing Pakistani support to militancy, attempts at diluting AFSPA would be met with strict resistance, especially from security forces, who have faced the brunt of casualties. Hence, it may not be easy to make adjustments to it.
AFSPA has similar implications for Kashmir as it has for the Northeast. Thus, covering this issue under national security – implying both the Northeast and Kashmir – would have been more beneficial for the Congress, and here it could have mentioned diluting the act.
The Congress manifesto has no mention of resettling Kashmiri Pandits. The Congress approach appears to be based on its election tie-up with the National Conference party.
The BJP on the other hand, has played to the galleries across the nation, ignoring the Valley. On Kashmir, it has stated just three points.
The first, though general, is zero tolerance to terrorism, and the second is the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 A. In its third point, the BJP’s ‘Sankalp Patra’ mentions the resettling of Kashmiri Pandits. It has understood that it has no hold in Kashmir and won’t gain any seats from there, and hence, can adopt this approach. There has been no mention of seeking a legal solution to removal of the articles, which is bound to follow.
Both Congress, BJP Manifestos Address Army Veterans
Both the Congress and the BJP have adopted a similar approach towards the military’s capability enhancement. Both parties have promised to devote resources for this. The BJP has even quoted its latest addition, that of commencing the manufacturing of the AK 203 in Amethi, as an example. The Congress has promised to enhance the defence share of the budget.
The one aspect missed by the BJP and covered by the Congress, has been the promise to review the apex management of defence, and appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
This has been the demand for ages, recommended by every committee set up by the government for decades, but it has been ignored until now. This does indicate that the Congress has plans to at least consider it; appointing one is a moot question.
Both have sought to grab the attention of veteran voters, who form a considerable number in some regions.
The Congress has promised lateral entry into the Central Armed Police Forces (CPAFs), implementing complete OROP, and enhancing capacities in military hospitals specifically for veterans. These have been persistent issues for the veteran community.
BJP, Cong Manifestos Differ on Approach to Pakistan
The BJP has played its release of OROP (though it remains a one-time grant), and has promised to create better opportunities for settlement of veterans, including planning their settlement three years prior to retirement. Such a statement is vague and unimplementable. A soldier is only aware of the end of his promotion vacancies based on age, earliest about a year and a half or two prior to his retirement. Thus, it appears to be just a vote-grabbing gimmick.
Modernisation of CAPFs remains common to both manifestos. Similarly, both manifestos have mentioned action against infiltration and strengthening of border security, and have approached these issues with a positive frame.
But just as with Kashmir, the two parties’ manifestos differ in their approach to Pakistan.
While the BJP has ignored the mention of Pakistan and SAARC in its manifesto, the Congress has stated that it desires to ‘work with SAARC and ASEAN countries to enhance the volume of trade, investments, tourism and cultural exchanges, and reap the benefits of geographical proximity.’ This was appreciated by the Pakistan newspaper Dawn, which stated that ‘it (Congress manifesto) revealed an indirect connect with Pakistan through the SAARC template.’
In summary, the differences between the two manifestos lies mainly in the handling of Kashmir and national security. While the Congress has sought a conciliatory approach, the BJP has played on its rising nationalism card. In the ultimate analysis, if either party, on assuming the mantle, even deliver 10-15 percent of their promises, it would be a benefit.
(The author is a retired Army officer based in Lucknow. He can be reached at @kakar_harsha. 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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