J&K Crisis: Will BJP Allow New Faces Or Lean On ‘Political Caste’?

What are the roots of the Kashmir problem and will BJP pass its litmus test of redefining political leadership?

11 min read
Image of PM Modi and a background picture of Kashmir used for representational purposes.

The Kashmir issue, a geopolitically complex one, had been a deliberately unfinished agenda of the then collapsing British Empire, but it would be naive to view it through the lens of British imperialism, because the sensibilities of the world order that came into existence after the apparent fall of the imperial disposition can’t be ignored.

This issue appears more challenging when viewed through the prism of a unipolar world order that established itself after a long-drawn battle of ideas, although the cracks and fault-lines that began appearing after the ‘End-of-the-History’ euphoria are genuinely troubling to contemplate. Though the US may throw down the final gauntlet, Europe can’t be ignored, and neither can Russia and China be ignored in the equation of the Kashmir conflict. In retrospect, it may be surmised that Kashmir had ceased to be a solely political dispute precisely on the same day as it appeared on the scene as a dispute. The capitalist society would not allow Kashmir issue to remain unwedded to the clandestine mechanisations that its market economy unwittingly weaves itself into.

At the risk of digressing, it may be noted that capitalism during its birth in Europe and the US moved initially in the direction of a domestic or ‘internal colonial policy’ to utilise upcoming industrial capital (initially in agriculture), before its interest in an export market for the manufacturing industry had been fully awakened.

The classic school of economy was optimistic about the capacity of the market to grow pari passu with the progress of industry and division of labour. But market, as they say, is market — it defies any concrete definition despite the fact that economists have been hairsplitting for centuries to try to understand its vagaries, without much success or certainty to that end. Things turned out differently as they always do.

State-Regulated Exploitation Via Trade, and Industrial Revolution

The progress (of capitalist economy) came to depend on successfully yet brutally utilizing colonial trade. In this scenario the parent country was ensured a fair measure of a monopoly over the trade and the market. In this game, the powerful players like Britain, in order to ensure success, implemented policies that would ensure the monopoly of British bourgeoisie over the colonial trade and manipulate the market in her favour. For example, the Irish hat-makers were not allowed to export woollen goods lest it ‘compete’ with British cloth. Holland was totally eclipsed by England in the 18th century especially within the cloth industry. In order to hammer down on these policies, the companies were allowed to function like semi war-like ‘conquering undertakings’ to which sovereign rights backed by the State had been granted. This was, in essence, a mercantile system of State-regulated exploitation through trade.

The industrial revolution redefined the balance. The market expanded, and with it the technical inventions, division of labour and productivity increased, and the resulting population surge – partly due to better living standards – created a demographic shift.

Capital was required because industrial investment soared. The iron industry got a boom, for example. However, as they say, the tragedy of investment is that it causes crisis precisely because it is useful. One of the natural collateral effects of the economic boom is that it leads to competition, which at times is simply ruthless. The competition can be beaten either by decreasing the prices – which can’t be done beyond a certain limit – or by checking the number of new comers and competitors into the business.

How Can Govts of Capitalist Nations Overcome Problem of Being an Impediment to Capitalist Investment?

The businessmen in West showed increased fondness for measures whereby competition could be restricted by checking the newcomers. One way of pushing that demand through was and still is to pressurise the government to refrain from investing in the public sector industry, with the net result that the supply of goods will decrease in the market and the prices may remain high or stable for earning profits by capitalists. This is theoretically possible, but it puts the governments in a difficult situation wherein the governments are fraught with a danger of losing control over private business establishments.

The governments, especially in democratic setups, can find themselves in a mess – either by adopting a ‘license raj’ or giving a free run to private industry. Both systems are dangerous.

Governments can come out of this precarious deadlock of sorts by resorting to remedial measures directed at decreasing their competition to capitalist class, and at the same time continuing to put checks and balances on capitalists. How can governments of capitalist nations overcome the problem of being an impediment to capitalist investment? The only way out is by investing in an industry which doesn’t pose a competitive threat to consumer capitalist industry. And at the same provide excellent revenue to the governments to run public institutions like education, healthcare etc (which are inherently investment-intensive), and also continue to create employment and sustain that employment capacity by pumping in the revenues without giving direct competition to private business.

How the Arms Race & Industry is Fuelled

The Depression of the 1930s taught the capitalist economies a lesson. And that was this: don’t create an internal competition within the domestic market but invest in a market not within the reach and capacity of the private business. World War-II proved that one such market, hitherto unexplored to its full potential, does indeed exist right under the nose – and is indeed lucrative. That market is the armament market. Governments can spend in defence products and sell the weapons and bring into their economies enormous wealth from sales to warring states. Lucrative deals bring in lucrative dividends. But there is a caveat. Arms sales are subject to existing demands.

In relatively peaceful times, there will be less of a choice market. What to do in those times?

You can’t afford to accumulate weapons without being able to sell them. That is simply going to spell disaster for a high-end industry.

The only way out of this tangle is the ‘manufacture of market’ in times of a recession of weapons market.

One way, in fact the only way, of accomplishing that objective is by creating imaginary enemies, or instilling the fear of imaginary and real enemies into the minds of weaker states and their populaces, perpetuating border disputes or in some cases, creating actual battle fields so that the arms sales continue to rise, and revenues continue to pour into economy of big states.

The Kashmir issue may well be retrofitted to have been deliberately and craftily created with that purpose in mind, and it continues to simmer under a very well thought-out policy, the seeds of which had been sown in Halford Mackinder’s discussions of the geopolitical framework under the ‘geographical heartland’ thesis published in 1904.

Defence Industry Will Take a Hit If It Doesn’t Keep Kashmir On the Boil

The Kashmir tangle could have been solved, but the solution will remove the hotspot and prove to create a relatively peaceful situation in the subcontinent that probably will not be conducive to the European and American economic interests, and to some extent, to the Chinese arms manufacture industry.

It will be a dangerous decision for the defence industry, with investments running into hundreds of billions of dollars to not strive to keep Kashmir boiling, until and unless there are the equivalent or better markets created elsewhere on the globe.

Africa is a candidate market, but the problem is that sub-Saharan Africa may not prove a suitable customer, at least in the near future, due to its dismal economic status.

Turning east holds a comparatively better prospect. The US and the West are relentlessly portraying China as a pariah country and pushing Southeast Asia, with a varying degrees of success, into buying into the propaganda of ‘China as their potential enemy and threat’. These island countries are buying the weapons, rockets and missiles to pile up against a potential Chinese threat. Will Southeast Asia continue to help, at least partially, to sustain the defence market of the West and US – till say 2050? Maybe.

Restore Statehood to J&K, Replace Political Caste With Technocrats

The West has already stepped into the post-Nationalist phase of history (although the massive flux of immigrants has reignited nationalist passions in the western democracies), and they know fully well that they will be fairly placed to exploit the market for decades more so because it will take Asia a long, long time to transition into a post-Nationalist mindset. The nationalist tendencies and the fervour will not allow a quick and smooth resolution of the Kashmir problem. Aspirations and emotions are good, but at the end of the day, as Tim Marshall gingerly warns, it is the demography and the geography that win. Committing ‘suicide’ doesn’t address the ailment.

The abrogation of Article 370 has given yet another dimension to the existing chaos and mis-governance, abetted and encouraged by successive establishments in New Delhi over the past 70 years. The ‘political caste’ that emerged as a result of faulty policies from under the blanket cover of the impotent body of Article 370, alienated the common masses so dangerously, that the successive generations became deeply suspicious of the stage-managed democratic or political process. In theory, the abrogation of the article 370 should prevent the misuse of power by the ‘political caste’ and also strip the Executive of the power to play with pen and paper to bring in draconian laws, without resorting to cumbersome constitutional processes. In practice, though, to achieve those ends, the present government of India, needs to take a bold step by restoring statehood to J&K, and also pave the way for new faces, preferably, from technocratic backgrounds, to occupy the political space. The ‘political caste’ has to be replaced and done away with.

Political Castes Must Cede Space to New Generation Leaders in Kashmir

The new generation of honest and intelligent leaders have to be nurtured and allowed space. The Kashmiri Pandits who have historically been a part of the so-called ‘Kosher Culture’, the age-old proud civilization, also must adopt a more flexible and reconciliatory paradigm shift. Rebuilding of bridges demands an attitude of openness. Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits are but two sides of the same coin. It is time for both the communities to come forward, heal the wounds, and stop being prisoners of the past. Together they can strive to do away with the ‘political caste’. Much of that obviously depends upon the calculus that drives the mind-engine of the BJP.

Whether they are interested in showing the same old carrot to the same old and effete lot, or they are serious in allowing power to flow to where it belongs – the common, ordinary, but honest and politically ‘casteless’ people – is still moot.

Kashmir needs to be approached through ‘conflict-resolution’ methodology, which means primarily a change in the existing rigid mindset. The resolution has to emerge primarily from within Kashmir. Pakistan and India can’t resolve the conflict for Kashmiris; they can address the dispute but they can’t address the conflict.

Kashmir & Mainstream India Must Revisit Conflict Through a New Lens

The first step towards this conflict management will be, to my mind, the redefinition and reframing of the culture of violence. This can be achieved only through cessation of hostilities by all parties, especially the two most pivotal parties – Kashmir and mainstream India – which will allow a breathing space for reflection and introspection. As long as the two parties hold on to their stated positions, there cannot be any melting of the ice in the frame in which the Kashmir has been cast. And it is foolhardy to expect that any of the parties will, in the near future, abandon their stated inflexible positions independent of each other, because of the simple reason that aspirations and emotions are entrenched within a matrix of deep misunderstanding from both sides. The hard task that both sides are faced with is to create a narrative that will lead to revisiting this vexed problem through a new lens.

Violence Has Helped Neither Kashmir Nor Mainstream India

The fatalities that have occurred in 30 years can’t be ignored. The orphans and widows and the economic losses can’t be ignored either. But was all this loss really unavoidable? This is indeed a very difficult question to answer, but tomorrow or someday down the line, this question will repeatedly be asked of those who evade or refuse today to come out with a one sentence reply. One thing that is glaringly clear is that violence has worked so far neither to Kashmir’s advantage nor in India’s interest. To the dismay of those who think that the armed movement has led to internationalisation of the issue, the hard and raw facts show that they are simply living in a cocoon of wishful thinking.

They fail to appreciate that the West and the US need ‘Kashmir’ solely to serve their purpose to put their diplomatic and economic agendas in place, whenever expediency demands so.

Whenever they need, they will show the whip to the horse only to intimidate it to follow in the track. Sadly, this is how the world of ‘manipulation’ works behind the curtains. The armed struggle, if it may be called a struggle, has pushed Kashmir to the brink. It has failed to ignite the nationalist fervour and triggered a communal hatred directed towards Kashmir. Can the people afford to live in the 21st century with this hatred?

Kashmir: An ‘Ailing’ Society?

It may seem to be an exaggerated pessimistic argument to observe that we are an ailing and failing society, but there is more than a grain of truth in it. When you gauge a society for its strength you look at two parameters: the number of people visiting hospitals, and the number of orphanages in a geographic territory. Let me share a piece of curious information. A government doctor from Srinagar, a few weeks ago, was boasting about the number of patients he had attended to at his hospital. All in good faith, he was glibly talking to us through the data from the hospital sources. In 144 OPD clinics, he had attended to 10,000 patients. (That means, on an average, 1,000 patients in 12 days or roughly 100 patients a day).

Suppose there are only 1,000 doctors including paramedics in Kashmir, and imagine how many doctor-visits a day you can expect?

At least one lakh/day. And in one month it amounts to 30 lakh doctor-visits in a population of nearly 50 lakh inhabitants. Is this not disturbing? No wonder that the government is push more and more medical colleges to put more and more people into hospitals. How enormous a number of working hours is lost by an ailing society? All because we have created an environment and a culture of stress and turbulence. Look at the increasing numbers, rather mushrooming, of orphanages in Kashmir. Thousands of widows and more than one lakh orphans, if unofficial estimates are to be believed, are an alarming statistics.

BJP’s Litmus Test

During the past two months, Kashmir has observed an unexpected ‘sitzkrieg’ in response to the ukases of the Centre. However, the eerie calm in the air signals an impatient expectation for a better than yesteryears’ stale socio-political and economic present. The BJP ‘think-tank’, shrewd and politically astute as it is, though, is expected to allow a reasonable space for a viable and honest political process in Jammu and Kashmir. Change is the rule of nature. Resisting change in some instances has spelled doom for civilisations.

The abrogation of Article 370 can be viewed as a change. Change can sometimes bring unexpected benefits. Who knows, maybe, abrogation of 370 is after all a good thing that has happened. Or perhaps it could turn out to be yet another empty slogan. So far, there has been only rhetoric. The real litmus test that BJP faces is whether it will deliver on the promise to allow a space for new faces, or will it fall back on the established ‘political caste’ of Kashmir like its predecessors did. In uncertain times, everything or nothing can be certain!

(Dr Qazi Ashraf is a Cancer Surgeon, author, and President, JK-Unity Convention. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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