Kashmir, if the BJP loses the Lok Sabha

Three months ago, a title such as the one above would have been called wishful thinking. But today there is reason for relative optimism in India and for anticipatory relief in Kashmir.

Indications are that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will lose enough seats to have to rely on their allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to cobble a coalition, and Narendra Modi may not return as the Prime Minister. For Kashmir, the latter part could mean some hope for an end to the morally sanctioned brutality of the last five years.

However, a change in the person of the Prime Minister does not mean that we in Kashmir are out of the woods, especially if the BJP proves to be the largest single party in the coalition with yet another RSS pracharak as prime minister. It may not even mean an end to the emboldened viciousness that the Doval Doctrine has made a new normal. The prospective coalition’s allies will need to negotiate even the reversal of such reprehensible tactics, given the centrality that the BJP-RSS ideology gives to Kashmir. Nor is a return of the BJP as a coalition partner leading the NDA likely to mean a change in Delhi’s mindset on the question of the dispute over state of J&K.

To make a difference in Kashmir, the people of India will need to vote in a government that excludes the BJP. This distant prospect may throw up an opportunity to begin baby-step negotiations on the dispute over the State of J&K. It is a “distant” because, politically, the BJP-RSS regime, has embossed its ideology on the Indian populace with such force in the last half decade that no party can ignore the requirement of paying obeisance to hard Hindu nationalism, Hindutva, if it is to retain power at the center. So, any government will be quick to adopt the path of least resistance; and that is to do nothing on Kashmir. This is to be expected for two reasons.

One, no government at the center will be able to address the dispute over Kashmir with a strategy that could be labeled as being tolerant of the “wishes of the people” of a demonized Kashmir. The starkest indicator of this is the difficulty any government at the center attempts to roll back the acquired taste for mobocratic sloganeering that substitutes for fact-based rational political discourse, each time it leans towards any out of box proposal.

Two, India continues to be saddled with dismal poverty, no infrastructure in sight for the every-person, no jobs for its youth bulge, an economy still smarting from demonetization and GST and an international environment in which suspicion about India’s ability to deliver, except as consumer market and a labor force, in the “new world order” grows.

Three, the prospective new government will need to retrieve India’s image in the international arena following five years of its peoples (1.3 billion of them) being habituated to divisive politics, a bigoted ideology, authoritarian rule and a large sweep of media that has obsequiously catered to these trends for commercial gain.

These realities will ensure that a potential non-BJP government will be very busy mending broken fences. Kashmir will be low on Delhi’s list of priorities.

In such a scenario, it is we in Kashmir and the rest of the State of J&K who, first and foremost, will need nuanced strategy and proactive engagement that contributes towards the resolution of the dispute. Some brief suggestions.

The strategy must be to articulate our situation in such a way that it conveys the truth that not only is the dispute over our state the underling cause of the India – Pakistan rivalry bordering on enmity, but that it also transcends that rivalry when considered from the perspective of the J&K state’s twelve million peoples and the region at large. Thus, we must be able to message the world that the dispute concerns the future of all the peoples of the state in its entirety, which is uneasily supplemented by a nuclear-proud India and Pakistan.

The second part of the strategy must be to place the dispute over the state of J&K, in its entirety, firmly on the global agenda. The state, in its entirety, is located along a seam that separates a volatile Central Asia and an ineffectual South Asia. Limiting it to a regional (which is to say bilateral) agenda will not work because (a) South Asia is all but dysfunctional as a regional force in international relations and (b) we cannot expect to become a priority for either India or Pakistan. We have cited India’s problems, but Pakistan too is not without its domestic and international problems.

However, we cannot hope to play a role in highlighting the dispute of over our state unless we agree on a strategy of our own which is transparent, articulate and geopolitically savvy. The state is a cluster of nations between two new conventional states and a situation that has forced us to conform to the status quo of being a territorial bone of contention at the expense of our languages, cultures and futures. This, of course, is not new for any modern state, including India and Pakistan. Our situation is out of the ordinary because a resolution to the problem has been denied and postponed presumptively and overtly against our wills.

The action that we need to concentrate on must be to seek a path that will allow all of us within the erstwhile state to talk to each other to arrive to at a way forward that will end the dichotomization of Kashmiris by making us choose between being patronized or demonized, coopted or excluded, converted or killed. It is an ignominy that even the non-Kashmiri speaking nations of the erstwhile state will recognize if we were to understand the intellectual implications of being presented with such binary choices. It is a loathsome indignity. It is true that Ladakh, Baltistan and Gilgit have not felt the agony of internal military operations against them, but if we allow what has been called the “organized hypocrisy” of the world’s modern state system to determine our future unshackled by any responsibility to their geographical peripheries, their turns will also come.   

Second, we need to fashion tactics that do not respond to the zero-sum template placed before us (and used to vicious effect by the Modi-Doval doctrine) with a zero-sum response of our own, a practice that has had such devastating effect on us in the last three decades. Admittedly this is difficult, given the lies, deceit and condescension that has been our lot. But to fashion a confidently independent articulation of our own, we need to acknowledge that we have lived in times of perilous vulnerability for so long that today we find ourselves in a position in which laws domestic (for example, abrogation of constitutional provisions) and international (for example, the right to determine our own futures) can be abrogated at will, soldiers are emboldened to disregard their humanity and an entire citizenry that is demonized to be hunted inside and outside their homes. We need to dislodge our vulnerability.

The unresolved dispute over the state of J&K is dangerous from a security point of view because of weapons of mass destruction possessed by status quo promoting “stakeholders”. It is dangerous from a political point of view because, as simmering disputes in the Middle East, former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union have shown, such disputes tend to metastasize and engulf an area much larger than ground zero. Its resolution means that the peoples living on either side of established boundaries (or crafty euphemisms such as ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Line of Actual Control’) can live in a peace that includes them. They cannot be asked to be grateful beneficiaries of a peace achieved by a fragile military deterrence, conventional or nuclear.

But to even contemplate all the above as courses of action, the BJP must lose the elections. If the BJP wins the elections to form the government as the single largest party, with or without Modi as Prime Minister, the proposals in this column would be defunct. And with Modi it would be difficult to predict the level of anguish and trial that will follow for us.