The J&K State, general elections and the next one

The J&K State, general elections and the next one

How are we, of the State of J&K, to understand the ways forward just before India’s 2019 general elections?

At the end of the twentieth century, the discourse on the Kashmir conundrum was framed by talk about insaaniyat, jamhooriyat aur Kashmiriyat (“humanism, democracy and Kashmir-ness”) the last being a nebulous slogan describing syncretism in Kashmir. Yet the last millennium ended on an ominous note for South Asia as India and Pakistan fought a short but intense war along the Line of Control (LOC). The tensions spawned by what became known as the “1999 Kargil War” were carried into the new millennium with fighter jets screaming across Himalayan skies well into 2002. 

The 2004, elections in India and a new party in government returned to “talks” between South Asia’s two largest countries. The new slogans announced dreams of “making borders irrelevant” and a day that would begin with “breakfast in Delhi” and end with “dinner in Kabul”. The term Confidence Building Measures” (CBM) became a part of the popular political lexicon. We heard that Delhi and Islamabad “almost” reconciled (a non-achievement that does more damage than good) their claims over the State of J&K, a vision that remained an “apparition”, untranslated into a mission, a “task”.

After 2014, following a brief period of neighborhood honeymoon theatrics, New Delhi for the first time, put in place an unapologetically assertive policy on the State of J&K. The BJP considered the entire State of J&K disputed and saw India as a Hindu State, to which Kashmir and the rest of the State of J&K must conform. Internationally, India’s populist authoritarian government, which is fast moving towards what Sheldon Wolin has called “inverted totalitarianism”, aligns itself with the United States, still the world’s most robust democracy; and Pakistan, which is fighting an uphill battle toward democracy, aligns itself with China, the world’s largest authoritarian government. It is an irony difficult to miss.

The view from J&K

How are we, of the State of J&K, to understand the ways forward just before India’s 2019 general elections? And, more importantly, what will define our resistance against our role in determining our future?

A quarter of a century ago, on this side of the LOC, we were told that, in the interests of resolution, “the sky is the limit”. The twist was that the adage held true equally for Delhi’s strategy for talks or its policy of muscularity, without prejudice to who was in power in Delhi. So CBMs and the post-2014 Doval Doctrine can both be seen as incremental steps toward establishing a stable Hindu Raj in the state. The operative word here is “incremental”. 

To us in the state it means doing “it” gradually. In other words, take ten steps forward and two steps backward. The most recent avatar of this policy has been the brutality of 2016, followed by the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma in 2017. Maybe, goes the hope, the real forward movement on the Delhi’s ultimate policy will go unnoticed. 

Unfortunately for Delhi, this agenda (there is no other word for it) has been outed in Kashmir since 2008, when, in the lead up to the Delhi – Islamabad talks for the three years previous, many in Kashmir thought incrementality is a way ahead. But the increasing military brutality since 2008 and the declaration of an overtly unapologetic Hindutva vision for India four years ago, has shrunk the space for incrementality. Two factors inform this development: as in 1987, the trust deficit towards Delhi has plummeted and the indigeneity of the resistance has swollen. More on this in a bit. For now, suffice it to note that despite Delhi’s denials, general elections have become politically less and less relevant in Kashmir over the last three decades. The lack of any real delivery on the civic front by successive state governments has also ushered in a dangerous cynicism. Impasse has been replaced by confrontation. 

The 2019 elections

The apprehensions about the 2019 general elections, therefore, are different. There is a foreboding feeling of volatility in the air. The BJP government’s inability to deliver to its constituency on the economic, foreign policy and youth employment fronts has left it with no alternative but to deploy the politics of polarization. Kashmir, with its potential for evoking emotive, binary and territorial “threats to India”, offers an ideal platform to kick-start polarization. The felling of the state government implemented it. Incrementalism is no longer a byword in the resolution of the dispute. 

Kashmir’s intensifying resistance is being shaped by incrementality and diversity. And it will continue to do so for the next twelve to fifteen months, depending on when the government announces the general elections. Resistance tactics will be defined by three fronts. 

First is the rhetoric and actions of Hindutva India, which is mainstream now. This is reflected in the intensity of Operation All Out and the force of its implementation. Second is the “legal” challenge to Article 35A of the Indian constitution, a manufactured argument aimed at the exponential erosion of what is left of Kashmir’s 1952 negotiated autonomy. Third, is the open internationalization of the dispute through the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights of the UN, a damning account of the Indian military’s human rights violations in Kashmir.

The Kashmiri response is multipronged. The diaspora is well apprised of the implications of the UN Report and is talking it up. The attack on Article 35A is meeting with pan-J&K State opposition, potentially splitting the BJP vote bank in Jammu’s districts. The failed Doval Doctrine continues to kill, but, as several serving police officers and analysts have noted, it has only resulted in the recruitment of more armed rebels. And the UN’s outright rejection of the Delhi denial signals a global wariness about India that will eat into its credibility. In short, resistance to strategies of arbitrary assertion, legal contradiction and political bigotry promise to be incrementally vigorous.

It is also diverse. The most familiar innovation to diversity has been civilian response to the Indian military’s “Cordon and Search Operations” (or CASO). Since 2015, unarmed noncombatants have responded to CASO with screen and getaway campaigns in which men, women and children help armed rebels to escape. The Indian Chief of Army Staff combated this phenomenon by calling the civilians “over-ground terrorists” and worse. It failed to deter, even though hundreds of unarmed civilians were severely wounded, maimed and blinded for life and killed. Yet, the method of civilians putting themselves in harm’s way continues, for a cause they deem just and against an injustice to which they know of no way of responding other than by risking death itself. 

It strikes me that this practice of Kashmiri civilians is akin to Tibetans self-immolating against the Chinese occupation of their native land. Both are suicidal acts against the might of the state, but unlike acts of terrorism that cause civilian harm, it is a case of being self-willed human shields in an act of defiance. It is happening, let us note, to highlight political injustice in the world’s two most populated states and, in a region that is home to almost half the world’s population. 

It does not inspire hope in the future from this part of the world, no matter how titanic (pun intended) its contributions to the global economy.