So what does Modi 2.0 mean for Kashmir? Peace or more violence? In its second term, will the BJP decide to be more statesmanlike and approach Kashmir with the ideals proposed by its veteran leader late Vajpayee? We do not yet know.
But let us be clear about one thing: the return of Narendra Modi to power in Delhi (and how!) also means that his government’s unabashedly aggressive policies towards Kashmir have been given a thumbs up by the general public in the country. There is no soft-peddling that argument; and why should one? Let’s call it for what it is: BJP’s return to power is the success of aggression. And this aggression is only going to lead to more aggression and violence. Put bluntly, New Delhi’s BJP government is unlikely to be in a mood from now on to listen to opposing sides for a resolution of the Kashmir conflict. And why should it? It has a mandate to continue doing what it has done for the last five years. In any case, I don’t think conflict resolution tops its agenda in vis-à-vis Kashmir. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the BJP leadership is willing to talk about conflict resolution in Kashmir. If it does so, any negotiations will be from a position of strength and based on its terms and conditions.
The manifestations of this are already evident. The high-pitched discussions today about the abolition of Article 370 and the possibility of fresh delimitation of the constituencies in the state are indications of precisely the mood in New Delhi and what to expect in the years ahead.
This is just one side of the coin. On the other side, as I have written several times in the past, there is unlikely to be any let up in the Pakistani claims and sustained involvement in Kashmir unless New Delhi agrees to talk to Islamabad on the contentious Kashmir question, something Modi 2.0 and Amit Shah’s home ministry may have little interest in. I continue to believe that Pakistan is keen on talks with India, and they have said so many times in the not so distant past, and it is keener on talks on the Kashmir question. New Delhi may have some interest in reigniting talks with Pakistan in general, but there is likely to be no interest in talks on Kashmir. The implication on no-talks on Kashmir is straightforward: Pakistan will continue to increase the heat in Kashmir, to bring India to the negotiating table, to begin with. Note that no meeting is scheduled between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani PM Imran Khan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Bishkek in mid-June.
Even more importantly, notwithstanding whether or not Pakistan is involved in Kashmir one way or another, there is palpable anger and alienation in South Kashmir. The politically-aware youth of these districts realise that their struggle against India may not get them anywhere and they also fully realise that the Indian state will come down heavily on them. But it seems to me that threat of harsh punishment won’t be deterrent enough for them – they are likely to resist, pelt stones, pick up arms, fight and die young. However depressing this might sound, this seems to be the reality on the ground. My own recent visits to the valley and to militant and resistance hotbeds such as Pulwama suggest to me that insurgency and armed militancy (or terrorism, if that’s what you prefer) are far from gone from Kashmir. In fact, they are on the rise and will become worse in the days ahead. College going boys and girls express their anti-India feelings so openly, and school going children do not hesitate even for a moment when telling you that they want ‘azadi’. Parents of slain militants speak so proudly of their children who took up arms against the Indian state, fought for Kashmir/Islam, and got killed in the midst of their ‘noble mission’. Their neighbors look at them with reverence and respect. This is how much legitimacy that exists for violence in contemporary Kashmir.
So what do you get when you combine the electoral success of militarized and aggressive policies, Pakistani deep state’s unrelenting activities in Kashmir and the increasing legitimacy for violence that exists in Kashmir today? For one, those in charge of the country’s national security policy should be deeply worried, under ‘normal circumstances’ of course. However, today, that doesn’t seem to be the feeling in New Delhi which is preparing to meet the situation with even more aggression. Secondly, this would mean there is unlikely to be a let up in the violence we are witnessing in Kashmir. The years ahead are going to be tumultuous for Kashmir, unless of course there is a change of heart in New Delhi. We must therefore brace ourselves for more violence and bloodshed.
Finally, the slow but sure American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove to be a shot in the arm for the Kashmiri youngsters picking up against the Indian forces. While I do not believe that the situation is ripe for a repeat of 1989 when Afghan fighters were brought in to Kashmir by the Pakistani side, the Kashmiri youngsters will surely look at the developments and take inspiration from that.
Even more so, in a situation where there are no talks between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan’s feeling of triumph in the Afghan chessboard, will further vitiate the regional geopolitics.