By Tushar Singh
Modi-era Kashmir has often been in the headlines for controversial reasons. The Kashmir issue, seventy years old now, has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan for so long that rhetoric from both sides overshadows the need for debate on substantial problems. The subject matter can be analysed the basis of six contributing factors:
Kashmiri Pandits: The NDA government, after assuming office in 2014, had earmarked Rs. 500 crore for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. Plans to have special townships, dubbed as “Safe Zones”, for Kashmiri Pandits in the valley did not materialise. In January 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-BJP ruling alliance had reportedly identified 100 acres of land scattered across 10 districts to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. Though the intent is appreciated, the inaction must be condemned. The inability to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits within their own country is a failure on behalf of the State given that even separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have supported their return.
Cross-border terrorism: While the unparalleled surgical strike across the Line of Control(LoC) in September 2016 was an embodiment of the iron-fisted approach of the Modi government, the effect of demonetisation in reducing terror funding must be questioned. A stern stance against terrorism is always welcome. However, more efficient border patrolling and sealing the border with a dramatic expansion of technology on existing fencing on the 3,323 km land border and 740 km LoC is required. An integrated system that links drones, sensors, radars, and camera surveillance will help keep infiltration in check.
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts(AFSPA): In September 2016, the Centre ruled out the possibility of lifting or even diluting AFSPA in Kashmir. The Centre seems to be following the Doval Doctrine, put forward by NSA Ajit Doval. It is marked by three themes—irrelevance of morality, extremism freed from calibration, and reliance on the military. The Doval doctrine is an aggressive approach that tends to overlook diplomacy and hamper the long-run peace building process. It is the prerogative of the centre to understand at what point in time this approach will no longer be necessary and then replace it with peaceful negotiations with various legitimate stakeholders.
Infrastructure: Infrastructure has been the most effective part of Modi’s policy in Kashmir. The Chennai-Nashri tunnel reduces travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two hours. The government also has plans to build the tallest rail bridge in the world over river Chenab and six hydropower projects worth USD 15 billion in Kashmir. The valley also urgently requires needs economic growth and employment. The government must now work to ensure that private investment increases. It is also important that all educational institutes function smoothly.
International diplomacy: Modi’s friendly approach towards Pakistan changed after the Pathankot attack. The All South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC) members boycotted a summit in Pakistan last year, following India’s cue. The Indo-US joint statement in June 2017, explicitly referring to “cross-border terrorism” is a big achievement, considering how close USA and Pakistan once were.
However, India’s refusal to be a part of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative on grounds that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir must be questioned. It may harm India’s ambition to become a superpower in the long run. China may benefit from infrastructural deals across Central Asia and may even economically control that region unless India comes up with its own alternative to OBOR. Given India’s current economic predicament, however, that seems unlikely.
Citizen sentiment: The fate of Kashmir will ultimately be decided by something as intangible as citizen sentiment. The Yashwant Sinha led CCG ( Concerned Citizen’s Group) concluded that discontent and dismay among Kashmiri students, civil society, and political leaders had grown because of lack of dialogue with Kashmiris, low investment, tourism taking a hit and an overall economic downturn. However, members of the society still hoped for a peaceful settlement of the issue. Low voter turnout in Srinagar by-polls and re-polls, following a cycle of violence post the death of Burhan Wani, paint a shady picture of pro-democracy values in the valley. Use of pellet guns leading to permanent injuries has also added to the dissatisfaction of locals.
BJP’s promise to repeal Article 370 and the recent legal challenge to Article 35(A) of the Constitution has sparked off a fierce debate. While some argue that removal of these articles will integrate Kashmir with rest of India, supporters of special status say it will lead to resentment among Kashmiris and an “uprising like no other” until now, as ratified by the CCG report.
In conclusion, it can be said that an inherent hatred towards Pakistan and separatists should not translate into hatred towards Kashmiris, in general. A strict approach by the Modi government will lead to two possibilities. One, elimination of the dubbed “anti-nationals”, fewer protests and ultimately, the integration of Kashmir through economic development. The other possibility is a persistent resentment among the people of Kashmir which, in the long run, translates into protests of a larger scale bringing chaos in the valley. The government has to realise that Kashmir will become a part of India only when all Kashmiris willingly accept the idea of India that will materialise when Delhi stands not with fire arms but with open arms.
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