Is there a Kashmir Policy under Narendra Modi govt.?

One issue on which opposition has somewhat been able to corner government has been the issue of Kashmir. Opposition has been criticizing the govt. since last 4.5 years by accusing the govt. of having no Kashmir policy.

On the face of it, the charge seems legitimate with constant turmoil in Kashmir for some reason or the other and political developments in last 4 years which kept it in constant media reportage sometimes accentuated by the disproportionate media attention that the region receives due to the multi faceted and far reaching nature of any new development in Kashmir. BJP spokespersons seem to be on backfoot while debating over Kashmir and often resort to historical nature of the problem and asking how a 70 year old problem can be solved in 5 years. This does not cut the ice with the Indian citizens which elected this govt. to have a clear policy to achieve tangible results vis-a-vis Kashmir, Terrorism, and Pakistan as all three are interlinked to a certain degree.

No govt. can claim to have a consistent policy on Kashmir as it is a conflict zone and unexpected events can happen which need to be dealt with without thinking long term consequences whether it is the kidnapping of former CM, Mufti Syed’s daughter or fallout after the killing of HM Commander Burhan Wani, or actions of certain officers while dealing with hostile violent mobs. Still there is a larger framework and goals under which govt. formulates its approach in Kashmir. To understand Narendra Modi’s govt. policy towards Kashmir, we need to divide the policy in two parts – one, approach towards Kashmir and the other, approach towards Pakistan and terrorism.

Approach towards Pakistan and Terrorism

Narendra Modi got elected on the planks of zero tolerance towards terrorism and tough stance on Pakistan. The first thing Narendra Modi did after getting elected was to invite Pakistan PM, along with other SAARC heads, to the swearing-in ceremony. May be to give a message that he is not as hardliner as media and opposition portrayed him to be or to give a signal that he wants peace or to pacify the minority community of the nation by inviting the head of an Islamic State. Whatever be the reason, one thing was clear that he was ready to give peace a chance.

Narendra Modi, in the subsequent months, took multiple initiatives for peace whether to unexpectedly fly down to Lahore to attend Pakistan PM’s private function, or allowing Pakistani officials to visit Pathankot to collect evidence after terrorist attacks in January 2016, sometimes at the risk of personal political capital. The bonhomie between the two heads seemed to be working with Nawaz Sharif getting more vocal against the ISI and Pakistan Army activities in Kashmir and on the need for action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.

However, the cowardly attack in Uri by Pakistan supported terrorists changed things drastically. 19 brave soldiers were martyred while they were sleeping in their tents. It sounded the last nail on the patience of Narendra Modi for Nawaz Sharif to act. India retaliated with “pre-emptive” surgical strikes on terrorist posts and launchpads across LOC. This signaled a major shift in India’s policy towards Pakistan and terrorism.

This policy has continued since then where India has not only refused to talk to Pakistan but has also used every forum and medium to expose Pakistan. PM even went to the extent of raising Balochistan issue in his speech from the Red Fort during Independence Day. The stance has completely changed from Ultra Passive to Ultra Aggressive.

In the meantime, much has changed in Pakistan since then. Nawaz Sharif’s removal from PM post via court order and subsequent jail sentence. Election of a new PM who promised “Naya Pakistan”. Despite various efforts by Imran Khan to bring Narendra Modi to the table, India remained unmoved.

India was proven right in its stance when Pulwama attack happened barely 6 months after Imran Khan rose to power. This time India retaliated with “preemptive” Air Strikes deep into the Pakistani territory at Balakot to eliminate terrorist camps, thereby making it clear that India will now be consistent in its policy towards Pakistan and is ready to escalate its fight against terrorism. India refused to bow down and get ready for talks despite immense pressure from within and outside the country.

Govt. has decided to walk the talk on “Terrorism and Talks cannot go together”.

These ups and downs in last 4.5 years makes for one interesting observation. Narendra Modi, after coming to power, tried resetting the relations with Pakistan as he put a lot of effort for peace but once it was clear that nothing is going to change, he took a muscular approach and refused to entertain any suggestions of softening the stance whether from opposition parties or civil society.

Approach towards Kashmir

The same resetting can be seen in case of Kashmir as well. BJP formed an alliance with its ideological counterpart, PDP, based on common minimum program, which was reached at after 3 months of discussions and negotiations, despite various voices opposing this “unholy alliance”. Mufti Syed took oath as CM and there was relative peace and progress in J&K for the 9 months he was in power before his unfortunate death in January 2016.

After this unfortunate incident, again long discussions were held between BJP and PDP for 3 months before installing Mahbooba Mufti, daughter of Mufti Syed, as the first woman CM of the state.

Soon after Mahbooba Mufti took office, Burhan Wani, Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter with security forces. The govt. completely failed to control the aftermath and it spiraled quickly out of control to start a fresh resurgence of militancy in the valley. Pakistan, Separatists, Politicians, everyone added fuel to the fire to serve their selfish interests.

While the Central Govt. gave free hand to the security forces to deal with terrorism, the state govt’s soft stance and non-cooperation was making things difficult on the ground. After 2 long years of bickering and blame game with situation getting worse, BJP finally broke the alliance citing Mahbooba Mufti’s failure to work as per CMP.

Since then, security forces have been able to eliminate many of the terrorists and few districts have been declared terrorism free. The Central Govt. was also able to successfully conduct the local Panchayat and Municipal elections in the months of Oct-Nov last year. Although the mainstream local parties, NCP and PDP, boycotted the elections, it has resulted in a good atmosphere as the elections were fair and free from fear or any terrorist attack. Despite boycott calls from separatists and terrorist groups, the elections saw a decent turnout of between 30-50% in most of the places.

So if we analyse this series of events in Kashmir, two things become very clear – one, army has been given a free hand to deal with the terror groups, and second, the Central Govt. is committed towards a fair and fear-free political environment in the state. It has used the last few months to let army go all out against terrorists, work on the development needs of the region, and to crackdown on the separatists and frontal organizations of the terror groups, without facing much retaliation from the local populace.

With talks of assembly elections to be held along with general elections, if the new govt. does not stock the separatist feelings as has often happened in the past, given the terror free environment being created by the security forces where new local terrorist recruitments almost down to zero and political cleansing being undertaken through crackdown of separatists, there seems a possibility of lasting peace in Kashmir.

Narendra Modi’s govt. approach is very clear – it wants a lasting peace in Kashmir, and not a short term band-aid, for which army will have to be given a free hand while dealing with cross border terrorism and Pakistan; political space would have to be recreated within the state for the development and betterment of the citizens; feelings of alienation would have to be addressed among the local populace. The govt. seems to be working on all of these with scope for improvement in all. But it seems to be on right track.

So there it is, Narendra Modi’s govt policy for Kashmir. Next time, someone asks you the question, tell them this long term policy and how it seems to be working.

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