Politics

Modi’s Test Is to Keep Kashmir out of Narrow Electoral Politics

The BJP may be inclined to fuel hyper Hindu nationalist sentiment by making Pakistan a villain during the UP election campaign. To prove himself a true statesmen, the prime minister must fight this temptation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti at a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti at a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI

In his recent radio address Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that those who are using children as fodder for violent protests in Kashmir will eventually have to take responsibility for such actions. If one were to extend a similar argument to the violent gau raksha groups in different parts of the country led by radicalised youth of the Hindutva brigade, the BJP leadership will eventually have to take responsibility for unleashing such a frenzy of violence associated with cow protection.

You may wonder what the link is between the youth protesting in Kashmir and the gau raksha groups in Central and North India. Shujaat Bukhari, columnist and editor of the Srinagar-based daily Rising Kashmir, says Kashmiris were largely insulated from the communal politics of north, central and western India. There was hardly any violence in the Kashmir Valley during the partition. Bukhari says even the Gujarat riots did not provoke the same intensity of reaction in Kashmir as it did in other parts of India.

But things have changed somewhat in recent years, he argues. For instance, the Kashmiris were impacted a lot by the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri last year for allegedly keeping beef in his house. Similar incidents in other parts of India, including Jammu, have provoked sharp reactions in the Valley. This is something new and not seen before, says Bukhari.

Bukhari’s observations echo the views expressed by other Kashmiri intellectuals and politicians who agree that a new narrative of “Muslim Kashmir versus Hindu India” is playing out below the surface. This is contrary to the traditional narrative of “secular Kashmir opting for secular India” and not theocratic Pakistan after partition. People’s Democratic Party leader Muzzafar Hussain Baig argues that this spirit continued until the 1980s, when politics in Kashmir solely revolved around the reinstatement of Sheikh Abdullah and autonomy as per the conditions of accession to India. However, there are now signs of religious radicalisation among the younger Kashmiris, which prompted chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to publicly ask, “Do you want Kashmir to have the kind of azaadi that people are seeking in Syria or Libya?” Her obvious reference to the anarchic, ISIS-led political forces in those countries was not lost on anyone.

Given this emerging reality, Modi and the BJP/Sangh leadership will have to be particularly mindful that they do not cynically exploit for domestic electoral gains the current impasse in Kashmir and the necessary role of Paksitan in seeking a solution. It could be very tempting for Modi and Amit Shah to fuel hyper Hindu nationalist sentiment by making Pakistan a villain during the UP elections due early 2017. This would be totally self-defeating and will not help the cause of finding a long term solution to Kashmir.

The opposition parties’ delegation led by Omar Abdullah met Modi last week and specifically requested him to ensure that the Kashmir issue is not exploited in the UP elections. The prime minister agreed that all parties must rise above narrow interests on the Kashmir issue. One hopes he will keep his word when the UP election campaign gathers momentum in the months ahead. Given the sheer sensitivity of the current Kashmir situation, what we must absolutely avoid is a statement of the kind made by Shah in Bihar, “If you do not vote the BJP to power, Pakistan will celebrate”. Such a statement would certainly prove disastrous in the context of the current political logjam in Kashmir and the necessary role of Pakistan in resolving it. The BJP in its alliance document with the PDP has specifically agreed to conduct talks with all stakeholders in Kashmir, including the Hurriyat and Pakistan, to find a lasting solution. The Mehbooba sought a specific assurance on this from Modi when she met him in the capital a few days ago.

Indeed, this is a real test of whether Modi would choose to rise above the Sangh parivar’s hyper-nationalist agenda and show statesmanship by not exploiting the vulnerability of Kashmir in the UP elections. It is a tough test for Modi because most polls show that the BJP may not do well in UP and the party is generally running out of ideas. However, it is precisely such situations which throw up statesmen as opposed to petty, self-seeking politicians.