Following the most violent year in Kashmir in over a decade, the re-election of Narendra Modi and the appointment of Amit Shah as home minister are causing deep anxiety and speculation in the Valley.
The BJP invoked and exploited the bloodshed in south Kashmir to fuel the Lok Sabha campaign, and many fear that it will prolong the cycle of violence here as it consolidates its power in the rest of India. The threat of the government removing or tinkering with Articles 370 and 35A also looms over Kashmir.
In a recent interview to TV18, Shridhar Damle, long-time RSS watcher and co-author of Brotherhood in Saffron, said that the Sangh’s understanding is that while “it is very difficult legally and constitutionally” to scrap Article 370, it “is hopeful for the abrogation of Article 35A, which really is the soul of Article 370. They want abrogation of Article 35A to become a public debating point in order to build pressure.”
On the other hand, some political analysts in Kashmir believe the state has seen the worst of it – with a confident BJP government now restored, the pressure might ease on Kashmir in Modi’s second term. They believe that some form of dialogue may be initiated within Kashmir, and even peace moves with Pakistan are possible in Modi’s second term.
Senior journalist and Rising Kashmir political editor Faisul Yaseen said the hard line on Kashmir would continue for some time. “The BJP understands that the Balakot airstrikes proved to be a game changer for the party, so I don’t see any flexibility on Kashmir anytime soon,” said Yaseen.
On the contentious and sensitive issue of Article 370, 35A, which BJP raked up during the elections, he believes the BJP government would definitely tinker with both. However, he added, the central government may not do away with special status of the state completely.
Days after Modi’s re-election, on May 26, Jammu and Kashmir BJP president Ravinder Raina told reporters in Jammu that the party is in favour of “early abrogation” of Articles 370 and 35A.
“We wish the early abrogation of both these constitutional provisions,” said Raina, adding that Article 370 is “the biggest injustice with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, while Article 35A is a constitutional blunder which was included through back door without the consent of Parliament and the president”.
According to Yaseen, partial modifications to Article 370 are possible, but the BJP government is likely to use the judiciary to bring about these changes. He says in order to appease the US, Modi may try to mend relations with Pakistan and “that may indirectly lead to a dialogue on Kashmir with some stakeholders in the Valley”.
Aijaz Ashraf Wani, author of the recently published book What Happened to Governance in Kashmir? sees two possibilities for Kashmir now that the BJP has consolidated its power with a thumping majority in the recent elections that were completely fought on the ideology of Hindutva and nationalism.
“BJP has taken the issue of nationalism, Hindutva and Kashmir almost to the extreme. Now if that is going to continue as the guiding principle for them, then the only way forward is war with Pakistan, building a Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370, etc. Because less than that has already been done,” Wani, who teaches political science at the University of Kashmir, said.
Difficult times ahead
According to Wani, extreme polarisation, coupled with the rhetoric of muscular nationalism, and the military means to deal with Kashmir problem has already been utilised to the fullest extent between 2014 and 2019.
“If the same continues for another five years, then it is a disaster waiting top happen; particularly for Kashmir as it will be used as a mobilisation strategy by the BJP to garner votes across India,” he said. “It would be difficult times ahead for Kashmir in that scenario.”
Alternately, Wani adds, one can also expect, with BJP getting another mandate, which was their immediate goal using all the possible means, “maybe there is now a policy shift”.
“While the use of military means, squeezing the Hurriyat among other such methods may continue to be employed, one could also expect an outreach for Kashmir,” Wani pointed out, adding that a lot will also depend on the results of the coming state assembly elections and the stand that the Valley-based regional parties will take.
“It would be difficult for BJP to do something like abrogating Article 370 if all the regional parties show a united front against it. So while the rhetoric may continue, it is not practical,” he says. “One only has to wait for some time before things get a bit clearer.”
The statesman’s burden
Political analyst and senior Greater Kashmir columnist Zahid G. Muhammad believes it is too early to comment on what another BJP-led Centre will mean for Kashmir. Nonetheless, he said, there are possibilities of Modi stripping away the RSS brand of politics. Instead, he said, he believes Modi would like to be looked at as a global leader, remembered in history as a statesman – a similar urge that had also driven Vajpayee with his Kashmir peace initiatives.
To achieve that, Muhammad said, “We may as well see him striving for peace in this region.”
According to senior professor and political analyst Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, who teaches in the department of politics and governance, Central University of Kashmir, the BJP has always contested elections with a clear ideological position that the state shouldn’t have any special constitutional position.
“But as and when the BJP comes to power and forms the government, there has also been a certain pragmatism in their handling of Kashmir. Even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister, we saw they have gone beyond Congress regimes in the past to hold talks and make moves towards a resolution,” Baba said.
However, Baba added that Modi is different from Vajpayee and that he likes to take his own decisions.
“There has been a lot of talk around Article 370 from BJP during elections. They have created much hype around its removal during election campaigning, and now that they’ve formed the government again, they can’t keep completely calm about it either,” he said.
“But much would depend on what kind of position the courts takes on Article 370 and Article 35A. Also, there can be opposition to such moves from within their own coalition partners and in the parliament as well.”
Baba also thinks that there’s a possibility that Modi, who has been seen as a divider and a polarising figure so far, is likely to try and make an attempt to change his image in order to leave a better legacy behind.
Towards this end, Kashmir could play a crucial role, he said.
“In the second term, he can make some corrections and I won’t be surprised if they go for a peace process with Pakistan on Kashmir issue,” Baba said, adding that peace-building is in India’s long-term interests, including peaceful relations with Pakistan – vital for the stability of India’s economy.
Some complex signals in the recent past hint at the possibilities of some peace moves, Baba said. These, according to him, cannot be ruled out entirely and could indicate the BJP and RSS may not want to carry the burden of Kashmir issue for too long.
“I think even the RSS doesn’t want India to be constrained for long by internal problems and issues with the neighbours like Pakistan. I remember sometime back, the RSS general secretary also gave a statement saying that ‘people of Pakistan are our brothers’,” the professor said.
“Moving forward on Kashmir with such understanding would ultimately be beneficial for them and the whole region as well.”