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Bjp's Soft Mantra On Kashmir

By Expert Author: Suba Chandran

In the run up to the general elections slated to begin from April 7, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which is seemingly in a better position than it was in 2009, has started mellowing down on crucial issues such as Kashmir. This may not be an out of way approach for tackling problem like Jammu and Kashmir, but given the hotchpotch mandate that has been thrown by the Indian electorate for the last over two decades, the bigger parties like Congress and BJP are dependent on smaller parties which obviously have divergent views on crucial issues confronting India.

During the Lalkar rally in Jammu, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had made a bid to open up a debate on Article 370, asking to look into the losses and against it has made for Jammu and Kashmir. This was seen as departure from BJP’s hard-line and rhetorical approach vis-a-vis Article 370 that guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union. BJP’s core ideology has been centred around the abrogation of Article 370 as it demands complete integration of the state with India. However, Modi was tactical in carving out a space for a larger debate on the issue which in past has not been the practice with Modi and his ilk in the right wing party.

Similarly, another top leader from BJP, Arun Jaitley on Monday invoked the much talked about “mantra” of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to deal with Kashmir issue within the ambit of “insaniyat” (humanity). This too was a cautious way to fend off a question at a press conference at Srinagar airport as his attention was drawn towards the fact that those challenging the Indian rule in Kashmir were not ready to talk within the contours of Indian Constitution, which inter alia was a precondition for any dialogue between separatists and Delhi. However, by stretching it to “insaniyat”, Vajpayee had not only earned goodwill but also expanded the scope for political engagement in Kashmir.

Contrary to what cynics and those who believe in a status quo position, to hail Vajpayee as a mover and shaker with regard to India and Pakistan confrontation, which obviously opened up space for discussing Kashmir as well, is not completely out of place. The political parties, whether in separatist or mainstream camp, should not shy away from throwing the weight behind a genuine political process. Rejecting anything and everything at the outset is not part of conflict resolution. It is true that New Delhi does not recognize the facts on ground but that does not mean that promoters of dialogue should give in. Terms and conditions should be equal on both sides and even if those in power in Delhi do not want to concede that will further expose their rigidity and highhandedness.

In the last over 65 years, New Delhi has a dubious record of betrayals and whenever a genuine movement for realizing political aspirations has come up it has been described as sponsored by Pakistan. Even as there was little progress during Vajpayee’s time but a sense of dialogue, reconciliation and peace prevailed to a great extent. He along with Pakistan’s military ruler Parvez Musharraf nudged through a very tardy road that had only been used as a path by Indians and Pakistanis to outwit each other. Vajpayee deserves credit for moving out of way to shake hands with someone who was the architect of Kargil. That surely paid off and the Confidence Building Measures such as cross Line of Control (LoC) bus service and trade began after six decades. This surely was not an end in itself but certainly means to the end for a dignified resolution.

Engagement with a section of separatist leaders in Kashmir also began during his time, which in itself was the recognition of the fact that there is a dominant voice, which needed to be heard. Though Manmohan Singh as head of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government did move initially and even played a role to implement certain decisions, but the process was derailed soon after Mumbai attacks in 2008. Mumbai was perhaps not the only reason to see an end to the process which could not be resumed even as the new government in Pakistan headed by Nawaz Sharief offered to pick up the threads from 1999 Lahore declaration made by him and Vajpayee. In fact the decline in the level of violence from 2003 to 2008 played a substantial role to push the process and for that Musharraf’s move to turn the tap off the Jehadi camps cannot be ignored. However, New Delhi never credited Pakistan with playing a role in pushing the violence down even as the infiltration figures spoke in support of that. Similarly the talks between separatists and Delhi did not reach a point where both sides could tell the people that at least there was a common ground to meet.

Surely there was opposition to the four-point formula floated by Musharraf, which according to insiders was palatable for New Delhi as well, but in view of the developments that engulfed the relations on both sides and also the strong anti-Musharraf wave in Pakistan derailed any forward movement. The opposition to the formula could be justified on many counts but at the same time it opened up a new chapter in which Kashmir was recognized as a central point to discuss.
Coming back to what Jaitely has said about reaching out to people, one can expect that in case BJP led government comes to power it should not confine this to just managing the numbers by luring alliances with a soft approach over Kashmir. In the past 10 years the BJP has played a dangerous role in creating an atmosphere against Kashmiris and their aspirations.

Its unequivocal opposition to withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and its policy of “crushing” the dominant political sentiment with an iron hand has polluted the space for political engagement. In case it returns to power in Delhi, it will have to shun its anti-Kashmir agenda and pick up the thread from Vajpayee’s policy over Kashmir. It cannot think of crushing the people under the military might. Congress did many blunders not only in past 10 years but also since 1947 and that is why Kashmir continues to burn and threaten the integrity of India. If at all BJP is a core nationalist party and believes in “Insaniyat” as alluded to by Jaitely, it will have to come out of the rhetoric and adopt a humane approach to deal with Kashmir.

For more information, visit: Jammu and Kashmir

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