Only inclusive politics works in Jammu and Kashmir

  • Arjimand Hussain Talib
  • Updated: Nov 13, 2014 15:07 IST

With assembly elections just round the corner, Jammu and Kashmir is in the midst of an interesting political upheaval.

The killing of two young men in Srinagar on November 3 at the hands of an army unit once again made people take to the streets and vent their anger. A paramilitary vehicle was burnt down in the heart of Srinagar's tourist hub - the Boulevard - on November 8 by angry residents when a father and son were killed in an accident involving the same vehicle.

These incidents highlight the perils of impunity in Kashmir. They must also provide some insights on why a large number of Kashmiris continue to see engagement with the electoral process inconsequential in establishing a credible rule of law.

On the political front, these elections could mark a watershed in the state's history. With the BJP going full steam in assuming full or shared power in the state, the stark battle lines drawn between it and the state's political parties convey a significant message.

Contrary to the earlier belief that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) would forge an alliance with the BJP in the state, it is now becoming clear that the political and the ideological divergences between the two parties make such an alliance improbable.

Similarly, the National Conference (NC) seems to be wary about a pre-poll understanding with the BJP. Although certain voices within both these parties are open to the possibility of a post-poll alliance with the ruling party, the complexities of the divergent political agendas seem to make that difficult.

What, however, is significant is the cosying up of Sajjad Lone's People's Conference (PC) and the BJP. Although the Monday meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lone is politically path-breaking, in electoral terms this proximity may not mean a workable political alliance actually leading to a joint government formation.

The question of Lone assuming the chief minister's role looks improbable as well, given the unlikelihood of his party's improved electoral performance.

Even as the BJP is expected to marginally improve its electoral performance in these assembly elections, Lone's open handshake with the BJP is unlikely to go down well with its support base in north Kashmir.

Beyond these electoral gymnastics, the real challenge confronting the broader Srinagar-New Delhi political relationship comes from the ideological showdown that may unfold between the Sangh parivar and a defensive Kashmiri Muslim identity. The path of such a showdown would be painful and fruitless.

What, however, would be needed is enlightened reconciliation between Srinagar and New Delhi - something that would need the foresight and statesmanship of the AB Vajpayee era.

The BJP's avowed mission of "complete Kashmiri assimilation" into the Indian Union is no ordinary ambition. It has re-stated the abrogation of the Article 370 as its principal political plank in J-K. It makes no bones about its intention to take away whatever unique position Kashmir's political status within the Indian Union has today.

A showdown between the Sangh upsurge and Kashmiri religio-political nationalism will be a colossal loss. It could bring to life the ghosts of the two-nation theory in manifestations which may not be fully imaginable today.

It could give birth to renewed religio-militarism and a reactive and violent insurgency. Worse, the middle spaces of moderation, mutual accommodation and respect would disappear. Extremists and anarchists may dictate the political agenda in New Delhi as well as in Srinagar.

For the separatists a showdown would not be an ideological victory - as some politico-religious leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani seem to suggest. What it would symbolise is their inability to devise workable political strategies to meet the requirements of the changed times. For other secular-nationalist separatist forces, it would mean a difficult struggle to place themselves in the equation between the two rights.

A serious politico-religious tussle between the Sangh ideology and Kashmir could even open the gates for the myriad jihadi forces now waiting in the wings across the LoC in the post-Nato era in Afghanistan. There are already signs of renewed and hardened Pakistani political parties' and media's approach on Kashmir.

For Srinagar and New Delhi, a relationship of respectful co-existence is possible if devoid of extremities. That co-existence should have no room for violence, domination and subversion of genuine democracy and rule of law. Such co-existence will also have to factor in the existing political divide and the long-entrenched Kashmiri aspirations for dignity and identity.

The idea of inclusiveness - despite all its imperfections - defines modern civility. Multiculturalism, with all its intrinsic flaws, is the preferred way of life in today's world. These principles alone will serve to promote peaceful co-existence between Srinagar and New Delhi. These principles are in the interests of Indian Muslims as well.

Kashmir will take a long time to recover from the economic and psychological shock of the September floods. It cannot afford a situation that will inflict further misery. Statesmanship must prevail over narrow politics.

(Arjimand Hussain Talib is a Srinagar-born development economist and the author of Omar Abdullah: The Burdens of Inheritance)

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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