Narendra Modi’s Jammu and Kashmir policy came into play much before he was sworn in as the country’s 15th prime minister. One of Modi’s key advisers quietly conveyed to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was in New Delhi to attend Modi’s May 26 swearing-in ceremony, that he should avoid meeting leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference’s during his stay in the Capital. Contingency plans were ready both in Srinagar and Delhi airports in case the Kashmiri separatists insisted on meeting the Pakistani prime minister, but the situation never arose because Sharif — to be fair to him — did not press hard for any such meeting.
While Modi refused to make any political overtures to the Kashmiri separatist leaders, he shocked the Hurriyat by cancelling the August 25 India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level dialogue after Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit met J&K Democratic Freedom Party leader Shabir Shah on August 18.
The marginalisation of the Hurriyat and the cancellation of the foreign secretary-level dialogue were part of a well-thought-out strategy by Modi. His message was blunt: India will not tolerate Pakistan or its proxies in Jammu & Kashmir. Then — in another direct message to Pakistan — India retaliated strongly to cross-border firing in Jammu in October, and chose a junior diplomat to rebuff Sharif’s Kashmir pitch in the United Nations General Assembly.
Modi’s counter to Pakistan was matched by his personal involvement in tackling the unprecedented floods in the Valley: Along with rolling out disaster management strategies and plans, the government also beefed up the security grid in the strife-torn state. His commiseration with the people of the state on Diwali took place along with a robust counter-insurgency response: As many as 48 terrorists, including 10 suicide attackers from across borders, have been neutralised since July.
Even after the five-phase assembly elections were announced on October 25, Modi promised corruption-free reconstruction of the flood-hit Valley and Jammu. While he spoke of the victory of ballot over bullet in Samba on December 8, the prime minister stuck to his development agenda when he addressed the 11,000-strong gathering in Srinagar the same day.
The J&K election results show a successful culmination of the Centre’s strategy: Voters came out in large numbers both in Jammu and the Valley in spite of the boycott calls by separatists and threats of violence by their Pakistani mentors. The Valley recorded a turnout of 55.61% as compared to 30.17% in 2002. While Srinagar, considered the hub of separatism, recorded a 7% jump from 20% polling in 2008, Sopore, a stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami and separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani saw a jump of nearly 11% from 2008 (19.95%).
That the assembly elections were most keenly contested in the last 24 years was evident as the poll percentage in Jammu jumped from 57.12% (2002) to 76.37% (2014). The only place where the poll percentage marginally dropped was Ladakh, from 75.93% in 2002 to 71.18% in 2014. The large turnout proves that the boycott calls by separatists and the recovery of 20 AK-47 rifles from neutralised terrorists since October 25 have failed to dampen the spirit of voters.
The main beneficiary of the Modi government’s Kashmir strategy is, obviously, the BJP: The party emerged with the largest vote share (23%) in the state, bagging the second highest number of assembly seats (25) and even making inroads into the Muslim-dominated Valley.
In the 2008 assembly elections, the BJP contested 26 seats, polled 16,363 (0.96%) votes out of a total of 1,65,4691 votes in the Valley. The latest poll results show that the BJP polled 47,571 (2.24%) votes out of 21,212,22 votes in the Valley with 2,596 votes (22.52% of the total votes polled) in Habba Kadal assembly segment followed by Shopian 3,384 votes (8.12%), Devsar 3,892 votes (6.79%) and Ameera Kadal 1,359 votes (6.33% of total votes polled). The BJP’s show in Kashmir not only gives the party a pan-India play, it also reveals a longing for development and good governance in the Valley as promised by Modi during the election campaign.
With the election boycott calls by separatists and violence by terrorists failing to deter voters, Pakistan’s problems have been compounded by the marginalisation of the Hurriyat and rise of both the PDP and the BJP. While separatists will have to wait for an opportunity to create trouble, Pakistan’s only option now is to keep looking for a chance to instigate violence in the state and question the electorate’s mandate.
If the BJP is part of the new government in the state and by virtue of the fact that it almost matches the PDP in numbers in the assembly, Pakistan runs the unprecedented risk of a J&K assembly adopting a resolution condemning violence from across the border. Even a government led by the PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will not be of any help to Pakistan because he celebrated with gusto both Republic Day and Independence Day in Srinagar during his earlier tenure.
And, unlike the National Conference, the PDP has also shown that it has the capacity to politically take on the Hurriyat. Even if the BJP joins hands with the National Conference and forms a government with the support of Sajjad Lone’s J&K Peoples’ Conference and the Independents, the rise of the BJP from one seat in 2002 to 11 in 2008 and 25 in 2014 has ensured a changed political complexion in the state, at least for the next six years as funds needed for reconstruction will have to come from the Modi government. If the BJP with its electoral allies manage to deliver on good governance and improve the economy of the state — rather than get derailed by the politics over the abrogation of Article 370 — the dark clouds over the state may finally dissipate after three decades of violence and misery.