With Prime Minister Narendra Modi back from his European tour, he will need to consider whether he can afford to continue governing India with a home minister who is capable of derailing his policies while he is, figuratively, looking the other way.
For this is what Rajnath Singh has almost managed to do with the notification he issued a fortnight ago that Kashmiri Pandits, who had been driven from their homes during the insurgency of 1989-94, would be resettled in demarcated zones of the Valley in the near future. To understand how much damage he has done it is necessary to examine where Kashmir was headed before the notification and where it could be headed now.
No matter to what one ascribes it, the 70% turnout in the Valley in the December assembly elections showed that Kashmiris were fed up with boycotting elections and wanted to govern themselves instead of letting New Delhi’s local proxies continue to do so.
But an equally emphatic vote in Jammu in favour of a national party, as distinct from a state-centered one, made government by a party that represented only half of the state close to impossible. That was the genesis of the BJP-PDP coalition, and it speaks volumes for the statesmanship of their leaders that the two parties persevered in the search to find common ground for almost three months till they finally found it.
The coalition has opened up the prospect of an entirely different future for Kashmir and the Valley. Six years of successful joint rule will not only heal a 100-year-old Kashmir-Jammu divide, but undermine the communal suspicion and prejudice that underlies the quest for ‘Hindutva’. But it is attempting nothing less than a marriage of opposites, and so has aroused deep misgivings both in the BJP and civil society in Kashmir.
In the Valley Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s wing of the Hurriyat, the moderate one, is seriously affected, because its stated goals are closer to those of the PDP. It was therefore inevitable that members of its executive council would ask him to define an agenda for the movement that was appropriate to the changed circumstances. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Mirwaiz did not immediately do so. This allowed a string of unforeseen events to take the issue out of his hands.
Three developments have done this: The release of Masarat Alam from years on end of imprisonment without trial; Indian TV channels’ cynical use of this and every second statement or action of the new government to provoke a hyper-nationalistic reaction from its audiences, and Rajnath Singh’s notification about land for the Pandits.
Alam’s release breathed new life into the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat (G) just when it too was facing marginalisation. The Indian media’s jingoistic reaction to it strengthened support for it, and the Union home ministry notification confirmed that the BJP had beat only a tactical retreat from its long-term goal of ‘saffronising’ the Valley. When a public meeting called to welcome Geelani on his return to the Valley after several months turned into an anti-Indian rally, complete with a few Pakistani flags, and the Mirwaiz still did not come out with an agenda for the moderates, the inevitable happened — more than half of his party defected to the Hurriyat (G). Since then political developments in Kashmir have acquired a momentum of their own.
The re-arrest of Geelani and Alam, and the claim of the BJP in Jammu that ‘they got it done’, have gone some way towards discrediting the PDP in the Valley, and put Ram Madhav and even Modi on the defensive within their own party. The subsequent death of a 25-year-old stone-thrower in Tral at the hands of the Kashmir Police and the CRPF has further strengthened the Hurriyat (G)’s claim to be the sole fighter for freedom in the Valley.
The damage does not end there. The television coverage of Geelani’s reception and the Indian media’s over-reaction to the Pakistani flags raised by some demonstrators have revived the hope in Islamabad that Kashmiris are once again willing to resume their struggle for secession. Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Jamaat-ud Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, has not only issued another call for jihad but, more disturbingly, has claimed that his aims and those of the government are one.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has acted promptly to limit the damage, arresting the policemen who fired into the protesters in Tral and ordering an inquiry. But the boy who died cannot be brought back to life, and no amount of rationalisation will convince any Kashmiri, or anyone with an ounce of humanity in him, that the answer to stones is bullets.
Knowing this, the Hurriyat (G) will raise more Pakistani flags and do its utmost to get some more stone-throwers killed. The fate of the coalition, and of the PDP in the Valley, will therefore depend largely upon its success in preventing a repeat of the Tral killing and focusing public attention on the issues that brought it to power — flood relief, responsive governance and economic development. It will also depend upon the BJP’s capacity to prevent its hawks from making common cause with TRP-hungry elements in the media to derail the new government before it has found its feet.
Prem Shankar Jha is a senior political commentator
The views expressed by the author are personal