Modi should respond to Mehbooba Mufti’s sentiments and take bold steps in Kashmir

The BJP should focus on the core of Mufti’s remarks, and not the debate on nationalism and patriotism triggered by them, as it fashions its next steps in Jammu and Kashmir. There is no time to lose, given the current circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir, and the prime minister must respond to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s overtures, brushing aside whatever reservations there may be within his party

columns Updated: Aug 05, 2017 18:12 IST
Hindustan Times
Mehbooba Mufti,Kashmir,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti during an event, Jammu & Kashmir (File Photo)(Nitin Kanotra/HT)

When the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party joined hands in March 2015 to form a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, some had seen it as an alliance that could possibly transform the future of the violence-wracked state.

These were the same elements who thought the move amounted to the BJP diluting its core ideology and moving towards greater pragmatism in order to broaden its base across the country.

After more than two years, the unnatural relationship between the two parties remains riven by mutual suspicions. Thus, one wasn’t very surprised when Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti made an impassioned call for retaining the special rights and privileges of the state by not tinkering with Article 35A of the Constitution.

Mufti’s remarks – that there would be no one to hold aloft the Indian tricolour in Kashmir if Article 35A is challenged – immediately triggered a debate on nationalism and patriotism. That wasn’t unexpected in these times of ultra-nationalism driven by hyper-ventilating TV channels that are constantly on the lookout for such divisive issues.

But beyond all the heat and dust, I feel there was a lot of sense in what Mufti said – that challenging Article 35A weakens those who trust India and join elections in Kashmir to live honourably in the state, and that it doesn’t target the separatists who are “totally secessionist”.

The BJP should really focus on the core of Mufti’s remarks, and not the debate on nationalism and patriotism triggered by them, as it fashions its next steps in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mufti has, once again, shown courage by talking about her party’s commitment to the Indian union – albeit in a roundabout manner. It may not be easy for politicians sitting in the comfort of Delhi to realise how difficult it is for a Kashmiri politician to make such a commitment in the current circumstances. Therefore, all this talk by some BJP leaders and even the Congress of Mufti showing disrespect to the flag should be treated as what it really is – humbug.

Several other developments, both at the national level and in Jammu and Kashmir, have also created the right atmosphere for a bold move by the BJP to address the Kashmir issue.

The security forces have scored a string of successes against militant groups in the state, the latest being the killing of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Dujana, who had given security agencies the slip on several occasions. The activities of the militant groups have been controlled to a large extent though they continue to pose a threat.

At the national level, the BJP is in virtually an unassailable position, thanks to a weak and ineffectual opposition. The recent formation of a coalition government in Bihar will only strengthen the party for the next round of polls, including the general election of 2019.

Pakistan, which has always had a central, and negative, role in the Kashmir issue, is currently grappling with domestic political uncertainty following the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister by a populist and activist Supreme Court.

After failing to make headway in his efforts to normalise relations with India and after constant run-ins with the Pakistan Army, Sharif had taken to raking up the Kashmir issue – the favourite bugbear of Pakistani politicians – at international forums and had even referred to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani as a “freedom fighter”.

But with Sharif now more focused on ensuring that his PML-N party retains power in Pakistan’s general election next year and on sorting out his legal problems, there could be less scope for the government to meddle in the Kashmir issue.

All these factors could work to the BJP’s advantage if it showed the courage of framing a new approach towards Jammu and Kashmir, the entire state and not just the parts where the party has a support base. The timing is just right for the central government to start a real and meaningful dialogue with the state government and all Kashmiri stakeholders to find a way out.

This process could be accompanied by a result-oriented package for Jammu and Kashmir that, once again, should benefit all regions of the state that we are so fond of referring to as an ‘atoot ang’ (inseparable part). This package should also be realistic and have a realistic timeframe for deliverables.

Much attention is focussed on the separatists, especially the Hurriyat, whenever the issue of a new approach for Kashmir comes up. It has been proven over time, especially in recent years, that such leaders may no longer be relevant – some are content to toe the Pakistani line, others are just out of touch with modern day realities and still others are considered influential but do not actually shape the discourse.

If the separatists are unwilling to join any new move in Kashmir, so be it. The government and the BJP should be willing to move without them.

At the same time, even if such a new approach were to meet with a modicum of success, the government and security agencies should not let down their guard in any way.

Recent developments have shown that both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have their eyes on Kashmir at a time when their so-called jihad is showing signs of fatigue in other parts of the world.

The Islamic State has created a new cell – Ansarul Khilafah Jammu Kashmir – that is focused on the state and has urged supporters on the ground to prepare for attacks. Al-Qaeda recently named former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa as the head of its cell in Kashmir, the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind.

It is easy to scoff at such developments, given that security officials insist both groups have no actual presence in Jammu and Kashmir. The bigger problem is that both have their eyes on the Kashmir issue. Also, given that the Islamic State doesn’t function like other terror groups while recruiting and creating cells, there can be no room for complacency that will allow such terror organisations to capitalise on the disaffection and frustration among Kashmiri youngsters.

Furthermore, the Pakistani military is known to step up meddling in Kashmir, especially in supporting terrorists, whenever there is a weak government in Islamabad or when it wants to divert attention from domestic issues. This too is something that security planners must guard against and the BJP must factor into its plans for Kashmir.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his capacity for out-of-the-box and bold initiatives, though the results from such moves have not always lived up to everyone’s expectations. There is no time to lose, given the current circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir, and the prime minister must respond to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s overtures, brushing aside whatever reservations there may be within his party.

While doing so, the prime minister should not be fettered by the outcomes of past initiatives on Kashmir, whether by the BJP or the Congress, for the prize is his for the taking.

First Published: Aug 05, 2017 16:10 IST