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Modi’s Kashmir Policy

Wednesday 3 September 2014, by Tapan Bose

Narendra Modi calling off the Foreign Secretary level talks should not have come as a surprise, particularly after his August 12 speeches in Kargil and Leh. During his visit to Jammu, Ladakh and the valley, indeed since he became Prime Minister, he has given clear indications regarding his plans for Kashmir and his position on Pakistan. In Siachen he told soldiers and officers, Pakistan "has lost the strength to fight conventional war, but continues to engage in a proxy war through terrorism". He emphasised his government would not compromise on the Siachen Glacier, rejecting arguments of military experts for its demilitarisation. He warned Pakistan that Indian soldiers were ready to rebuff any attempt by Pakistani soldiers on any part of Jammu and Kashmir. That drum beat was echoed in the aggressive bravado of the new army chief’s euphemistic assertion of the Indian army’s response to the escalating LOC fire-play would be ’adequate’.

In Leh, Modi dressed in the traditional Ladakhi tunic, ’goncha’, and cap, wooed the people of Ladakh. "Past PMs rarely ever visited Kashmir. I’ve come twice in two months alone because of your love." This was Modi’s second visit in 38 days to J&K, a sort of a thanksgiving to the people of Ladakh for voting the BJP’s candidate to victory. From BJP colours bedecked Leh, Modi went to Kargil, again festooned with BJP flags. While inaugurating the 44 MW Chutak hydro-power project he reminded the people of Kargil that he was the first PM to visit Kargil since Pakistani attack in 1999. This is election year, and Modi is keen to take BJP’s winning streak beyond three Lok Sabha seats. He is looking at 44+ in the coming state assembly election. Clearly Shia Kargil, Buddhist Ladakh and Hindu Jammu are important targets. Between May and August, the state received three visits. Also, it should be remembered Modi had refused to accept a "skull cap" from a Muslim cleric during his September 2011 Sadbhavna Fast in Ahmadabad.

Isolating Pakistan in the region

Let us examine, whether Modi’s invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was a real indication of willingness to start a new chapter in the India-Pakistan relationship or nothing more than part of a programme to invite all the heads of government of SAARC to attend his swearing in ceremony. After the Delhi visit, sections of the Pakistani media had pointed out that Modi had shown no special attention to Nawaz Sharif, but had upbraided him on ’terrorism’ issue. This was despite the knowledge that Nawaz Sharif had accepted the invitation against the wishes of sections of the army and political groups in Pakistan. Also, Sharif had risen above the petty affront of PM Manmohan Singh’s absence from his own swearing in ceremony. Pakistani media had highlighted the Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh’s comments to the press that the bilateral meeting between Modi and Sharif was "less warm" than that of Modi’s discussions with other foreign guests.

Again on August 15, three days after his visit to Leh and Kargil, Modi speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his maiden Independence Day speech, departed from convention by making no mention of Pakistan. This was all the more curious as the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan were to meet ten days later on August 25. In contrast, India’s other South Asian neighbours such as Nepal was mentioned several times. He emphasised the need to support SAARC which seems has become Modi’s pet foreign policy project. Over the past three months Modi government has been investing more time and attention on other South Asian neighbours. This suggests not a policy to reach out to Pakistan but a policy to isolate Pakistan in the neighbourhood.

The RSS agenda on Kashmir

Many believed Modi, secure with his landslide win, has better chances than Atal Behari Vajpayee of dealing with Pakistan. There is no historical basis for believing that the rightwing is pro-peace. Peacemaking involves making compromises, where both parties give up some of their hard positions. Modi cannot go against the Hindutva brigade, which does not believe that Pakistan has any legitimate claim on Kashmir. Dr. Shayama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Jana Sangh, which later became the BJP, was the "first martyr" of the agitation for repeal of Article 370.

As we may recall, in 2002, after Modi was elected as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the RSS started a campaign for dividing Jammu and Kashmir into three States on religious lines, especially a separate Jammu State carved out of Jammu and Kashmir that would belong to the Hindus. A few days later, VHP President Ashok Singhal announced that the Muslim population of the proposed Jammu state would have to leave to make Jammu an entirely Hindu state. The RSS launched the Jammu Kashmir National Front to safeguard the interest of Hindus in the state. For many Muslims of Jammu, it brought back the memory of the October 1947 state organised killing of Muslims enmasse by the armies of Maharaja Hari Singh, who was mentored by M. S. Golwalkar, the revered ideologue of Hindutva and Akhand Bharat. At Sardar Patel’s request, Golwalkar visited Kashmir in October 1947 to persuade Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to "Bharat". It was under the advice of Golwalkar, the Maharaja had disarmed and retrenched all Muslim personnel of his state’s army in 1947.

Talking peace with Pakistan and working out a political solution to the Kashnir dispute is not top priority issue of Modi’s agenda. He is focused on consolidating control over all the states of India. If he has to achieve the formidable task of getting 44 + seats in Jammu and Kashmir, he knows that he has to get almost all the seats in J & K assembly from Jammu and Ladakh. Hard core Jammu Hindus and Ladakhi Buddhist, who are his primary constituency, will not be impressed by his peace talks with Pakistan. He made his strongest anti Pakistan comment in Jammu and Kashmir, not in Delhi, where he could have legitimately criticised Pakistan for the continued violation of ceasefire in the LoC. This election will communalise Jammu and Kashmir far more than the parliamentary election. Communalisation was initiated by Modi during his parliamentary election campaign in Jammu where he brought in Pakistan for the first time in the election campaign. He called Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal AK 49 for his 49 day stint in power in Delhi. Modi likened A. K. Anthony, then Defence Minister to machine guns wielded by Pakistani terrorists, punning with the common A.K initials of the man and the automatic weapon.

The cancellation of the Foreign Secretary level talks was expected, as it was becoming an inconvenient commitment. Its implications though are likely to be detrimental for both India -Pakistan relations and the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir. There was nothing new in the Pakistan government inviting the Hurriyat leaders for talks at the Pakistan High Commission including before bilateral talks. Ever since the Hurriyat was set up as an open over ground organisation of Kashmiri political groups advocating Kashmiri peoples’ right to self determination, the Hurriyart and Pakistani political leaders and diplomats have been meeting. The Hurriyat-Pakistan dialogues are non-official confidence building measures. These have added a sense of openness and helped in building people’s confidence on the inter-state dialogues.

Cutting out the voice of Kashmiris

The acceptance of the Hurriyat as a unofficial representative body of Kashmiri people by both India and Pakistan was a significant development in democratising the inter-state dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir. This was an achievement of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy which since 1994 has been campaigning for the inclusion of representatives of Kashmiri people in the Indo- Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir. Allowing the leaders of Hurriyat to visit Pakistan, European state capitals and the USA and presenting their position on ways to resolve the dispute was a progressive step which recognised that the voices of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir had to be given a place in the dialogues. The involvement of the civil society of Jammu and Kashmir, India and Pakistan in several non-official and semi official dialogues and discussions had contributed to the change in the official positions of India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Pakistan, in its official as well as back channel dialogues had agreed to seek for a solution away from its earlier fixed position on "Plebiscite". The Musharraf proposal promised the most progressive ’out of the box’ solution to date.

With the new government telling Pakistan they have no business talking to the Hurriyat leaders, the India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir is being pushed back to the volatile tension of the 1990s. Importantly, it signals to the Kashmiris the return of the old regime of intolerance. Opposition to New Delhi will be dubbed treason.