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Friday, April 11, 2014

modi's kashmir

Second Guessing Modi's Kashmir Policy
http://www.kashmirtimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=31013
By Firdaus Ahmed
Modi made two trips to J&K as part of his electioneering. Since J&K will at best yield up one seat for his party, this is unlikely to have propelled him to J&K twice over. J&K is useful for him to get votes elsewhere in India. In his speeches he mentioned two aspects that caught the headlines: one that he would continue Vajpayee's policy of humaneness; and second that he welcomed a debate on Article 370. This has largely attracted positive commentary. This article suggests that this is to be gullible. 

It is true that Modi has not played to the nationalist gallery. But that is of a piece with his campaign strategy: keep his agenda under wraps in order not to have a front build up against him. This he has managed to do and the pundits have it that Delhi is his to take. It is clear that his neoliberal agenda that will probably put Manmohan's to shame, countenances a period of relative stability. This will enable visible economic gains and allow him the breathing space for legitimacy. Therefore, keeping the lid on Kashmir would be a practical thing to do. 

By this yardstick, his reference to Vajpayee has already helped calm Kashmiri apprehensions. One aspect of Vajpayee's tenure was its reaching out to Pakistan. But it bears recall that not only was he rebuffed at Kargil by Pakistan, but more importantly he was not able to carry his own side along at Agra later. The problems Vajpayee faced have not gone away. 

With Nawaz Sharif back at the helm and apparently stronger in Pakistan, he would be able to follow through with his realigning of Pakistan's India policy. He has not succeeded so far since he was dealing with a lame duck prime minister on the Indian side. Modi will be a more surefooted interlocutor and an opening up of the commercial and trade links in the neoliberal model can help take the relationship forward. 

This expectation faces the challenge of a new front for proxy war opening up in Afghanistan. So long as the two states faceoff in Afghanistan, the relations can still progress. However, a spillover from their Afghanistan contest into Baluchistan and Kashmir can but be a step away. How they manage to avert the spillover will determine if they can mend fences to a degree. 

A quiet Kashmir will demand its price for playing along. Modi will be more than willing to meet them half way. The logic will be less to do with Kashmir or external policy, but more to do with the changes in India's complexion that his tenure will seek. The measures to distance Kashmir from the 'mainstream', while appreciated in Kashmir, will have an underside for the rest of India in terms of colouring it a deeper hue of saffron. 

The argument that India is for Hindus will ring louder in light of the Kashmiri Muslims being given their corner under the sun. Implications for the rest of non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims are self-evident. The refrain will be that the Muslims have got Pakistan and now they have been given Kashmir, so they had better behave themselves in their assigned role now on as second class citizens in a Hindu India. 

The reference to Article 370 was perhaps a precursor. The BJP manifesto has echoed it promising revision. This will be in the form of reducing Kashmir to a rump state inhabited by its Muslims, in order that the same convergence between religion and territory inform not only in the remainder of J&K but also the rest of India. 

This involves concessions to Kashmiris. So far several forces have been against any such ideas. For instance, any rethink on AFSPA was shot down by the army during the UPA tenure. The Congress forever fearful of its own shadow since the 1962 debacle allowed the tacit veto. Modi would have no such hangups. With Sharif assuring him on the Pakistani flank, he would be able to move with greater surety and alacrity. 

The army can be expected to be quiescent since a government that wears its nationalism on its sleeve will be taken at its word, unlike the Congress government with its 'soft' image. Modi having built up an image as a 'strongman' will unlikely be seen as 'selling' Indian interests down the Jhelum. In case the army is less than forthcoming, its silence will likely be ensured by a move that Modi can be expected to take early in his tenure. 

Using the Naresh Chandra committee recommendation for cover he will likely 'kick upstairs' the current army chief as permanent chairman chiefs of staff committee. Such a change had been rumoured recently. Modi will then kill two birds with one stone. He, with VK Singh possibly as an MP by then on his shoulder, can be rid of Bikram Singh, and thereby upset the much talked about chain of succession that was allegedly set up by the Congress government way back during the JJ Singh tenure as chief. Recall innuendos to this affect had surfaced during the VK Singh fracas over his DOB (date of birth). He would also be able to move in a general of choice, who may be a closet supporter. Since these moves will be reminiscent of the sacking of Admiral Bhagwat early in the tenure of the last NDA dispensation, it can be assumed that all state institutions will get the message and fall in line. After all, precedence exists of their crawling when they were merely asked to bend during Indira's Emergency. 

Since the measures will be apparently in Kashmiri interest, they are liable to be mistaken for an olive branch. The positive reception will be used by Modi to dispel his anti-minority image and thereby set the stage for his more radical reset of Indian state and society. He may even pend these latter moves to his second tenure after assuring himself of reelection by 'solving' the two problems that plagued the UPA in its second leg: the economy and Pakistan. 

Pakistan, taking a share of credit for gains made by Kashmiris, will walk away from the Kashmir issue, particularly if there is a tradeoff in which India eases up on Afghanistan and allows Pakistan greater strategic space in that direction. This is not unthinkable if the real motives of the religious nationalists are seen. These are essentially internal politics focused. With Pakistan bought off, Indian Muslims will be isolated in a phase in which they may be more willing to scout for external support. 

In summation, Modi may just be able to pull off a success in Kashmir. The apprehension here is that it will be at a cost, that of India's secular crown. Though no case is made for holding Kashmir hostage to India's wider minority's future, such linkages forged in their mind's eye by forces that are poised to take over India. But only if the wizened voter will oblige! 

(The author blogs at Think South Asia: http://www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in/)


News Updated at : Saturday, April 12, 2014

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