Those hoping for a turnaround in Kashmir's situation following the two-day visit of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, to Srinagar beginning on Wednesday, will find their high expectations belied sooner than later.
There are indications to suggest that Singh would only play it by ear without making any commitment on the issue at hand. Though officials of the home ministry have drawn a hectic schedule for the minister, his meetings with political, social representatives would primarily be confined to groups that repose faith in the Indian Constitution and are not deviant.
In effect, the separatist Hurriyat leaders and others who seek involvement of Pakistan in the resolution of Kashmir's problems are not welcome. Therein lies the rub. Independent reports coming from the valley are quite alarming. Nearly 50 percent of police posts have been vacated by the regular policemen, and the streets are manned by young boys whose craving for martyrdom for a cause effectively neutralises their fear of law and the state.
People of Kashmir have been walking on the edge. This is in stark contrast to the mood in the valley before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when Narendra Modi clearly emerged as the choice for the country’s prime minister. Though people in the valley did not vote for BJP, they were expecting that a powerful government at the Centre and a strongman as prime minister would make a substantial difference in the lives of average Kashmiris.
In the subsequent State elections as well, the dominant mood in the valley was not hostile towards the BJP, and Modi. Far from it, Modi’s outreach to the valley during the floods was seen as consistent with people’s hope. Like any other state, Jammu and Kashmir has been yearning for development – which can provide jobs for the youth.
The State Assembly elections, however, threw up a bizarre combination of the PDP-BJP – which assumed power under a seasoned leader like Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. And with Mufti’s death, the incompatibility of the PDP-BJP combine only became more prominent, and has been bursting at the seams since, in Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed's tenure as chief minister.
Look at the contrast both the parties present. The PDP’s espousal of Kashmir's cause has often bordered on soft-separatism, while the BJP refuses to recognise Kashmir as an international issue. The PDP pedals the approach of the “healing touch”, while the BJP – with the ideological underpinning of RSS-inspired Hindutva – favours a “muscular approach” to problems which are innately fissiparous.
Given a choice, the BJP would like to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits who were displaced in the recent past. But with the gradual radicalisation of the Kashmiri struggle on religious lines, such a move would evoke strong hostility among the people and would create a 'siege mentality'.
It is precisely in this context that idioms like “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat” – thrown randomly at the people of Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh – have lost their meaning.
As Rajnath Singh had told Firstpost, that "Modi's Kashmir policy is a continuation of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's", it will be interesting to contrast it with the present scenario.
Gone are the days when Vajpayee's innovative phraseology of viewing the Kashmiri problem from the prism - “Insaaniyat ke dayere mein (within the boundary of humanity)”, had won accolades from people of the valley.
There are all indications that political grievances got mutated into a religious war, one in which dialogues are often rendered futile. Indian diplomats are quite alarmed at signals emanating from Pakistan’s army headquarter in Rawalpindi that indicate a grand preparation for a decisive battle on Kashmir. They feel that in terms of psy-ops, Pakistan has gained a distinct edge.
What appears to have complicated the issue further is the proclivity of the Indian state to pursue a muscular approach at the expense of political dialogue. Contrast this scenario with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime and you will understand the difference.
During Vajpayee’s tenure, the flamboyant Farooq Abdullah was effectively used by the PMO and the home ministry to manage contradictions in the valley. Though there existed a trust deficit between the national conference and the BJP, Abdullah was suitably humoured to toe Vajpayee’s line.
In the meantime, Vajpayee initiated a bold move by roping in Hizbul Mujahideen leader Abdul Majeed Dar, and by initiating a dialogue with the powerful militant group. But the initiative was hampered because of the failure of the Indian state to protect Abdul Majeed Dar, who was later killed by rival militants.
It is quite unlikely that Rajnath Singh, in his two-day visit to Srinagar, can make bold initiatives on his own. Given the ideological predilection of the RSS-BJP, to see Kashmir from the prism of 'nationalism', the space for manoeuvring will be quite constricted for the home minister.
This is the precise reason why Rajnath Singh’s visit is unlikely to cut much ice with the people of Kashmir, in the present situation. It will only be deemed a success if an even ground is prepared for political dialogue; with those who represent neither the mainstream parties nor the Jihadist mindset, those who can articulate the voice of a silent majority.