Govt must resist RSS' call to integrate Jammu and Kashmir: Move could bolster China-Pakistan axis

In his annual Vijayadashami address on Saturday, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat reiterated his organisation’s longstanding position on Jammu and Kashmir that the state should be fully integrated into India, without a special constitutional status.

That position has been a founding agenda of RSS’ political wings ever since the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) was established in 1951.

File image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

File image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

In 2017, however, moves to implement that agenda would be fraught with geopolitical implications. Not only would it contravene the Agenda of Alliance of the PDP-BJP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir but also the international context which has developed rapidly over the past year or two. And one is not talking only about cross-border terrorism.

The RSS chief did not foreground the assertions from Pakistan in March this year that the vast Gilgit-Baltistan region of the state was being incorporated into Pakistan as a fifth province. In that context, the RSS chief’s declaration could even be read as an implicit willingness to accept the Line of Control as the international border.

The Government of India’s openness to this has been apparent since 1958 but any move in that direction must be planned very carefully in the light of the current geostrategic environment.

Geo-strategic implications

Strategically, the Gilgit-Baltistan region has for centuries been the most vital part of Jammu and Kashmir. It is now a key part of the CPEC project, the cornerstone of the China-Pakistan axis, and an important element of China’s Belt and Road initiatives for global trade domination.

Pakistan has been ambivalent about the status of Gilgit-Baltistan since 1947. It has called the region its "northern areas" while restricting the "azad" label to a narrow strip of territory in the southwest of the state including the Muzaffarabad and Mirpur areas, and parts of the erstwhile Poonch principality.

In order to go forward confidently with investing $62 billion in the CPEC project, China would surely want international recognition of that region as a legitimate area of China-Pakistan control. Russia, which is eager to use the CPEC corridor for trade through the Arabian Sea, would back China-Pakistan control of this key territory.

It's not clear whether the future of this area — and, more broadly, the CPEC project — was discussed during the diplomatic engagements around the Doka La stand-off, and on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in September.

The matter appears to be in suspended animation since India boycotted China’s One Belt One Road conference in May.

Local is international

In this fraught international context, it could prove particularly hazardous to push forward RSS’s longstanding agenda regarding Jammu and Kashmir, even if the focus were only on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to "embrace Kashmiris" on Independence Day was sensible from both the domestic and international perspectives. So was home minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Kashmir three weeks ago that the Centre would keep in mind Kashmiri sentiments on Article 35A and other issues.

However, other RSS activists have pushed for other approaches. One proposal is to do away with the special constitutional provisions, particularly Article 35A and Article 370.

Removing the state’s special constitutional status at this stage would be like playing with fire. There is a strong sentiment in the Valley regarding these provisions. Both the major "mainstream" parties in the Valley — the ruling PDP and the National Conference — have dug their heels over this issue around July-end. Both stated publicly that Kashmir’s links with India are contingent on these provisions.

The RSS view on the issue could spark a mass public agitation. The presence of large numbers of foreign and local militants would complicate the ensuing unrest. And, in the absence of publicly stated agreements, Pakistan, China and other world powers could utilise such a situation to further undermine India’s geostrategic interests.

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 07:40 AM

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