Masarat Alam release: Modi needs to stand up to Mufti's blackmail and stare him down

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's anger over Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's decision to release separatist leader Masarat Alam was palpable. Not only did he endorse parliament's anger over his release, but he also made it clear that he would not "compromise" over the issue of the country's unity. He needed no lessons on patriotism from anybody, he added, for good measure.

However, the issue is not whether Alam should or should have been released (seems the law could not hold him any longer for lack of a strong case), or about anybody's patriotism (except those of the separatists). The issue is: how do two parties, one with a mandate in Kashmir Valley and the other with a mandate in Jammu, learn to live together despite differences and, if possible, make yet another effort to mainstream J&K.

Staying together means both PDP and BJP need to understand each other's political sensitivities and act to reintegrate the state emotionally and economically with the rest of India. Both need to acknowledge their conflicting motives and reasons for being in this difficult alliance, but are far from doing so. Right now their individual assessments of the benefits of the alliance are in sharp conflict.

 Masarat Alam release: Modi needs to stand up to Muftis blackmail and stare him down

Modi has to stand up to Mufti's blackmail and stare him down. There is no other way.The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Shri N.N. Vohra and other dignitaries are also seen. PIB
Modi has to stand up to Mufti's blackmail and stare him down. PTI

Let us first check what could be PDP's gameplan.

Given the shape of the mandate in Kashmir Valley, where the electorate gave two seats to PDP for every one seat to its rival National Conference (NC), Mufti knows that NC can bounce back the next time if he falters. He also knows that he won because of the anti-incumbency against NC and the separatists' decision to let the people vote and keep the BJP out of the valley. A boycott might well have helped the BJP garner a couple of seats in the Valley due to low turnouts. The BJP had emerged as the single largest party during the Lok Sabha polls due to this, and the separatists were determined to prevent a repeat.

In short, Mufti won because of the separatists - and the quiet indulgence of the ISI, which certainly did not want a government headed by the BJP in J&K. This is why he even thanked Pakistan.

Mufti also knows that he or his party's leaders can be bumped off anytime by jihadis, if they so wanted. So self-preservation and gratitude for his win alone ensure that he will play softball with the separatists - whatever the consequences.

Then there is the potential gain factor – if he plays his cards right. Mufti is probably calculating that if he forces the BJP to end support to his ministry, and the resultant stalemate leads to another election later this year, the Valley may give him an improved mandate for having stood up to Delhi and Modi.

These are the calculations that will drive Mufti's politics in the near future. This means more provocations are sure to come for BJP and Modi, even though Mufti seems to have indicated a pause on his appeasement of separatists.

As things stand, Modi is playing a weak hand in J&K, both at the state level and the national level. Mufti holds the upper hand in Srinagar, and the national opposition has some ammo in parliament.

From the BJP's point of view, the reason for the tie-up with PDP was simple: having sold the idea of a greater say for Jammu in the next government, and even hinting at the possibility of having a Hindu CM, the BJP had to be a part of the government. However, its room for manoeuvre narrowed after the party's big defeat in Delhi. Modi and Amit Shah may thus have settled for the best available deal.

As a nationalist party with a strong Hindu base in J&K, its room for compromise is limited. It cannot be seen as going out on a limb to appease separatists, or allowing Mufti to handle the Islamists with kid gloves. While the party could back a degree of dialogue with the separatists, the reality is that neither Pakistan nor the extreme wing of the Hurriyat headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a pro-Pakistan Islamist bigot, is going to support a dialogue that merely ends with some degree of greater state autonomy.

This means talks can progress only upto a point, unless Pakistan is willing to abandon support to the jihadis – an unlikely prospect. As with Pakistan, Modi can at best offer talks, talks and talks, and development and confidence building measures. We can’t let India’s guard down, both against Pakistan and the separatists.

A sound J&K policy has to take a long-term view backed by firmness, resolve and a clear-sighted idea of what we want to achieve. Pinpricks by Mufti can be ignored, or countered with statements, as the PM did yesterday, but the long-term goals cannot be lost sight of under any circumstances.

India’s interests lie in the following:

#1: The citizens of J&K have to accept the reality that the state is an inalienable part of India. This goal should be constantly stated and emphasised in all talks, whether with Pakistan or Mufti or the Hurriyat. The bottomline has always to be clear in any talks, and if the separatists want to say no to talks, so be it. We should always offer talks, and reiterate our basic Lakshman rekha on J&K – we are not going to let it go.

#2: In the foreseeable future, the army will have to both guard the border and provide internal security against jihadis. This means the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is vital, though some clauses on dealing with human rights abuses can be made more transparent and stronger. In talks, we can offer the separatists a simple deal upfront: till they sign up to India in some degree, AFSPA cannot be abandoned.

#3: Secularism has to be the bedrock of any dialogue process in J&K. This means the state has to deal with Islamists strongly, no matter what the settlement reached with them. Without this, there is no way to get the Pandits back to the Valley. Formal acceptance of secularism by the separatists holds the key to any deal in J&K, and the end of ethnic cleansing. In fact, secularism should be our sticking point every time we talk to them.

#4: Article 370 must ultimately go, but the issue of state autonomy needs to be subsumed in the larger narrative about more autonomy to all Indian states. J&K cannot remain special indefinitely. All central laws must ultimately be applicable to J&K too even if the ambit of central law is generally curtailed in the interests of federalism. All Indian citizens must ultimately be allowed to live and settle in J&K, just as J&K citizens are able to do so elsewhere.

#5: Pakistan-occupied Kashmir needs to be ultimately amalgamated with India. While this is a maximalist demand – and hence unlikely to happen without a war which no one wants – we have to keep this demand on the table always to avoid concessions in other areas with Pakistan or the separatists.

When it comes to J&K, we have to learn something from China: think long-term, and never waver on ultimate goals. We should not try to abandon key positions for short-term gains. China got back Hongkong this way; no one now questions its forced occupation of Tibet; in future, it is more than likely that Taiwan will be amalgamated with China, possibly on the same basis of Hongkong. A resolute leadership ultimately gets what it wants.

In J&K, our goal should always be full integration, even if it takes a hundred years. By accepting all kinds of compromises, we have only ended up indicating to our enemies that with a little more push, they can get what they want. We can’t be pushovers.

We have to stop believing the peaceniks, who think a deal in just one concession away. It is not. The tide of history and geopolitics is on our side in the long run. We should not squander it just for illusory deals.

Meanwhile, Modi has to stand up to Mufti's blackmail and stare him down. There is no other way.

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Updated Date: Mar 10, 2015 16:04:15 IST