A Requiem for moral coherence

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Beyond underlining the synthetic unity of Kashmir with India and his calling attention to the ‘suffering of sections of J&K society,’ can Narendra Modi achieve something significant and long lasting in Kashmir?
If Narendra Modi supporters are to be believed, all the Hindus in India became one during this election and voted for him. They think that with his ascension to power, history has been created and its only telos is that the dream of a Hindu rashtra should now be attained. They fantasise about Mr. Modi sending his ashwamedha stallion to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and to Kandahar. But before foreign nations could be brought under the saffron flag, they want Mr. Modi to flex his muscles in Kashmir.

On the evening of May 16, when it had become clear that Mr. Modi would be the next prime minister, a group of his supporters did a victory jig in Ahmedabad’s Naranpura area. They shouted: “Jahan Mookerjee hue balidan, wo Kashmir humara hai” (Where Mookerjee sacrificed his life, that Kashmir belongs to us).

They were referring to a man whose death the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) turned into a pennant as it led its ship on a frenzied voyage of nationalism in the 1990s. The Jana Sangh leader, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, was arrested on May 11, 1953, while crossing the Kashmir border. He was protesting against the special status accorded to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He died in custody under mysterious circumstances a month later.

Beyond Vajpayee

From 1990 onwards, a year that coincided with the rise of Islamist insurgency in Kashmir, the BJP used the Kashmir issue as a means to consolidate its Hindu vote in the rest of the country. In December 1991, the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi embarked upon the much-publicised Ekta Yatra, from Kanyakumari, which was to culminate in the Kashmir Valley on Republic Day. Due to security reasons, Mr. Joshi was flown from Jammu to Srinagar where he hoisted the Indian flag at Srinagar’s historical Lal Chowk. Throughout the yatra, Mookerjee’s name was invoked several times; how he gave his life to “protect the sovereignty” of the country.

The man who stood next to Mr. Joshi in Srinagar, holding the flag’s mast, was Narendra Modi. In fact, it was he who had coordinated the entire yatra, as is proudly mentioned on his website.

Today, Mr. Modi is the Prime Minister. And there is no doubt that Kashmir will remain one of his focus areas; it is where he will want things to move fast.

Now, Mr. Modi is smart enough not to act according to the jingoistic overtures of his followers. But, does that mean that there is no scope for Mr. Modi to go beyond Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Beyond underlining the synthetic unity of Kashmir with India and his calling attention to the “suffering of sections of J&K society,” can Mr. Modi achieve something significant and long lasting in Kashmir?

Mr. Vajpayee took some bold initiatives with Pakistan. He undertook a journey to Lahore. But that myth was broken with Pakistan’s intrusion in Kargil in 1999. Two years later, he met the architect of the Kargil treachery, General Pervez Musharraf, in Agra. That too achieved nothing. In his Kumarakom musings of January 2001, Mr. Vajpayee wrote: “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past.”

Externally, Mr. Vajpayee reconnoitred new tracks with Pakistan. But, internally, his government chose to tread a beaten track in Kashmir by relying heavily on the intelligence and security grid. In the absence of a political vision, this grid at best sought to pitch one separatist machinery against the other. This approach did not yield any tangible results. The grid would pat itself on the back when a separatist leader uttered something that could be vaguely seen as pro-India. But next week, he would receive a rap on the knuckles from his Pakistani masters, prompting a U-turn.

Disabling the war factory

That is why the first thing Mr. Modi should do is deincentivise the war factory in Kashmir. The solider fighting the battle on the ground should receive all support from the Centre. He should be looked after. While standing on the road in hostile territory, salary increment and pension should be the last thing on his mind. As a reporter, one has met scores of paramilitary soldiers, a sheaf of papers thrust in their bulletproof jackets, seeking redress for their unfair situations. They should have better barracks, better gear and better training.

But the secret funding, the money fed to the separatist machinery — that needs to stop. The money that the police and the paramilitary forces need to work in Kashmir must be provided. But there should be no need to divert funds from Security Related Expenditure (SRE) to install a heater or to build a toilet at an officer’s residence.

The next thing Mr. Modi ought to work on is to build a political culture in Kashmir beyond the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. Time and again, these parties have indulged in competitive secessionism to outdo each other. Since the 1950s, Kashmiri leaders are given to understand that they can only win in Kashmir if they adopt an anti-New Delhi approach. This needs to be discouraged. There are enough people in Kashmir today who understand that Kashmir’s best future — its only future — lies with India. These sections need to be nurtured and protected.

At some point, there might be a chance to initiate talks with the separatist groups. But these should be initiated directly by the government instead of relying on a bunch of academics and other intellectuals. Nothing has gone more waste in Kashmir than Track-2 diplomacy efforts by such individuals or groups. Individual footsies played by the likes of Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan should be discouraged as well. In the past, similar mistakes were committed through Rajesh Pilot and Mr. George Fernandes.

Firm on human rights

It is also imperative that Mr. Modi should create an environment of moral coherence at New Delhi. We cannot have different standards for Kashmir when it comes to dealing with human rights violations. No branch of the armed forces should be allowed to seek immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from being tried for cold-blooded murders.

The other area where Mr. Vajpayee failed is in the dignified return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. There are indications that Mr. Modi is keen on this. But there is a danger of arbitrariness here. No package for their return should be created in an ad hoc manner. The Kashmiri Pandits cannot live in ghettos in Kashmir. That is why it is important to create conditions in the Valley first to enable them to live without fear. One big hurdle here would be the growing Wahhabisation in Kashmir. In the last few years, there have been concerted efforts at the effacement of Kashmir’s Hindu past. The Hindu shrines and temples need protection. In more than 700 cases of killings of the Pandits, there has not been a single conviction so far. These need to be reopened to ensure justice.

Lastly, it may seem sheer tokenism, but Mr. Modi should do it, nevertheless. Since he has won from Varanasi, he should get a statue of the young Kashmiri martyr, Maqbool Sherwani installed at one of its ghats. Sherwani played a decisive role in saving Srinagar from the tribesmen who invaded Kashmir in 1947 at Pakistan’s behest and was later killed by them. Likewise, a statue of another young Kashmiri, Somnath Bira could be installed by the Boulevard road in Srinagar.

Boulevard road is thronged by tourists. Perhaps, some day, the sloganeering men from Naranpura would visit Kashmir and see it. Perhaps it will make them realise what they could have done in 2002.

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