Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to arrive and make an address in Srinagar on the 8 December. The visit and the address come in the wake of massive voter turnout in the 1st and 2nd phase of polling in Kashmir and now, a spate of militant attacks.
The premise and nature of the visit is obvious: it’s an attempt to carve out a niche and political space in the valley-the heart and center of political gravity of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This then is a supremely political visit. Will it break the ice with Kashmiris? Will the BJP carve out a political space for itself in Kashmir? Should Modi be a politician or a statesman in Kashmir?
The Kashmir division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is defined by its Muslim majority. Moreover, Kashmir is in the midst of a structural change and transition with youth at the forefront of this transition. The youth of Kashmir, like their forebears, are conflicted and divided with the legacy of the dispute over Kashmir casting a shadow over their collective selves-physically, psychologically and emotionally. They, like their forebears, have not attained closure with respect to their political aspirations. Does Modi have anything to offer so that the youth of Kashmir may attain closure?
Modi avowedly is beholden to and propounds the ideology of Hindutva — the ideology that seeks and aims to ‘Hinduise’ the country under a straitjacket. This, among other things, means that the very diversity that defines India is sought to be rent asunder and this obviously has implications and consequences on Kashmir. The state acceded to India under special terms and conditions. These terms and conditions go under the broad rubric and tent of Article 370 and the state’s state subject laws — a very special kind of federalism. The BJP and its allied organizations are dead set against this special federalism and want to abrogate this. This is common knowledge. Will Modi go against the gravamen of the BJP and its allied organizations and pledge to safeguard the state’s special status? Unlikely is the answer.
Modi then has nothing substantive to offer to Kashmiris. What he will offer and pledge is development. But the theme of development and developmentalism is one that has not –historically and contemporarily — done anything to resolve the underlying dispute and conflict. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad — the man who made a coup d’etat against Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and undermined the Sheikh’s movement, went whole hog with this theme of developmentalism and was unabashedly populist in this regard. Did this resolve the dispute over and the conflict in Kashmir? Obviously no. Developmentalism then has not and will not do anything to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. What are the choices then?
Modi could and should use the address in Kashmir to become a statesman. Politics and politicking in Kashmir has yielded nothing but cynicism and alienation. What has been missing conspicuously has been statesmanship. Modi has an opportunity to turn this around. He could start by addressing all the stakeholders to the dispute and conflict in Srinagar and pave the way for an expansive dialogue with all. The premise of this should be to resolve the conflict for good. This could create an opening and a substantive dialogue process initiated. One prong of this could be to address Pakistan directly and talk to all stakeholders in Kashmir. A meaningful dialogue can go far in injecting vigor and substance into the now stalled peace process. This would also mean and imply leaving Kashmir as it is politically. That is, allow space in the state to be contended by the state’s regional parties. Or, in other words, let regional representation determine the state’s relationship with the Centre.
The dispute over and the conflict in Kashmir has festered for far too long. One reason for this has been politics and politicking. The other was coalitional politics. The former bred cynicism and deep alienation and the latter led to a dead lock. Now that the BJP has a massive mandate, the latter potentially could be obviated and prudence suggests that the former be given short shrift and a new beginning, smelling of roses be made. This means and requires sagacious and far sighted statesmanship. Is Modi up to it? Can he disavow politics and choose statesmanship? We shall see.