Last month’s arrest and subsequent booking under the Public Safety Act (PSA) of Yasin Malik, followed by the previous week’s proscription order against the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, is the ruling BJP’s electoral ploy. Although the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir remains volatile, the government, instead of building on claimed “gains” from the airstrikes against terrorists and terror-facilities in Pakistan, chose to take a step aimed at harnessing its core Hindu voters in the Jammu region and in other states.
This is evident in the jubilant responses to the Centre’s move by organisations ranging from various Kashmiri pandit bodies and individuals to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In the discourse following the Centre’s gazette notification, there is reference only to Malik’s involvement in various terrorist crimes and killings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The intent to shape discussion in this direction became evident when the CBI began reopening virtually defunct cases of terrorism filed against Malik.
It is being overlooked that since the mid-1990s, when he publicly eschewed violence, Malik has been a part of political discussions with various governments. It has been conveniently disregarded that the Atal Behari Vajpayee government treated him as a stakeholder in 2003 when it initiated the dialogue process. Malik’s arrest and the subsequent ban on the JKLF is a continuation of the BJP’s tactics of taking every step in the troubled state with an eye on its support elsewhere in India.
In a significant Independence Day speech in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that the Kashmir imbroglio could not be solved by bullets. Two months later, the Centre appointed Dineshwar Sharma as its special interlocutor to engage with various sections of Kashmiri society, including the separatists. Malik’s arrest and the ban on the JKLF is the final act of abandoning PM Modi's much-vaunted endorsement of the call for a “healing touch”. With that tack abandoned, the twin decisions have to be seen as part of a series of steps taken by the BJP and the Centre from before the imposition of Governor’s Rule in J&K in June 2018.
To go back, the BJP's move to withdraw from the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition and the subsequent imposition of Central rule, although imminent for a long time, ended all the hopes generated by the BJP's decision to join hands with the People’s Democratic Party. The withdrawal proved that the assessment of the BJP taking a bold step away from Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the party’s past stance was premature.
The imposition of Governor’s Rule, the refusal to hold simultaneous Assembly elections along with those for the six Lok Sabha seats from the state and the post-Pulwama/Balakot biggest ever crackdown against radical separatists is proof that the BJP had never abandoned its past stance on Kashmir. Since the early 1950s, the Sangh Parivar’s Kashmir vision has been shaped by its old slogan — Jahan hue balidaan Mookerjee; woh Kashmir hamara hai (The Kashmir for which Mookerjee gave up his life is ours). The word hamara, or ours, is the operative part — almost a giveaway and surely not a opening gambit to begin a process of reconciliation in a place with a history of conflict with the state and persecution of ordinary citizens. The BJP cadre may not have formally raised this slogan in recent years, but the sentiment has never been hidden.
From the time the BJP joined the coalition with the PDP, it never allowed the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed or his daughter subsequently, to enact roles which enabled them to provide the much-needed “healing touch”. The experiment of two parties of contrasting views had raised hopes that the BJP would work towards altering the deep-rooted prejudice, even bordering on dislike and apathy, towards Kashmiris in most parts of India. But such hopes have been dashed, and now it is evident that Prime Minister Modi is back to the party's old understanding that Kashmir has to be “managed as a security problem”, and not a political one. It appears fairly certain that party stalwarts, Mr Modi downwards, would campaign vociferously in at least the Jammu region and raise sensitive issues like the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A.
As always, the BJP looks at Kashmir and its people as a monolith, whereas it not just socially diverse but also politically varied. Creating a singular view of Kashmiri people results in a widespread bias, often degenerating into violence against them, as seen in the immediate aftermath of the Pulwama terror strike. This enables the BJP to solidify its support by claiming it is the only party capable of “showing Kashmiris their place”. The BJP and its affiliates have furthered a belief that every Kashmiri thinks alike, whereas the reality is anything but this.
There are four distinct sections of Kashmiri people based on their political orientation and security profile. The first are obviously militants, with whom no dialogue is possible. This section, despite the BJP attempts to paint them as the majority, form a small part of Kashmiri society. The second category comprises separatists and those who sympathise with them. The third are the alienated ordinary citizens, which is possibly the largest section. The fourth group, also very large, are those with disagreements and grievances against the Centre and the mainstream political parties, but who are yet willingly a part of the political process.
There is considerable overlap among the people in the second, third and fourth sections, and the efforts of the Centre through dialogues must be on the one hand to wean people away from the second and third groups, and to simultaneously ensure that those who are willing to give politics a chance do not join other groups because of being clubbed with the rest. Sadly, the BJP makes no such effort, and if it hypes up its campaign and backs it with action like the arrest of Malik and the ban on the JKLF, it will further push people to migrate to a higher level of disgruntlement and disenchantment.