In a flush of triumphalism after the abrogation of J&K’s special status, defence minister Rajnath Singh — a senior RSS-BJP figure and former BJP president — could have done better than to insist, as he did at a pre-election rally at Kalka, Haryana, on Sunday, that now any conversation with Pakistan on Kashmir would only be held on the subject of the return of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to India.
There is nothing new about such exuberance. The return by Pakistan of the illegally-occupied PoK, or India taking it through any means, has formed part of India’s Kashmir narrative — official and unofficial — since Independence. In 1994, a parliamentary resolution, which has not been rescinded, reasserting India’s claim over PoK was premised on this background.
Nevertheless, it was widely recognised that such an aspiration might be circumscribed by practical limitations. The reason goes back to history. The people of those territories of the last Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, in contrast with those of the Kashmir Valley, were ideologically oriented toward Jinnah’s politics at the time of Partition and are Pakistan-oriented.
It is unclear what prompted the defence minister to speak about PoK. So foolish seems the notion that it is hard to believe he might have been kite-flying on the government’s behalf. Magically, if Pakistan-fed terrorism were to come to an end, it will be surprising that the Modi government will refuse to speak with Pakistan on any matter other than PoK, as Mr Singh appeared to suggest.
Perhaps the best construction that can be put on the defence minister’s observation is that he is innocent of the needs of regional/international political dynamics, diplomatic nuances, and the history of Kashmir and related matters.
Since he had to star at the kickoff of the BJP’s campaign for the Haryana Assembly elections due in October, he thought anything belligerent on PoK would go down well in a public meeting at a time when the removal of J&K’s special status has largely gone down well with the public since its implications have not been publicised much.
It was — on the practical plane — a recognition of the reality that the Kashmir Valley inevitably and irrevocably belongs to India that had engendered the four-point Musharraf plan submitted to the first Manmohan Singh government. This proposal rested on the understanding that the LoC should be the unalterable boundary, and on the forging of links among the people on both sides through trade, road transportation, family travel, and one day banking networks. These grand objectives were not to the liking of the Pakistan Army, whose survival depends on hostility. The scheme was put on ice after the Musharraf government collapsed.
Recently, Mr Singh also appeared to suggest that India’s “no first use” nuclear doctrine could be modified. Off-the-cuff remarks should not be made about sensitive arenas. It is doubtful that the defence minister had authorisation to say what he did....