For those horrified at the prevailing intolerant state of affairs in India, BJPs Bihar election campaign hasnt been a source of comfort either. The way BJP has tried to communalize the situation right from its state level players through its national president Amit Shah to the prime minister Narendra Modi, the countrys current ideological direction gives little hope to minorities. And also to us here in Kashmir. Bihar poll tell us something profound not only about the larger ideological and political drift of India but also about the resolution of the lingering problem in Kashmir and the issues with Pakistan. If Modis activities as prime minister are any guide, one gets a distinct sense that New Delhi has outgrown the urge to resolve Kashmir or reconcile with Pakistan. More so, when BJP uses Pakistan and Kashmir to drum up public support in the country. This is borne out by Amit Shah raking up Pakistan in Bihar and Modi choosing to bring up reservations on the basis of religion.
The problem with this kind of politics is that while it may help in mobilizing a favourable public opinion, it also limits the policy choices of the government. The fact is that BJP will have little maneuvering space for a sustained bilateral engagement after being elected on an anti-Pakistan plank. Ditto for Kashmir. After getting votes for divesting Kashmir off its special status, BJP is left with little room to address the fundamental Kashmir issue which is about the militant and political challenge to the states accession with India. Modi governments policy towards Kashmir and Pakistan over the past one year bears it out. With Pakistan, the PM has struggled to get the dialogue going without appearing hawkish towards the country. This has forced him to draw new redlines for Pakistan to accept before the dialogue goes ahead, leading to two last minute cancellations of the scheduled talks. Now New Delhi has got too trapped in its own redlines to find a way to resume a sustained engagement with the neighbouring country.
Similarly, in case of Kashmir, Modi has found it politically unproductive to generously reach out to the flood hit. What is more, despite promising dialogue with separatists in the Agenda of Alliance with its coalition partner PDP, New Delhi has reneged on the commitment. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is already on record to say that the state government should itself initiate talks with the Hurriyat.
What this tells us is that without a fundamental change in the political priorities of the prime minister, little change can be expected in New Delhis relations with Pakistan or its approach to Kashmir. For example, if the divisiveness pays off in Bihar, this will be the partys strategy in the polls in West Bengal and later also in Uttar Pradesh. And the continuing resonance for such politics will in turn ensure that the approach to Pakistan and Kashmir will not overturn its basic premises. Here is hoping that Modis larger role as the prime minister of India is not hemmed in by his campaign politics. Here is also hoping that on his upcoming visit to Valley he makes a major departure from this politics and announces not only the financial package but also a political initiative on Kashmir.
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