Present Tense; Future Imperfect: Kashmir on the eve of Modi’s Visit;

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Narendra Modi is slated to arrive in Kashmir on the 7th of November, 2015. In what amounts to the eve of the visit, Srinagar city is under a heavy security blanket. The separatist spectrum of politics in Kashmir has been effectively shut out and almost all separatists stand incarcerated. (It is reported incarcerated separatists are incommunicado). Reportedly, sporadic arrests of other assorted people have also taken place.  The state police is on a high alert and so are other related security agencies. If the mood of the people were to be captured in a single sentence, then it could be said a sullen and somber resignation to another visit of the Prime Minister which will be accompanied by a hartal and may be some disturbances. These are overlain by expectations of a financial package- something that may bail out the present regime from the doldrums and depths it has plunged into.
This is the general context and backdrop to the Modi visit. In a way, all this is surreal: Modi heads a party that is a coalitional partner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – a regional party from the state. Ideally, if the narrative trotted out by the PDP were informed by reality, then Modi’s Kashmir visit should not have been a cause of securitization of almost all aspects of life in Kashmir. It should have been either a routine affair or should have been welcomed by Kashmiris. But, it is not. This, however, may be besides the point in Kashmir which has in different permutations and combinations been ruled through what may amount to proxies.  Regional parties in and of the state have instead of aggregating the interests and aspirations of people subsumed themselves into the vortex of distorted power political paradigms.
The contemporary political hue of Kashmir may not be different. But then it may.
The difference lies in the arrival of Narendra Modi- essentially a metaphor for the new and evolving India: an India that is gyrating to the rhythm of the ideology of Hindutva. This is not meant entirely as a slur here; India, in 2014, voted for a certain idea of itself. The result was the culmination of the BJP in power. The mandate was massive and huge; in many ways, unprecedented. Depending on one’s perspective and point of view, this was either a bane or boon for India. From one perspective, India was on the cusp of losing its secular (twisted by the proponents of Hindutva as ‘sickular’) and liberal character. But, from another point of view, India was now corresponding to its essence. The prosaic reality, regardless of the merits of these different points of view, was that India had voted with its feet for the BJP and this far right party was now in power.
This has obvious and clear cut implications for Kashmir.
The BJP, which as a political force remained incipient and inchoate for a long time, has an agenda for Kashmir. The agenda is as explicit as can be: the BJP wants to incorporate the state of Jammu and Kashmir more fully into the Indian Union. From a socio-political perspective, the operative word here is assimilation. This is part of a multi-pronged agenda of what constitutes the Idea of India for the BJP. This becomes more acute and poignant given that this Idea of India is the gravamen of the allied organizations of the BJP. Referred to as the Sangh Parivar whose constituents are RSS and the VHP, the BJP draws both ideological and political sustenance from the Sangh Parivar. This is consequential. The BJP has to keep the constituents of the Parivar happy and align its governance and political approach with these. The Parivar is, is in this sense, a tight fit. The political calculus of the BJP then would imply an approach that would not go against the Sangh Parivar’s core ideology. But, this is what politics suggests. Or , in other words, politics is implicated in this approach.
However, what Kashmir requires and needs is , counter-intuitively, not politics but prudence.
Politics and politicking has historically been the bane of Kashmir. It has entailed a securitized approach to politics and society in Kashmir which among other things has entailed what was explicated upon in this essay: a politics of proxy, manipulation, coercion and intrigue. All these approaches towards Kashmir have failed and will fail again if the past is prologue for the future. Kashmir then does not need politics. The primacy of the political has been a story and saga of misery, and  despair for Kashmir and Kashmiris.   To repeat, what is needed exigently in and for Kashmir is prudence.
What would prudence vis a vis Kashmir mean?
Prudence, vis a vis Kashmir would mean taking a holistic and an integrated view of Kashmir. Disaggregated, this broad assertion means that Kashmir needs to be looked at from both within and without by powers that be. Viewed from this vantage point, it would mean a detached perspective that would imply taking a stakeholder approach to the conflict. The stakeholder approach would mean disavowing of propping up of favorites and a managerialist approach and reaching out to all stakeholders. These include Pakistan, the separatist spectrum and shade of politics in Kashmir , Kashmiris themselves and the Indian state.
Specifically, this would entail initiating a peace process that is substantive and is premised on the notion of engagement. The components of this approach would be reaching out to Pakistan and the separatists, engaging the mainstream and making them own the process and getting them involved substantively, and listening to ‘ordinary’ Kashmiris. This modular and reciprocal approach would yield dividends beyond the short term and could be a win win approach.
But, alas, the drift of events since the BJP assumed office and took over the reins of power suggests the obverse. Talking to and engaging Pakistan has become anathema for almost all shades of opinion in India, (the NSA talks breakdown may be an example of this), engaging separatists in Kashmir a non starter and well, who has ever cared for ‘ordinary’ Kashmiris?
The silver lining, however, is that this pattern of events need not be set in stone. Adoption of what we have called the prudent approach- an alternative one- may not necessarily be out of bounds.  This is contingent on elevating and privileging prudence over the political.  Critics would point out the obvious here: if the BJP goes against the core ideology of the Parivar from which it draws political sustenance from, then what will remain of the Parivar and the BJP’s future will be doomed. The Parivar will neither allow this nor will the BJP go against the Parivar. The BJP’s program and agenda for Kashmir then can be inferred from this. The party will take a stronger and a harder line against Kashmir and will seek to assimilate it- by hook or crook, so to speak. This is exactly what common sense suggests. But common sense is all too common. Complex and convoluted issues like Kashmir do not need common sense. What is needed is imagination- the kind that liberates from the prison and detritus of history and the present.
So what Kashmir and Kashmiris need is the primacy of imagination over fact- essentially a paradigm that means and implies sagacious statesmanship. Politics and politicking has failed in Kashmir. Why not give prudence and statesmanship a chance?
This is the question that should be exercising the mind of Narendra Modi. He should and must rise above party and Sangh politics even if it means causing offense. He has everything going for him: he has the mandate and a Pan India appeal and trust. The question is of resolve. An opportunity is presenting itself in Kashmir. How and what Modi makes of this will determine how and why history will remember Modi- a politician or a statesman. And , more importantly, it will also determine what direction Kashmir will take. Financial packages are in the nature of palliatives or temporary balms that Kashmir and Kashmiris have been titillated by in the past. What we Kashmiris really need is a ‘final solution’ that is, satisfactory to all stakeholders in the conflict over and in Kashmir. Any other approach would essentially more of the same-something that would make Kashmiris more weary , more cynical and more bitter.  This is what Modi must understand as he prepares for his Kashmir visit.

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