Will Modi do a Vajpayee in Kashmir?

Dr Jatinder Singh, MoS in PMO has in an interaction with the media said the Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will carry forward the holistic process of peace and development initiated by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for Kashmir. The minister said, “The present government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will carry forward the initiatives taken by NDA government led by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee”. To recapitulate,  Atal Behari Vajpayee in April, 2003 in a public rally had said that India would wish to resolve all issues by three principles of Insaaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age old legacy of amity).  If the statements and assertions of the minister are genuine and not merely rhetorical flourishes, then this may be good news.  The state of Jammu and Kashmir defined by conflict and its conflicted peoples need a , to twist and put a positive spin on the phrase, ‘final solution’. If Modi and his party have a surprise for Kashmiris along the lines of a ‘final solution’, then we may on the cusp of a new dawn in Kashmir.

But, alas, this may turn out to be wishful thinking.

The reasons pertain to the context and backdrop of the 2003 Vajpayee visit and now, the structural conditions that obtained in both India,  Pakistan and Kashmir,  the political  scenario in India and , of course, the very personality of Atal Bihari Bajpayee, among other things. 2003 was a year defined by fluidity , porosity and unprecedented churn in world and regional politics. The United States, the pre-eminent power of the day, recovering from the September 11 attacks on its homeland, had opened a ‘two war front’ –what were later termed as ‘wars of choice’- in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan was implicated in the Afghan war and there was immense pressure on the country to review its posture and policies. The United States focus and emphasis was on, what was essentially a misnomer, the Global War on Terror (GWOT), and how the sole superpower defined this ‘war’, essentially implied that Pakistan was its cross hairs too. Pakistan sought wriggle room from this condition and adopted a posture that was a major and significant departure from the premises of its foreign policy. Curiously, the attack on the Indian Parliament occurred amid this fluidity and pattern of world politics.

Pertinently, Pervez Musharaf headed the country then. Musharaf recognising the dangers of pursuing past foreign policy, publicly announced disavowal of Pakistan’s support for cross border militancy and militant penetration in Kashmir. This, in hind sight, appears to have been a calculated move aimed at multiple audiences: the United States which was worried about the Taliban and its link with Al Qaeda and India, whose primary concern was Kashmir. Around this time, militancy had to a large extent ebbed in Kashmir; impetus to militancy, was accorded by what came to be known as ‘foreign fighters’.   Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharaf, kind of , seized the moment and embarked on what was then held to be a momentous act of statesmanship.

Fast forward a decade and two years.

India is now governed by the far right political party, the BJP, pertinently, on its own, sans coalition at the Centre. The mandate for the party has been massive.  The mood in India is stridently anti-Pakistan.Pakistan has , to cite a phrase attributed to a book, muddled along and may have come out of the existential crises that defined it since the past decade or so. World politics is fluid: unipolarity is gradually but inexorably giving way to some kind of ‘loose multipolarity’. And , significantly, Kashmir remains troubled and disturbed. The only difference is that there is residual militancy in Kashmir but the sentiment remains wedded to separatism and deep alienation, which could get transformed into strident militancy again, is a feature of contemporary Kashmir.

Given all this, will Modi reach out to Pakistan?

While it is a tad rich and an exaggeration to state that everything is context, but context matters.

Amidst the contemporary context, it may not be politically feasible for the BJP to make a ‘grand bargain’ with Kashmir and Kashmiris. And  events, such as the incarceration of Kashmiri separatists, which suggests that they are being excluded, indicates that even a ‘Vajpayee like’ approach may not be on the cards. Moreover, there is neither pressure nor an inclination by the international community(read the United States) on either India and Kashmir to resolve their issues.(Bland statements emanating from the State Department and White House, in the larger scheme of things, do not amount to much). While Nawaz Shareef’s party, the PML (N), governs Pakistan, it is well known who the real power in Pakistan is. In India, there is immense antipathy and animus towards Pakistan. There then is little to suggest or indicate that a ‘Vajpayee like’ initiative is in the offing. However,  to graft a Latin phrase onto the whole sage, we might say, Caveat Emptor in the sense of one party having little information about the party.   There have been no media ‘leaks’ over the nature of the  Modi visit except for the financial package bit, much remains a mystery.  We close with the hope that Modi’s 2015 visit will inaugurate an era of statesmanship and prudence- the kind that is in the nature of a game changer and one that will satisfy all stakeholders to the conflict. While this may be way too much to ask for, but then as they say hope springs eternal- even in cold , cynical and weary Kashmir.

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