No More ‘Bait and Switch’

What Kashmir needs is a political package, not an economic one

The prelude, interlude and after-lude of the Modi visit to Kashmir is revelatory: It reveals what I may call the ‘mind’ of the state and how the state thinks how the conflict in and over Kashmir should be ‘dealt’ with. The operative word here is ‘dealt’: The state appears to have moved beyond ‘conflict management’ — a loaded term which can mean and connote a lot of different meanings — and now appears to merely deal with the conflict. There’s military, security and political connotations to all these, and all are interrelated. The politico-military aspect pertains to the state’s approach towards separatists and militants.

This is two-pronged. On prong rests on the incarceration and denial of space to separatists and the other appears to rest on eliminating residual militancy in Kashmir. Here, security or what the state holds to be security comes into play: Economic development is securitised by the state. The assumptions undergirding this approach appear to be informed on a very narrow and flawed view of the conflict in and over Kashmir. It would appear that the powers-that-be contemporarily deem Kashmir to be an economic problem or a problem determined by economics, whose solvent could be economics itself.

The premise appears to be that economic problems and issues are projected onto what gets manifested as Kashmiri nationalism which in turn, takes a strident and militant form; the corollary is that once these bread and butter issues are resolved and there is broad-based development, the conflict will get vapourised.

Hence, the politico-military and economic strategy.

The premise is sequential: Deny space to separatists, kill rump and residual militants and intensify economic development. The former, in the state’s schema would render them irrelevant, the latter would eliminate militancy and economic development will sublimate the wishes and aspirations of people. But this approach is deeply flawed and rests on specious premises. While the nature and form of the conflict in and over Kashmir may be debated endlessly, its stands to reason it is a conflict or dispute that has ethno-national and sovereign connotations.

Reducing it to economics constitutes a fallacy.

Contra some American intellectuals, history has not ended and nationalism, not a commitment to liberalism, may be said to constitute the motor of, at least, modern history. The point here is that it is abstract but emotionally powerful and appealing abstractions like nationalism than prosaic, utilitarian and economic themes and ideas that actually lead to and offer closure to conflicts. This appears to be lost on the powers that constitute the Indian state contemporarily. And it is this that explains Modi’s Rs 80,000 crore financial package to Kashmir. It may or may not work in the short term but in the medium and long term, it is safe to say that this approach is a non-starter.

In the whole saga and especially when it comes to the politics of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), that appears to be paying the price — wittingly or unwittingly. It appears to be being used by the BJP for larger ends and agendas of the far-right party.  A marketing technique, ‘Bait and Switch’ — an unethical business or marketing practice — perhaps best describes the BJP’s coalition with the PDP. In the bait and switch technique, a marketer advertises attractive prices or terms that essentially are a teaser rate meant to entice customers. Once the customer walks into the store and asks to enquire about the advertised product and its price, the advertiser will attempt to sell the customer a more expensive product. The former is a bait and the latter a switch.

This is what the BJP appears to have done to the PDP. The PDP appears to have been enticed by the BJP by the lure and prospect of power and government and adherence to the so called ‘Agenda for Alliance’. The PDP went whole hog with it and probably held that it could eke out maximum gains from the alliance. In perhaps  a rehashing of the game theory, albeit a game which has now become zero sum — one partner’s gain is the other’s loss — the PDP appears to be the loser in the game. If public mood can be actually accurately gleaned, barring some thing that is in the nature of a game changer, it appears to be all gloom and doom for the PDP. It may be able to salvage some of its gains if it exits, but an exit at this point in time would be irrational for the party. So, it’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice for the PDP.

The state’s approach and the premises that inform it are flawed. The gains that may accrue from the package will be temporary and illusory. What is needed is a stakeholder-approach to conflict resolution in Kashmir that, in the least, satisfies all stakeholders including Pakistan. Till this happens, all packages will be in vain and if history is any guide, recrudescence of the conflict will be the future of Kashmir. This potential should concentrate minds and assist in the rolling out of a bold and beautiful political package for Kashmir.



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