Vajpayee’s Kashmir Policy: Myth And Reality

One of the biggest contributions of the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vapayee is regarded his effort to seek resolution of Kashmir through a policy of accommodation with Pakistan and engagement with Hurriyat. But over the years, this contribution has been mythified to an extent by the political actors in J&K, especially the PDP, where it has become difficult to critically analyze the former PM’s approach to the situation in the state.

True, Vajpayee opened possibilities for progress in the resolution efforts on the state where none existed. He had talked of Kashmir settlement within the framework of Insaniyat. The word had the immediate effect of altering the frame of reference for Kashmir at the time, obviating the need for the parties to conform to the confines of Indian constitution in search of a way out.   

But, it is also true, the word was not entirely meant. Vajpayee had deployed  it more as a rhetorical device to ensure that Hurriyat’s reservations about the talks being held within the ambit of Indian constitution didn’t prevent the then highly sought after dialogue with the separatist grouping. And this dialogue did take place and without any headway.  

But this doesn’t detract from Vajpayee’s larger contribution to the efforts for a peaceful South Asia  with Kashmir as one of his focus areas. Vajpayee’s real call was his bold outreach to Pakistan,  and managing to stay on course despite Kargil interregnum, the subsequent coup which brought General Musharraf to power.  It was he who with due cooperation from General Musharraf laid the foundations of a peace process which was taken over and built upon by his successor Manmohan Singh only to be given up midway. 

Following Musharraf’s dramatic exit from scene in 2008, New Delhi even stopped  trying to salvage the process, nor did the  Pakistani governments that followed since step forward to own it. 

Vajpayee also embarked on initiatives to normalize relations with Pakistan. He took bus to Pakistan. He invited Musharraf to Agra some time after Kargil. And it were, in part, his peace overtures which culminated into promising Singh-Musharraf engagement and  the subsequent four point formula for Kashmir solution.  

But it was also Vajpayee led NDA government which summarily rejected autonomy resolution passed by a landslide majority by J&K Assembly. It was Vajpayee government which mobilized Army on the border with Pakistan following  the parliament attack, bringing the two countries to the brink of war. And it was Vajpayee who presided over nuclear tests which worsened the security scenario of the region and created a permanent spectre of nuclear clash after Pakistan also conducted the tests.   So, Vajpayee era was not  about accommodation only in regard to its policy on Kashmir and Pakistan. He did make efforts for peace but the truth is he didn’t arrive at any resolution because at the root of it, his policy was different  only in form but not in substance. 

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