When Modi Invokes Vajpayee

In an interview to a television channel, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi  once again invoked  his NDA predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s slogan of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’ to resolve Kashmir. He said Vajpayee’s policy was a guideline for him and repeated that he didn’t need anybody’s advice on Kashmir as he knew the state and had travelled through it. But at the same time the PM reiterated the need for doing away with the Article 370 and 35A that lent  J&K its special status and barred outsiders from settling in the state.  The latter intent thus cancels out the hope offered by the invocation of Vajpayee. 

So basically the PM has nothing  to offer on Kashmir.  As the interview also indicated, a dialogue with Islamabad is also not uppermost in his priorities, nor the one with Hurriyat. Over the past five years, even  though the PM profusely quoted  Vajpayee on Kashmir he didn’t emulate him. If anything, this shows the dialogue between India and Pakistan has little hope of resuming in right earnest in case of the BJP’s re-election.  One major reason for this is that  India has now a vast constituency that  won’t agree to talks with Pakistan, let alone  stand a pursuit for the resolution of issues with it. And if at all there has to be a resolution, New Delhi will seek it on its terms.

So, when PM speaks of Vajpayee’s terms of reference on Kashmir, he divests them of their profound political import. He doesn’t mention Insaniyat in terms of the willingness to talk to separatists outside the ambit of the Constitution but interprets it differently and in ways not far from his party’s ideology on Kashmir. And Jamhooriyat for him is the large turnout in the Assembly and the parliamentary polls in the state. He, however, doesn’t elaborate a bit on Kashmiriyat, most likely equating it with Sufism which teaches co-existence.

If anything, it shows that a  win in Lok Sabha polls will hardly change the existing state of affairs. Modi in the event of yet another absolute majority is unlikely to use his enormous popularity to seek a political resolution of Kashmir. This is unlike  Vajpayee. He too was ideologically-rooted. But he utilized his political stature to break free and deal with issues unburdened by the ideological commitments.  Modi also has stature but he has so far chosen to play politically safe and operate strictly within ideological boundaries which have only narrowed by the day.

Considering much of Modi brand is based on a tough stance towards Pakistan and not conceding a bit in Kashmir, it is unlikely that he would depart from his policy so far. More so, when this stance has politically benefited him. His party’s agenda is a complete ideological makeover of India and the lynchpin of this programme is the integration of Kashmir into India by divesting the state of its constitutional safeguards. And in case of a re-election  one could expect him to work to realize this longstanding ideological agenda on the state. There is thus a dire need in Kashmir for a serious rethink and reflection about this new reality. Kashmiri leaders need to formulate a political response to counter an assault on the state’s constitutionally validated special position in Indian Union in future.

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