There is little doubt that notwithstanding any achievement of Narendra Modi in the economic field or in partially curbing the saffron hotheads, Kashmir will be the scene of his biggest failure unless he is able to accomplish a dramatic breakthrough in the near future. Such a feat will justify Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s belief that only Modi can solve the state’s problems. At the moment, however, an expectation of this nature appears unreal because militancy in the Valley has become a great deal more intense than before, making the situation “scary”, as the Election Commission has been told by the state government in the context of the Anantnag parliamentary by-election, which had to be cancelled.
The ridiculously low polling percentage of seven in last month’s Srinagar parliamentary by-poll was a disturbing sign of the erosion of popular faith in the electoral process since 2014, when the percentage in the assembly polls was 66, a 10 per cent jump from 2008. While some hope was generated by the fairly large turnout by young men during an army recruitment drive, the cold-blooded killing of a 22-year-old Kashmiri army lieutenant during a wedding celebration in his family underlined the presence of psychopathic militants nearly all over the state and their increasing boldness.
What is more, the appearance of schoolgirls on the streets to join the teenage boys to throw stones at the security forces shows that the familial and social norms are breaking down. The link between the increase in militancy and last year’s killing by the security forces of Burhan Wani, the so-called poster boy of the local terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, has long been obvious. Hindsight suggests that if Wani had been captured and jailed, there would not have been such a rapid deterioration of the situation.
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If a hardline official approach has accentuated the sense of alienation, the reason is the association of such an attitude with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s generally hawkish outlook, which has manifested itself in other parts of the country in the murderous antics of the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) despite Modi’s earlier admonition, the saffron lobby’s continuing opposition to inter-faith affairs and the description of Mughal emperors like Babur and Akbar as “invaders”, as by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recently recalling the castigation of Muslims as unpatriotic “Babur ki aulad” (children of Babur) during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
None of this is expected to make the Kashmiri Muslims pay greater heed to the Prime Minister’s call to shun terrorism to boost tourism as he said during his last visit to the state. The scene has been exacerbated by the appearance of jingoistic television channels as well as by belligerent trolls in the social media which echo the kind of virulent rhetoric which was common at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement with the exception that their targets now include, along with the minorities, the Leftists and Liberals — the supposedly anti-Hindu, anti-national “sickular Congis” and commies — and the more restrained print and audio-visual media.
While the overheated atmosphere cannot but make the situation worse, the BJP will have to moderate its standard anti-minority stance if it wants Kashmir to return to normal. Atal Bihari Vajpayee did so in 1996 when he put on hold the three key points on the BJP’s agenda — building the Ram temple, scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Kashmir and introducing a uniform civil code for all religions in India.
If it is too much to ask of the BJP to speak in favour of retaining Article 370 since it goes against the grain of saffron ideology, it can at least rule out the use of pellet guns — which have not been used anywhere else — and withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the wake of the Supreme Court’s observation that it is antithetical to democracy.
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“It does not matter if the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist,” the court has said. “Nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both…This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties.”
However, the government’s decision to challenge the judgement and BJP leader Ram Madhav’s comment that laws like the AFSPA are not imposed “out of fun” but because they are needed, suggest that the BJP has no time for its coalition partner, the People’s Democratic Party’s call for withdrawing the AFSPA at least from some areas. Whether or not there is any “fun” in promulgating a draconian law, it nevertheless gives the authorities the satisfaction of having untrammelled power in their hands (like the sedition law, another of the government’s favourites) redolent of colonial times.
Instead of making such wisecracks, the government will do well to show greater sensitivity to the local grievances caused by a growing sense of alienation which is exploited by the Pakistan-based jihadis and local militants. A first step in this direction can be the reduction in the “visibility” of the security forces, as was suggested by the committee which undertook a study tour of the state in 2011.