Modi govt chooses rhetoric over substance in Kashmir
The situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which has faced a 28-year-old armed insurgency, is progressively getting worse. But New Delhi, it seems, is caught up with rhetoric over substance.
Though there has been a steady drumbeat of bombastic and optimistic statements on J&K by Home Minister Rajnath Singh over the past year, reality is far from good in the Kashmir Valley.
Numbers do not often tell the whole story, but they do have something to say. Take the ones we are getting:
- Asked on Tuesday whether in the past three years, despite the offensive against terrorism within India, there had been a rise in cross-border violence, Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home affairs, acknowledged that the number of infiltration cases had steadily gone up. As against 223 cases in 2015, the number was 454 in 2016 and 515 in 2017. Likewise, the number of infiltrators killed was 64, 45 and 75.
- In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, in December, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir said that as of December 10 there had been 335 terrorist incidents, as compared with 322 in 2016 and 208 in 2015.
- The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) tells us that there has been a steady rise in the violence along the Line of Control (LoC) as manifested by the number of security-force personnel killed there – four in 2014, 10 in 2015, 13 in 2016 and 28 in 2017.
- The SATP figures also reveal that in this decade, the lowest number of terrorists and security forces killed was in 2012 – 17 security-force personnel and 84 terrorists. The figures for 2016 are 88 security-force personnel and 165 terrorists and for 2017, 83 security-force personnel and 218 terrorists.
- In a written reply in the J&K State Assembly, the government disclosed that the number of youth joining the militancy had steadily risen since 2015. At least 126 young men joined the insurgency in 2017, as against 88 in 2016 and 66 in 2015.
Put these numbers side by side and you will see that they are telling us that the situation in the state is far from good, and has indeed gotten worse since the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge in New Delhi.
Any resolution to the Kashmir issue must have two components. The first is to address the view of the international community that J&K is a disputed territory whose final status must be worked out through negotiations between India and Pakistan.
The second is negotiation between New Delhi and Islamabad that will help, first, to reduce the political violence, and eventually eliminate it from the state.
Ideally, both these moves must be synchronized so as to yield the best results. But on both counts, the Modi government has been a signal failure. Rivalry with Pakistan has replaced vikas (progress) as a means of winning elections in India and hence the prospects of serious diplomacy are not very good.
The Modi government has repeatedly conflated stone-pelting with insurgency and declared all of it to be terrorism funded and sponsored by Pakistan. There is very little room left, therefore, to find a path for political negotiation and diplomacy and to establish normalcy in J&K.
Unlike other areas such as the management of the government and the economy, where incompetence and hubris can take the blame for Modi’s many fiascoes, the failure in Kashmir can be firmly placed in the basket of “ideology.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a direct descendant of the Praja Parishad of Jammu, an outfit that rose in opposition to granting J&K special status. The party’s revered founder, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, died in detention while leading an agitation against Article 370 of the Indian constitution that gives special status to Kashmir.
In fact, one of the three core principles of the BJP has been the deletion of Article 370, the building of the Ram Mandir (temple) on the site of the now-demolished Babri Masjid, and a Uniform Civil Code in the country. While these have been tactically set aside every now and then, they come to the fore every time the party smells an opportunity.
After the BJP’s good showing in the 2014 J&K state elections, where it got the second-largest number of seats (and eventually formed the state government in coalition with the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, which got the largest), it felt that, perhaps, the time had come to push forward on its core agenda.
So the central government in New Delhi mounted a massive offensive against militancy in the Kashmir Valley that led to the killing of scores of militants, including Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in 2016, the arrest of militant sympathizers also known as overground workers (OGWs), and a crackdown on stone-pelting and an aggressive pursuit of Hurriyat (separatist) leaders who were charged with money laundering.
Most of the militants killed were, of course, foot soldiers, easily replaceable. And figures show that far from being deterred, the local populace is becoming more supportive of the armed militancy.
Among the steps taken to reduce militancy, Rijiju told the questioner cited above, were an 800 billion rupee (US$12.4 billion) development package and Bharat Darshan (India View) tours for young children, in addition to other skill-development exercises, sports activities and career counseling.
Politics and ideology
Ideology and political gain seem to play a role in the Modi government’s Pakistan policy. If it was ideology, India ought to have declared Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism instead of going around the world asking others to do so. Ahir’s response to whether there was any proposal to close cross-LoC trade permanently “in view of the terror financing and smuggling of drugs,” his answer was a categorical “no.”
Up until December 2015 when he dropped in to wish Pakistan’s prime minister at the time, Nawaz Sharif, a happy birthday, Modi was well inclined to do business with Islamabad. Since then he has discovered the value of attacking Pakistan to polarize votes back home. Here, of course, conflating “Muslim” and “Pakistan” helps. It has proved to be a successful strategy in Uttar Pradesh and was most recently evident in the Gujarat state polls.
It is true, of course, that Islamabad does not have a government worth its name to talk to currently. But that does not excuse a strategy that is completely devoid of any diplomatic content. Like it or not, to resolve the J&K issue, India needs to manage the Pakistan issue. It may not want to do so, but there are ground realities.
Indeed, by ignoring the diplomatic option totally, the government actually appears to be goading Pakistan to do its worst across the LoC, and that is perfectly acceptable for Modi because it pays electoral dividends. But in the meantime, a price is being paid by ordinary citizens and security personnel.