What kind of a Republic Day present did the Bharatiya Janata Party think it wanted to give to the nation? Even its main ally, the Janata Dal (U), has come out against its move to hoist the national flag at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar. Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has said that the Ekta Yatra organised by the BJP’s youth wing had little meaning “given the kind of tension prevailing in the Valley.” He is probably expressing the national sentiment.
The BJP, of course, sees it in a different way. Integrating Kashmir to the Indian Union has been one of its three “core” agendas, along with a uniform civil code and the construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
There is a deeper background here. In its recounting, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was martyred for that cause. Mookerjee died, of an illness complicated by his poor treatment in 1953, after he had been arrested by the then J&K government headed by Sheikh Abdullah— the grandfather of the present chief minister, Omar Abdullah— while entering Kashmir.
|BJP youth wing on their Ekta Yatra at the Punjab border|
Mookerjee differed fundamentally with the Nehruvian policy of accommodating Kashmiri aspirations for autonomy. For Mookerjee, the idea of not permitting outsiders to settle in the state, or the special privileges that the state had got, through negotiations with New Delhi, were an anathema.
Kashmir is an issue on which the BJP calibrates itself— measures the extent to which it remains true to its ideology. Having been helped by a befuddled Congress to recover from its seven-year enervation, the party is pacing itself against its tried and tested causes to see how it functions as a political unit.
As of now its current second-tier duo— Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley— seem to have marshalled the ideology, and the troops, effectively. But the Kashmir agenda could once again blow up in its face. We need only recall the fiasco that was the Rashtriya Ekta Yatra led by Murli Manohar Joshi in 1991. Given the troubled times, it had to eventually carry out its flag-hoisting mission in Srinagar under the protection of a curfew and CRPF guns.
We are not suggesting a Mookerjee-like tragedy or Joshi like farce here. But what can happen is that the party may over-reach itself. The almost all-round condemnation of its proposed plan to hoist the tricolour in Srinagar is a pointer towards that and Nitish Kumar’s condemnation is almost a confirmation. Politics cannot be run through fetishes, and the Kashmir integration issue, which the BJP sees in simplistic terms, has become that.
All those who have seen the bloodbath in Kashmir in the last two decades know just how complicated the Kashmir problem is. This was not simply an outcome of the lack of integration of the state with the rest of the country. What has become evident in recent years is that while the armed militancy has been defeated, it has not been completely eradicated. There are still a substantial number of gunmen around to disrupt the peace of the state, should they choose to. Knowing that they have little chance against the Indian security apparatus, they bide their time and choose their strikes with great care. This was evident in the killing of separatists like Abdul Ghani Lone and the shooting of Fazal Haq Qureshi, both of whom were for a dialogue with the Union government.
While militancy may be down, separatist sentiment remains high in the Valley. It is carefully nurtured through strikes, hartals and the like and mobilisations —such as those relating to the alleged rape and murder of two sisters in Shopian, or the proposal to lease some forest department land to the Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board.
Last year the cause of the day was the killing of Tufail Ahmed Matoo. But what added extra fuel to the upsurge were the Machil killings of three persons, allegedly by army personnel who wanted to pass them off as militants. The emotional alienation of the Valley’s young is such that they are always a ready source of foot-soldiers. Earlier, they took to guns, but now they have begun using stones.
At the heart of the Amarnath agitation, which was, at first sight, a trivial issue, was the reservoir of fear into which those who planned the agitation tapped. This is the fear that the Valley Kashmiri Muslims have of being overwhelmed by the “Hindu” majority. Thus calls to integration—BJP style—which means the possibility of outsiders buying land and possibly displacing the locals, plays well into the Kashmiri Muslim psyche.
Actually, in today’s day and age, while it is easy to displace a couple of hundred thousand people, like the Kashmiri Pandits, it is simply not possible to see how you can change the religious and ethnic composition of a compact area of 15,000 sq kms, where 98 per cent of the nearly
6 million people who reside, are Muslim.
But you cannot argue against fear. Especially, since that is exactly what the more extreme members of the BJP would want to instill in the Valley. As a result the small, but perceptible shifts in the state pointing towards greater accommodation to the national mainstream and a distancing from the separatist agenda, are being jeopardised.
The BJP’s urge to calibrate itself against its foundational movement and the reactions of the Kashmiri Muslims, are coming in the way of efforts to resolve the long festering problem. Over the recent years some issues have become manifest. First, that Pakistan is willing to abandon its long-held positions relating to a plebiscite or self-determination in the Valley. Second, that military commanders like Syed Salahuddin are also ready to work out a peace agreement. Third, that the separatists in the Valley, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are willing to work out a deal with the Union government.
The only “dissidents” here would be the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and some elements of the Pakistani security establishment, both of whom have an agenda which is not really related to Kashmir.
In this background, the attitude of the BJP is that of a spoiler. It has no workable proposal to make on J&K, but it wants to use the issue as an element in its national strategy to return to power at the Centre. That’s a pity. The key steps that have led to the present favourable situation in the Valley, be it with Pakistan or domestic opinion, were both initiated by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. But the BJP of today seems to be harking back to an earlier phase of its political life.
Perhaps it is time for the leadership of the party to reflect on whether they would like to go back to the post-Mookerjee past which turned out to be sterile, or adopt the path of pragmatism and commonsense charted out by Vajpayee.
Mail Today January 26, 2011