As I write this, the curfew in the Kashmir valley has entered the 42nd day. The official death toll of protesters and civilians is 65. The number of security personnel killed is two, not counting the brave men who were killed in encounters with infiltrators. The state government is paralysed, the coalition partners are divided, and the chief minister is a hapless spectator: the shots are being called from Delhi.
Several editorial writers and columnists have repeated a phrase that I had used in a statement on August 17 — that Jammu & Kashmir is “sliding into chaos”. The death of Burhan Wani on July 8 was only the immediate trigger of the slide; the seeds were sown many months ago.
The election to the J&K Legislative Assembly in 2014 yielded the following result:
— PDP: 28
— BJP: 25
— NC: 15
— INC: 12
— Others: 07
— TOTAL: 87
The result was interpreted to mean that the voters wanted the PDP and the BJP to work together and form a government. That was a gross misinterpretation. The electorate wanted the PDP or the BJP to form the government and wanted the other party to sit in the Opposition. The PDP could have joined hands with the Congress(they had done it before) or the BJP could have renewed its ties with the NC (Mr Omar Abdullah was a minister in Mr Vajpayee’s government). Neither option appears to have been explored seriously. So, it was the default option of a PDP-BJP coalition government.
In the last six weeks, three issues have become hopelessly intermingled and sane discourse has taken a backseat:
* that India must — and will — defend its border with full force and the security forces will kill or repulse infiltrators;
* that India will not allow Pakistan to meddle in the internal affairs of India, nor allow Pakistan to internationalise the issue of Kashmir;
* that the Central government and the J&K government owe a duty to find a solution to the issues raised by the people of J&K (including the issue of displaced Kashmir Pandits) through engagement, discussion and negotiation.
We salute the brave young men who have made the supreme sacrifice while defending the territorial integrity of India. What is debatable is whether the Army should be asked to do more, e.g. take primary responsibility for maintaining law and order within the state. Nor can another important debate be circumvented: what is the political solution to the Kashmir issue where thousands of young men and women have poured out into the streets to protest against perceived injustice?
The Central government and the BJP have — the PDP remaining, by choice, a spectator — sought to stifle debate on these issues through raw hyper-nationalistic rhetoric, equating protesters with militants, with paternalistic appeals to the “children”, and, everything else failing, abuses and threats to those who have a different point of view.
Last week, the Prime Minister brought in the third issue — meddle in the internal affairs of another country — that is certain to muddy the waters further. There are two aspects to the issue of Balochistan: the protest movement in that province and the violation of human rights. India’s positions on the two aspects have been clear: the protest movement is an internal matter of Pakistan; India has not played any role in the protests. As far as human rights are concerned, India will highlight the violations in appropriate forums. That was the policy of the governments of Mr Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh.
Brave new world?
That policy was changed last week. At a meeting on August 12 and in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Modi announced a new policy that, in effect, meant that if India noticed violation of human rights in Pakistan, it reserved its right to meddle in the affairs of Pakistan. According to some BJP leaders, Modi has opened the door to a brave new world!
Has he? Undoubtedly, Mr Modi chose the occasion carefully, so that it would have the maximum visibility. I doubt, however, if the Prime Minister had weighed the consequences of his words.
The carefully cultivated stance of studied indifference has been jettisoned. Whether India had, or has, a role in the protests in Balochistan will never be known because India had the cover of ‘deniability’; that cover has been blown. Pakistan has been virtually invited to meddle in the internal affairs of India on the ground that there are human rights violations in India — the atrocities on Dalits, the threats to Muslims and their food habits, gender violence, child marriages etc.
The mere mention of Balochistan in a joint statement issued on July 16, 2009, by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan was enough to unleash a vitriolic attack by the BJP on Dr Manmohan Singh. Sample: “the waters of the seven seas will not be able to wash the shame”. From inviting the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the swearing-in on May 26, 2014, to warning Pakistan on the unrest in Balochistan, India’s policy on Pakistan has done many U-turns and somersaults worthy of an Olympic medal-winning gymnast.
Sane voices have spoken through editorials and columns. There is a raging fire in our backyard in Kashmir. We must focus on putting out that fire rather than rejoice in the fire in our neighbour’s backyard.