Is BJP shifting course on Kashmir?

Anil Anand
Kashmiri separatist leaders who were or are of some consequence have held a strong belief that a BJP Government, as and when it came into being at the Centre would have a strong potential to resolve the vexed Kashmir issue. They gave vent to this strong belief during the 1990s when Jammu and Kashmir was hit by Pakistan sponsored terrorism and even after that.
The basic reasoning behind holding such a view was that as the BJP represents a wider Hindu constituency in India. So whatever decision the dispensation takes on Kashmir would be readily acceptable and stamped by the wider Hindu constituency which these Kashmiri leaders thought was the core vote bank and supporters of the saffron party.
The counter narrative from persons such as this writer was that the Kashmiri leaders were sadly mistaken as no such thing as a Hindu or a Muslim constituency existed in India. And that no one, be it Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians, under the Indian democratic set up was so naive to accept anything blindfolded and with senses closed. But still these leaders held a strong belief and pinned all their hopes on the BJP.
Certain developments which could safely be said as a discernible change in the BJP’s outlook towards Kashmir has led one to recollect how separatist leaders such as late Abdul Gani Lone and hawkish Tehrik-e-Hurriyat leader and strong Pakistan supporter Syed Ali Shah Geelani drew solace in the fanciful thought of BJP in-power having the mandate to resolve the Kashmir issue, to their liking.
The BJP is here with a strong majority and under a strong leader Mr Narendra Modi. Although the BJP-led central Government and the party itself seem to be in a sense of confusion so far as their Kashmir policy is concerned, it is certainly not to suggest that the Modi dispensation would in any way fulfil the desire of these separatist leaders. But there certainly is a question mark in the face of these developments.
Well the separatist leaders must have been pleased with the statement of Minister of State for External Affairs and former Army chief General V K Singh that the Government was not against All Party Hurriyat Conference holding parleys with Pakistan. The statement made by him in Parliament in reply to a question is a marked departure from the BJP and its led Union Government’s stated position towards separatists holding talks with Pakistan. It was not long back when the Foreign Secretary level talks were cancelled by New Delhi objecting to Pak High Commission pre-empting in  inviting the Kashmiri leaders on the eve of the talks.
No doubt it was only an act of brinkmanship which delivered nothing but caused considerable harm.
The new thinking in the BJP camp runs contrary to the chest thumping its leader exhibited during the Lok Sabha election campaign and subsequently on forming the Government with a convincing majority. There is no alternative to dialogue but in the context of Kashmir the important parameters should be where, when and why to hold talks either with the separatists or Pakistan or among the separatists and Islamabad.
This change of heart on the part of the Modi Government and the BJP is a welcome sign. But if the change has come under the compulsions of partnering the PDP to run the Government in Jammu and Kashmir it could be fraught with serious consequences. Political expediencies never provide best of solutions particularly in complex situations such as Kashmir and the BJP high command should be wary of it.
The second development that impelled this writer to recollect the memoires of Lone, Geelani and some others as connecting to current situation is an official press release issued by the J&K unit of the BJP regarding a programme of the state president to South Kashmir. The party showed no qualms in datelining the venue as Islamabad, a name given by the locals without any official sanction, alongside the historic name of this town as Anantnag.
This would be heartrending for the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community and all others for whom name Anantnag is nothing less than a matter of faith. Intriguingly the BJP, till the other day, and its earlier avtar Jan Sangh had been the strong votaries of Anantnag. There is a total and studied silence on this frontby BJP leave aside issuing a clarification.
It again seems that the political expediency has been strongly at play with an underlying compulsion to pander to a local sentiment by way of strengthening the coalition partner PDP and its leader Mehbooba Mufti who has been tottering to find her political feet in Kashmir Valley. It will not be out of context to point out that Anantnag Assembly constituency will soon have a bi-election as it was represented by late chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and incumbent Chief Minister Mehbooba will be her party’s candidate.
And then the total mishandling and subsequent backtracking on the issue of National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, agitation by the BJP both at the centre and in the state. It is nothing short of icing on the cake using sour cream which has left a bad taste in the mouth.
All these acts of thoughtless political expediency give a strong impression that the big brother BJP is firing at the aim in utter darkness. The lure of power, in J&K, has apparently forced the party strategists to throw away the basic tenets on which the BJP’s Kashmir thinking rested.
There is no harm in being politically expedient and it is part of any political party’s strategy. But the problem starts when the expedient behaviour is carved out in an unnatural manner throwing basic beliefs to the wind. The politically expedient moves when pursued in full public view, as is in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, need to be carefully crafted so as not to look unnatural.
Such acts of disproportionate political adventurism could cost BJP dearly in the long run. PDP has only Kashmir Valley to lose politically but BJP if kept moving without caution has much to lose.


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