D S Sodhi
Lok Sabha Elections of 2019 saw an ugly and bitter election campaign. Almost every political party indulged in mudslinging and political slander. Even the leaders who have been resting in peace were not spared. The political discourse was at its lowest since the choicest of abuses were hurled at the Prime Minister to the extent that his personal life too was attacked.Religious hate speeches, heated rhetoric violence and vandalism of public property took center stage towards the end of the campaign. Warships,wives andwomen candidates too were not spared. Debates on electronic media too turned ugly most of the times. I happened to be on many such debates. However, I refrained from participating in the indecent bashing. The negative campaigning by some parties resulted in huge losses to them, owing to the voters who could see through it. The incumbent Government was attacked for the perceived failures however the mandate with the which BJP led NDA emerged successful has made history. Whilst the politics of degradation was given a befitting reply by the voters,the politics of perceived entitlement too was shown the right door. The arrogance of some of the leaders was evident throughout the campaign and many of them, directly and indirectly, not only proclaimed to play an important role on the national scene but also aspired to be prime ministerial candidates. Many migratory leaders appeared on the arena and some of them proved to be disastrous for their parties, hurling statements like”Hua Tau Hua.”Various institutions and agencies including the Election Commission and even the Judiciary were not spared.
The dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir too played a very important role throughout the campaigning and the voting process. The cowardly attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama gave a different dimension to the political discourse. The Government of the day was being questioned about the security lapse as well as for no immediate action having been taken against the perpetrators of the crime. The whole nation was furious and the role of Pakistan in export of terror had emerged quite clear. Jaish -e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack, least realizing what the repercussions would be. Sensing the emerging home-grown terror supported by Pakistan and the public sentiment, the Government showed the willand took the decision of striking the terror atits very heart. Precise airstrikes by Indian Airforce on various training centers in Pakistan, across the LOC, took the world by surprise. Balakot proved that this was a Government with a resolve to fight terror, striking deep in Pakistani territory (Ghar Main Ghus Kar Mara). With valuable intelligence inputs gathered over few days, these surgical strikes were strategically planned to minimize civilian casualties and damage to military installations, well foreseeing how Pakistan could respond. The Government took a huge risk since two nuclear nations were involved. Here again the nuclear bluff of Pakistan was called (Pakistan had always been threatening nuclear retaliation in case of any attack by India). The Indian Airforce showed the highest degree of professionalism, ensuring that only terror, and no civilians or army units, were targeted. Subsequently bringing down of a Pakistani F-16 by WgCdr Abhinandan, his capture, and then immediate release, showed not only the resolve and intent of the Government, but the support this country received from the international community.The world stood behind India in her fight against terror and Pakistan was left isolated. Even China,an important ally and long-standingfriend of Pakistan, introspected and eventually supported the ban on Masood Azhar.This diplomatic victory by the Government made a bold statement that any act of terror would be given a befitting response, thereby making an impression on the minds of billions of people.
It seems that the political parties operated on the philosophy of “All is fair in Love and War” when it came to Jammu and Kashmir. The two main political parties, BJP and Congress, spoke about issues such asnational security, abrogation of article 370, article 35 A, AFSPA, and the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir in their manifestos. These issues were highlighted in political rallies as well as television debates, to arouse patriotic sentiments outside Jammu and Kashmir. However, the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir used these in their favour by threatening dire consequences in case any attempt was made to abrogate the concerned articles. So far as the issue of abrogation of article 370 was concerned, the BJP maintained its stand, as has been since Jansangh days,with the party being genuinely concerned about the total integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India. I too participated in some of these debates, defending the need to handle these issues very carefully keeping the sentiments of the peopleof Jammu and Kashmir in mind.
While the public perception might be that once the new Government takes over, article 370 may be abrogated, it won’t happen so easily. Narendra Modi is not only a BJP leader but a prime minister too and he has vowed to keep the interest of every state in mind. The statement of PM Modi in one of the rallies that”My people of Kashmir lined up for donating blood for those injured in firing during the Amarnath Yatra last year” gives a reasonable assurance that as prime minister he would protect the interests of his people. He has also reiterated on many occasions that the fight is against terrorism and those who are against humanity, acknowledging that the people of Kashmir have been a victim of this menace. The Prime Minister had also viewed with concern the attack on Kashmiri students and Kashmiri businessmen outside Jammu and Kashmir as reported in media, post the Pulwama massacre.
The security forces along with the state forces have been able to eliminate number of terrorists in the last few months. However, there is a need to address the rise in home grown terror. Successful conduct of panchayat and parliamentary elections have given a hope of Kashmir returning to normalcy soon. BJP has made an important statement in their 2019 Sankalp Patra stating”we will take all steps to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all residents of the state” and this gives the hope that Kashmir’s issues would certainly be dealt with sensitivity.
The Parliamentary election results in the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir ask for efforts towards rapprochement between the people of three regions. Similarly, the urgent need for positive engagement with the people of Kashmir does not need any emphasis. The vilification and alienation of innocent Kashmiris should be arrested and at the same time, the anti-national elements and terrorists need to be dealt with a firm resolve and in a stringent manner, making an example out of them.
Though Narendra Modi, the PM has unequivocally stated that “our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris” the bigger question that appears to have come in the minds of people of Kashmir during the bitter and vicious election campaigning is that is it “Kashmir or Kashmiris” that matters for the Nation. I have no doubt that it is “Kashmir and Kashmiris” both that make India complete.The need of the hour therefore is to make a conducive, safe, and peaceful environment in Kashmir, which is possible by engaging with the people of Kashmir and eliminating the terror within and outside the state. Measures need to be put in place (with state of art surveillance equipment and fencing) to stop infiltration at harsh and difficult terrain on our borders. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A is not the solution at this stage when Kashmir and Kashmiris are going through the most difficult phase.
(The writer is a senior Naval Veteran and Defence and Political Analyst)
D S Sodhi