In 2014, several Indian liberal intellectuals saw hope in a man called Narendra Modi.
Aatish Taseer, the author of the viral Time magazine cover, India’s Divider-in-Chief, wrote that 2014 “was an election of hope”.
These intellectuals believed, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta told The New Yorker, that “the frustration right before 2014 was that it was very clear that the old order was really crumbling, so deeply and so profoundly”. Hence, there was need for change.
As Brahmins, they didn’t consider the fate of Muslims and Dalits living in India. They believed Modi would bring reforms. Five years later, they are horrified.
However, many in Kashmir have a different view on the matter. They say that these intellectuals are worried about the idea of India 70 years too late. In Kashmir, India has represented the same thing all along.
Are Kashmiris right in their assessment of the Modi regime being no different? Or are they also wrong?
After the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a thumping victory in the Indian general elections last week, one question loomed large on everyone’s minds: what does this mean for Kashmir and its people?
Many in Kashmir are of the opinion that it makes no difference whether India is ruled by a secular Congress or a communal BJP. For them, the two are no different.
They argue that, historically, the worst forms of abuse and oppression of Kashmiris have been carried out under secular regimes. Most massacres in Kashmir have occurred under the Congress: the massacres in Bijbehara and Sopore in 1993, for example.
The gradual erosion of Kashmir’s special status began during the Congress rule: at one point in time, Kashmir had its own prime minister but the Congress changed that into chief minister, bringing the state at par with others.
Democratically-elected governments in Kashmir have been dismissed by the Congress: the Farooq Abdullah-led government was removed in 1984. Draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts were extended to Kashmir by the Congress .
The past five years saw a second full-time National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in India, and during this time, Modi only tried to perfect these practices in Kashmir for which Congress laid the base.
In the NDA’s first tenure from 1998 to 2004 under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, various measures were undertaken to address the conflict in and over Kashmir. General Musharraf and Vajpayee formulated a framework for a composite dialogue that led to a number of confidence-building measures.
Many pro-freedom leaders in Kashmir are of the opinion that Vajpayee’s famous promise to the people, a solution “within the ambit of humanity”, was a sincere call for resolution. They remember him as someone who “understood the pain of Kashmiris”.
But when Modi assumed power in 2014, he did not pick up from where Vajpayee had left. Let’s look at some trends.
Articles 370 and 35A
The BJP towed the historical Sangh Parivar line that calls for a complete integration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union. It means no separate Kashmiri constitution and flag.
In these general elections, abrogation of Article 370 — which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution — was the BJP’s main promise in its manifesto.
The fear of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A (which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state’s legislature to define “permanent residents” and provide them special rights and privileges) has, ironically, given the Kashmiri political leadership — divided between pro-freedom and pro-India — a common cause.O
The regional parties in Kashmir — the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — fought the elections on a single promise: they wouldn’t let the BJP tinker with Article 370.
In the recent past, even the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has called for shutdown across Kashmir on days when a petition challenging the Article 35A was listed for hearing in the Supreme Court of India.
The re-elected Modi government is likely to push the debate on Articles 370 and 35A further. However, whether the BJP would be able to abrogate these articles is hard to predict given the legal and political factors involved.
Counterinsurgency and crackdown
The last five years also witnessed an increase in the number of counterinsurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2014, the number of conflict-related casualties — of militants, civilians and armed forces — stood at 235. By 2018, the number rose up to 586.
In 2017, the Modi government’s security establishment formulatedOperation All-Out to “flush out” militants from Kashmir. This phase also saw an increase in the number of youth joining the ranks of different militant organisations.
However, the trend of increasing numbers is not a direct result of the BJP government and its policies, but a continuation of a pattern which emerged after 2008, when the then-Indian government miserably failed to respond to massive civilian protests for self-determination in Kashmir.
These years saw a tightening of the grip on the resistance leadership in Kashmir. The National Investigation Agency was allowed to raid, interrogate, arrest and charge Hurriyat leaders. Many of them continue to remain jailed.
The media was a target and journalists were not spared. The Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir, suspected of providing support to militancy, was banned and its leaders arrested.
The coming years under the Modi regime are likely to witness an increase in the number of counterinsurgency operations. Coincidentally, on the day the Indian election results were announced, the most wanted militant in Kashmir, Zakir Musa, was killed in Tral.
Not that this is happening for the first time, but the present campaign of persecution appears more concerted and aimed at cornering resistance organisations in Kashmir into silence and submission.
A new mainstream
The BJP seems to want to bury the Abdullah-Mufti dynasties that the successive Congress regimes not only patronised and funded, but also made their ascension to power smooth by undermining democratic practices. Modi’s party is trying to prop up a new mainstream in Kashmir — away from these two families.
When the BJP broke its alliance with the PDP in June last year, the possibility of a non-PDP, non-NC and non-Congress chief minister seemed real. The breakup of the alliance also caused a massive damage to the PDP, as many top leaders quit the party.
Some of them made an entry into the NC and others joined the Sajad Lone-led Peoples Conference. One of them, Javaid Mustafa Mir, became patron of the newly-formed Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement.
In its new term, the BJP might push further for the dissolution and weakening of the NC and the PDP by facilitating groups like the People’s Conference and trying to cause defection in their ranks by offering their leaders more power. After all, nothing corrupts like power.
The BJP leadership is confident that the new chief minister in Kashmir is going to be from their party. They hope to win more than 50 of the 87 assembly seats in the Jammu and Kashmir elections that are a few months away.
That number is not possible without the support of Kashmir-based parties. The NC and the PDP are unlikely to offer their support to Modi, but the Peoples Conference is more likely to be roped in by the BJP to take their share of seats a little higher than last time.
The end of civil society solidarity?
During the Congress rule, civil society groups in India would often protest against the military and police high-handedness in Kashmir in different parts of India, particularly in Delhi.
The last few years have witnessed a massive crackdown on all forms of dissent in the country, which has led civil society groups, student organisations and individuals to take a different course of action. Some voices have been completely muted out.
Through terror charges against academics like Anand Teltumbde and arrest of human rights defenders like Gautam Navlakha and others, the BJP has sent a signal to all.
Whatever little the Indian civil society and some numbered intellectuals spoke in support of Kashmir’s right to self-determination is going to shrink further.
A difficult road ahead
Kashmiris are not exactly right in saying that the Modi regime is no different than those in the past. Keeping in view these four areas, the resistance politics in Kashmir will require a new strategy to negotiate with the coming challenges posed by a more powerful BJP government.
The road ahead is difficult given that many leaders continue to be incarcerated. When we take a deeper look into the specifics, cutting through the grand narratives, it appears that the space for politics at a local, street level is under threat.
This is equally challenging for the Indian state, too. The more it tries to choke resistance politics in Kashmir into submission through violence, the greater the possibility for the emergence of more radical forms of response.