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Friday Aug 21 2020

How the BJP's Hindutva agenda is shaping up in Jammu and Kashmir

Barbed wire is seen laid on a deserted road during restrictions in Srinagar, Kashmir, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/Files

With absolute apathy for law, human rights values and the feelings of Kashmiris and total ignorance of the cataclysmic fallouts that will ensue sooner or later in a more tangible and impactful manner, the RSS-powered Government of India has started setting in motion its objectives more emphatically a year after the revocation of Articles 370 and 35 A of the Indian constitution and bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

G. C. Murmu’s resignation as the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of J&K should be viewed as the first step towards a more practical initiation of these objectives. Murmu, who resigned on August 4, was appointed as the first LG in October last year to marshal the newly carved out union territory in the middle of a complete siege of an entire population and a stringent communication blockade.

Murmu’s association with the Modi-Shah duo goes back to their Gujarat days. Murmu was joint secretary in the home ministry when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state and his man Friday, Amit Shah, the home minister. In 2013, investigative agencies interrogated Murmu accusing him of suppressing investigations into the 2002 Gujarat riots and the infamous Ishrat Jahan encounter case in which Modi and Shah were the prime accused. Ever since Murmu’s loyalty has landed him several plum bureaucratic assignments.

Soon after Modi assumed the prime ministerial office in 2014, he called Murmu to the capital and made him a part of the trusted crack team for the execution of various crucial decisions.

So his resignation triggered speculations as to why his tenure was cut short in just nine months which for an LG is five years otherwise. The answer lies in BJP’s horses for courses policy.

It was being felt by the party’s top decision-making body that while Murmu executed all the bureaucratic assignments efficiently, particularly the one regarding the domicile law that offers J&K citizenship to the non-residents, he couldn’t create a political nursery that could lead to a feasible atmosphere for electoral politics — a scenario that New Delhi could flaunt as some kind of success and normalcy to the outer world. Also, BJP knows Kashmiris, Pakistan, China and the rest of the world don’t view Kashmir’s martial law-like situation the way India tries to portray it through the turbo-charged Hindu nationalist media.

That’s where Murmu’s replacement Manoj Sinha comes in. Sinha is a former BJP minister who was tipped to be the CM of India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh in 2017 before Yogi Adityanath, whom Washington Post referred to as ‘militant monk’ in one of its features, was chosen over him for his openly hateful approach towards minorities, especially Muslims. Like Murmu, Sinha too is a Modi confidante and is known in the BJP circles for his sobriety and political acumen.

Sinha has his work cut out as the BJP top brass wants to create a smooth atmosphere for its Hindutva politics in J&K and emergence of BJP as the largest political party in the union territory.

A day after his appointment, Sinha, while talking to media at the oath ceremony, said that peace was his top priority and that he would soon initiate dialogue with the people. “We need to establish a dialogue with the common people of J&K,” said Sinha.

However, given the tense situation that shows no signs of improvement, it’s almost impossible to believe that a meaningful interaction with the people can be initiated anytime soon or till foreseeable future. In reality, BJP is employing the same old tactics that its predecessors, Congress, in particular, had been playing in the erstwhile state for more than seven decades. Albeit, the wily Congress could manage to pull it off in bits and pieces because of its more flexible attitude and relatively farsighted policies. BJP has a narrow leeway on that count given its harsh public posturing and vitriolic rhetoric on Kashmir and Pakistan. The party can’t afford to be seen by its widely Hindu nationalist electorate as showing any signs of leniency towards Kashmiris.

BJP’s belligerent stance has been the key to its sweeping electoral successes despite a series of failures on multiple fronts: governance, development and foreign policy. Add to that the internal discord and violent communal polarization that keeps India in the international headlines all the time.

BJP’s task in Kashmir becomes all the more difficult because, in fierce pursuit of its Hindutva agenda, it destroyed most of the high-value assets across the spectrum who were cultivated by Indian agencies under different regimes over decades and who New Delhi could fall back upon in times of crisis. Now it has to start from scratch to co-opt people and cultivate stooges. In the current scenario that won’t be an easy task, though.

The handful of ones who might still cooperate in their hunger for whatever little political power New Delhi can offer them have, courtesy BJP, lost even a strand of credibility they might otherwise have enjoyed in limited sections of the populace before New Delhi’s August 5 decision. The situation on the ground is extremely grim and every single claim that the BJP government makes has been debunked.

According to Coalition of Civil Societies (CCS), a reputable human rights body, the first six months of 2020 witnessed at least 229 killings in different incidents of violence which included extrajudicial executions of at least 32 civilians, besides killings of 143 militants and 54 armed forces personnel.

“Children and women continued to be victims of violence in J&K as 3 children and 2 women were killed in the first half of 2020. During cordon and search operations and encounters, vandalism and destruction of civilian properties was reported. In the first six months of 2020, media continued to be at the receiving end of the pressure, intimidation and harassment by the authorities, with several incidents of beating and thrashing of journalists. Besides physical assaults, few Kashmir based journalists were also booked under stringent charges and cases were filed against them,” says the scathing six-monthly CCS report.

According to the report, there were 55 instances of internet blockades recorded from January 1 to June 30 2020.

“The destruction of civilian properties by armed forces personnel during encounters or while dealing with the protestors,” says the report, “saw an uptick in the first six months of 2020.”

According to the CCS findings, from January 1 to June 30, at least 48 cases of destruction of civilian properties were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, rendering many families homeless and without shelter. On July 18, the Indian Army killed three labourers, one of them a teenager, in a stage managed encounter and passed them off as militants.

BJP’s own local body heads have been facing deadly attacks across Kashmir of late which has led to a flurry of resignations and video-recorded apologies from the party members.

The economy of J&K is in absolute tatters as a result of the clampdown that was imposed last year and further exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Yet, flouting all the ground realities, New Delhi has started taking forceful measures to ensure its objectives are fulfilled at the earliest. As a result, a series of quick developments are expected to unfold in the coming weeks or months.

Highly placed sources say that a massive shakeup in the bureaucracy and police is on the cards. They say that New Delhi has made a list of bureaucrats and police officers whose allegiance to BJP’s Hindutva agenda is questionable. It’s said that such officers would be either given unimportant positions or, in certain cases, suspended or even dismissed from the services. This would probably be the first major task for Sinha before he sets the ball rolling to orchestrate the much-abused ‘democratic process’.

At the same time, BJP is also planning to restore J&K’s statehood, more for the non-Muslim constituency of Jammu that has been demanding it feverishly over the last many months than for the dissenting Kashmiris or the Muslim population of Jammu.

In a recent interview, BJP’s National General Secretary Ram Madhav said that the restoration of statehood was BJP’s top priority. But that doesn’t put an end to the roadblocks. Neither does it neutralize China and Pakistan as stakeholders to Kashmir dispute.

Both the countries have been extremely pro-active over the last one year as far as Kashmir is concerned. Immediately after the revocation of the special status, Pakistan launched an unprecedented diplomatic offensive which has been continuing at different levels. Yet, if Kashmir hasn’t erupted so far, despite all-pervading tension and suffocation, it’s largely because Pakistan hasn’t really gone down that road yet. Otherwise, the ground for a high-intensity militancy has never been as fertile in Kashmir as it is now.

And Pakistan, given its sway over Kashmiris, can turn the tide should that remain the only option to halt the Hindutva juggernaut that has been trampling upon the rights and sentiments of the overwhelming Muslim majority of J&K that it’s hell-bent upon converting to minority through forced demographic changes.

Also, India has far too much on its plate at the moment as the BJP regime in its Hindutva delusions has been punching above its weight. India has never been reprimanded globally so much on Kashmir and for its maltreatment of the minorities as it has been since Modi rule began in 2014. At Pakistan’s instance, UN Security Council (UNSC) has already discussed Kashmir thrice since August 5, 2019.

Despite all the odds and domestic constraints, India’s best bet is to open a dialogue with Pakistan. As long as it’s at war with its arch-enemy, it can’t arrive at any rapprochement with a much stronger and superior China. For India, to be at loggerheads with two of its mightiest neighbours — one of them a global giant - would only mean the continuation of its compromises and disastrous foreign policy that has estranged the entire neighbourhood and compelled India to be a US puppet.

Anyone who understands Kashmir issue and Pakistan’s involvement with it knows Pakistan is never going to give up. Less so now, when its ‘iron brother’ China is strategically invested in the region and their economic, geopolitical and military interests converge like never before. Their militaries have forged a strong interoperability because of their common objectives in the region and China has vehemently put its weight behind Pakistan’s Kashmir policy.

Pakistan’s intent and seriousness on Kashmir could also be gauged from Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s recent hard-hitting statement targeting Saudi Arabia on OIC’s inaction over Kashmir. Never before has Pakistan confronted the ‘brotherly’ Arab country so openly. The statement becomes all the more significant in view of Pakistan’s economic woes.

Also, whenever Kashmir erupts, which can’t be ruled out at all, it would be very hard to keep it in check and its ripple effects will be felt across India. And, truth be told, India doesn’t have a definitive military option to contain Pakistan, let alone face China, in such a situation.

Tailpiece: In a choreographed August 15 footage that makes him look like a 6-footer stout walking pompously as if to conquer the world, Prime Minister Modi also said that elections would be held after the delimitation process. Modi, however, chose not to talk about the potential restoration of statehood.

— Shabir Hussain is a journalist and political analyst based in J&K