The Kashmir issue is clearly India’s biggest strategic challenge and will be so for as long as India continues to muddle along with no vision on how to address the problem in its many dimensions. The announcement by Mr Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister, that the government is ready (again!) to conduct elections in Kashmir, will only please those who are mesmerised by the idea that allowing people to cast their votes is the answer to the mess that has come to prevail in Kashmir.
The problem ‘of’ Kashmir – a consequence of India’s collective failures, that has allowed Pakistan to become an alternative for the alienated masses – feeds off the problem ‘in’ Kashmir, that is the consequence of the mess within Kashmir, as politicians in Delhi and Srinagar have allowed issues in J&K to repeatedly spiral out of control. It leads one to conclude that they either want the Kashmir issue to fester or because they have no long-term plan to address the challenges within. The latter has been confirmed by various knowledgeable experts.
But let us first address the issue of elections in Kashmir. While most informed observers agree that it was the rigging in the elections of 1987 – by those very politicians whose parties publically champion the cause of the people – that has led to the turmoil in Kashmir for three decades now. And though there have been at least three phases of relative calm in Kashmir – brought about by effective counterinsurgency operations in the Valley – our politicians have squandered the opportunities as if they were courting a death wish for Kashmir!
After the last elections, it was obvious to any observer that the ‘governance alliance’ between the PDP and the BJP in the state of Jammu and Kashmir was not going to work despite the tall claims of both parties and their spokespersons, they both went in for the alliance to make the most of a political opportunity. All it gave us was a beleaguered alliance with the chief minister trying to keep up the façade of the partnership, till the rug was pulled from under her feet by the BJP leadership, who realised – coincidentally rather close to the general elections of 2019 – that the alliance was untenable, as terrorist activities were on the rise in the Valley, even though militancy and the radicalisation of the youth in the Valley was actually being repeatedly reported for the entire three years or more of the farcical alliance.
So, while the mirage of another election as an answer to the demands of the Kashmiri people has been floated once again – to pass the buck from the Delhi to the Srinagar- without addressing the key issues that bedevil the people of Kashmir, little will be achieved, if past experience is anything to go by, with an elected government in place.
Another cycle of blame games will begin, with politicians and separatists (the self-appointed spokespersons of the people) each insisting that the other isn’t doing what should be done and that they have a magic wand to solve Kashmir’s problems. In reality, what is needed is not just an election, but good governance and development. There has been little if any, of that over the past few decades. And though vast amounts of money have been ploughed by Delhi into the state of J&K, there is little to show where it has gone. Ministers in Delhi say that if the transfer of funds is linked to a demand for transparency over what it is being used for, then the leaders in Srinagar say that they will not take the funds, citing their financial autonomy as part of Article 370 (which is all but dead)! This leads one to conclude that development is not quite the goal of local leaders since they eventually use lack of development as a rallying point to garner votes and feed their greed, as Delhi’s leaders look hopelessly by.
And the other is the insistence of every politician that military men must go back to the barracks as if the insurgency will end with the elections, even if it is free and fair (unlike 1987)! Insurgencies have their roots in a ‘cause’, which could be a politico, socio or economic – and in Kashmir, they’ve all been there in the past three decades – and these causes are exploited by both internal elements and external forces (like Pakistan). And an alienated population, which has no hope out of the existing mess, ends up as a fifth column for cross-border militias or are forced into compliance. This heady cocktail has been existing in the Valley for long, and leadership with a vision (beyond enacting the charade of elections) should draw up a five-year plan for Jammu and Kashmir, and implement it with all its will. Until New Delhi does that, the Kashmir issue will remain a problem that should have been solved 25 years ago but hasn’t been because ‘Kashmir Inc.’ is a business that benefits many entities.
(Maroof Raza is a guest contributor. Views expressed are personal)