Author : Sushant Sareen

Originally Published 2019-09-16 11:12:03 Published on Sep 16, 2019
A political solution in Kashmir
For decades, an entire industry comprising political entrepreneurs, activists, academics, and scribes inclined towards the loony left or with liberal pretensions, and a few retired soldiers, has grown around the idea advocating a political solution in Kashmir. But none of these characters ever really defined what precisely they meant by ‘political solution’. It was at best an amorphous and inchoate formulation, a sexy slogan which made the sloganeers sound profound without ever thinking it through. Even the ‘moderate’ separatists never really specified what exactly they meant by ‘political solution’. Everyone knew they were plugging for separatism. But when they were asked to spell out their ‘political solution’, they only mouthed clichés like ‘talks’, ‘dialogue’, consultations. Well, guess what? On August 5, the Modi-Shah duo went in for a political solution in Kashmir. The administrative, constitutional and legal changes announced on August 5, are nothing but a political solution as conceived by the current political dispensation to solve the vexed ‘political problem’ of Jammu and Kashmir. The political solution has, however, been sugar-coated with talk of economic development, and ending ethnic, social and gender-based discrimination. In other words, the entire spiel about development and rights is at best a corollary and not the primary driver behind the move. The fact of the matter is that Jammu and Kashmir wasn’t exactly in the bottom of the pile when it came to economic development. The 2018 HDI index ranked J&K 11 among Indian states. Compared to Leh, Jammu and Srinagar, the main cities of PoK – Gilgit, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur – are like a mofussil town in rural India. The astronomical amount of money spent in J&K made a big dent on poverty – according to one estimate, just over 10% of people were living below the poverty line in 2011-12. Even so, it can be argued that given the amount of money being spent, neither J&K nor India was getting the maximum bang for the buck. Had the money been spent judiciously, J&K should have by now become the most prosperous and developed state in the entire Indian Union. What was holding, nay pulling, back the state was its political system and the restrictions and disincentives it imposed on trade, Industry, investment and entrepreneurship. At least in theory, and perhaps to the extent of political rhetoric, the political, constitutional and legal changes ushered in should address the development issues. But as said earlier, it is about the politics, stupid! The economics is only a concomitant, or a collateral. Politically, for the ruling BJP, the politics of Kashmir was partly about ideology – Art. 370 was one of its favourite bugbears, and scrapping it was part of its core agenda. But beyond the ideological, there was a hard-nosed realpolitik at play. There were broadly two dimensions to this: the first related to J&K; the second to rest of India. In J&K, the common refrain by the usual suspects of ‘political solution’ was essentially a pitch for either more autonomy or separatism. Team Modi was convinced that both Art. 370 and 35A only instilled and fuelled a sense of separateness, especially in the Valley. As long as these existed on the statute books, they would constitute a psychological barrier that would prevent Kashmiris from seeing themselves as an integral and inalienable part of India. These constitutional provisions would always keep alive the germ of seceding from India, at least in the minds of some people. Therefore, instead of conceding more autonomy, what was required was ending the charade – by all accounts Art. 370 had already been whittled down so much that it was only symbolic – and send a clear, unambiguous message up and down the political food chain that the era of riding on two boats, and speaking in two voices, was over. The old ecosystem and incentive structure built on playing both on the side of the state and that of the separatists no longer obtains. The only game left in town is to bat on India’s side or else become a bystander. Those wanting to play spoiler will receive their comeuppance. For rest of India, the political parties have been confronted with a fait accompli. No political party, unless it has either been hijacked by the deracinated itinerant jholawalas and divorced-from-political-reality NGO mafia, or has itself become a NGO and only masquerading as a political party, will promise a return to status quo ante. For securing three seats in the Valley, no political party will jeopardise the 540 seats in rest of India. Clearly then, the Modi government has implemented its political solution. Whether this is a good or bad solution, and whether it will worsen or solve the Kashmir tangle is something that will be known only in the fullness of time. But since it is a political solution, it requires politics in J&K to start for it to work. For now, there is a vacuum. The old political class is inactive, and there is no new political class waiting in the wings ready to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, the Islamists are trying to fill the vacuum. This needs to be fixed if this momentous political initiative of the Modi government has to have any chance of working.
This commentary originally appeared in Mail Today.
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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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