Hope and promise: On Centre’s J&K outreach

Signalling a revival of the political process in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to meet 14 party leaders from the Union Territory on June 24. Mr. Modi’s outreach is taking place nearly two years after the State of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special constitutional status and dismembered into two Union Territories through an unprecedented exercise of the Centre’s powers. This demonstrates a desirable flexibility in his approach towards resolving the Kashmir issue. Considering the absence of an agenda for the meeting and the prevailing sense of betrayal among Kashmiris, any hope of a quick resolution to the frozen political questions is not realistic. Discontinuing the special status of Kashmir was a core agenda of Hindutva nationalism for decades, which was achieved after the second parliamentary victory of Mr. Modi in 2019. There has been a concerted campaign to undermine political parties and leaders of the Valley by the BJP and the Centre. Since 2014, the BJP has worked under a premise that the PDP and NC were impediments, not facilitators, to a solution in Kashmir. The BJP’s short-lived alliance with PDP, far from building bridges, created more hostility between the parties and de-legitimised both in the eyes of the public. The leaders of mainstream parties, including former Chief Ministers, were jailed after 2019. The Centre’s idea to incubate a loyal political class made little progress.

The political environment has changed, meanwhile. The Joe Biden administration is eager to end the U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan and resist China’s attempts to dominate the world. India is in a stand-off with China on the border. The Biden administration is publicly disapproving of India’s Kashmir policy, while wanting to strategically embrace it. Pakistan is trying to reclaim its strategic advantage. The mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic has dented India’s global image and triggered new political challenges domestically. All these make rigidity less rewarding in India’s Kashmir policy. All the same, by creating an opportunity to explore a way forward, the Centre has acted wisely, regardless of its reasons. It must engage the political parties in good faith and with an open mind. Kashmir’s governance challenges are not managerial, and corruption investigations, legitimate as they may be, must not be used to debase politics itself. Efforts to tackle corruption and pilferage should not amount to furthering instability in J&K. The Centre appears to have done some groundwork, though it has not revealed any plans yet. The meeting must be a beginning towards a durable and democratic resolution of the Kashmir question and not an exercise in managing the Centre’s image.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 11:31:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/hope-and-promise-the-hindu-editorial-on-centres-jk-outreach/article34873981.ece

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