Comment

The final frontier of Hindutva?

MAKING INROADS: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has found a new mission in capturing political power in Jammu and Kashmir and is undoing whatever little is left of the State’s special status.” Picture shows him at an election rally in Srinagar.   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD;NISSAR AHMAD -

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s aggressive foray into Jammu and Kashmir politics in the current election suggests that it sees the State — the only Indian State with a Muslim majority — as the final frontier of Hindutva politics. “A Hindu Chief Minister in the State is part of our imagination though we will be careful” — that is how an activist of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who did not want to be named, responded when questions pertaining to their agenda in the State were asked.

BJP strategists list three factors to claim that its line on Kashmir is working: the best ever electoral turnout, the lowest impact of militancy and the best performance of the BJP, particularly its outreach into the Valley. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Srinagar on December 8 had modest crowds, but it was an act of daring for a Hindu nationalist party to organise one in the Valley. Mr. Modi stood on the dais without the protection of a bulletproof enclosure.

For the time being, the BJP is content with a triumphalist narrative of the wide participation in the State election as a victory of India, and a warning to Pakistan and separatists. These points are easily contestable and Ayesha Pervez (“Interpreting the Kashmiri vote,” The Hindu, December 13) has listed multiple reasons for the increased participation. A senior official in the State government said voting in Jammu and Kashmir could also be the result of a sense of dispossession and powerlessness.



The Modi-Amit Shah combine has reduced the ‘Kashmir question’ into one of ‘development’ in their mercantile approach to politics — that money can buy everything



Not only is interpreting people’s participation as a sign of acceptance of India dubious, it is also tactless. It would be in India’s interests not to prompt any debate on whether Kashmir wants to be with India or not. The ideal route for India could be to allow the debate in the Valley — assuming that it does — crystallise more around the fundamental questions of livelihood, governance and basic human rights. New Delhi must allow space for that and even encourage and facilitate that rather than portraying the election as a referendum every six years.

Emblem of ‘strong India’

Jammu and Kashmir has indeed acquired a demonstrative value for India, but unfortunately not the way Nadeem Akhtar, senior leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suggested. “India should have been celebrating us as a success of its democracy, but unfortunately, we are being treated like a troublesome mofussil,” Mr. Akhkar, said. “When Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India in 1947, that was the first time in the 1400-year-old history of Islam that a Muslim nation became part of a secular, democratic country.”

Instead Jammu and Kashmir is where the Indian State today demonstrates its ability as a ‘strong state.’ The most shameful demonstration of this was the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013, who was convicted of a role in the terror attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. A recurring set of questions one would encounter in the Valley is: If India could allow the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and the killers of Beant Singh to live, why did it hang Guru? Why was it done in a surreptitious way? Why was his body not given to his family? “He was the 28th person in the death row. The Congress government wanted to counter a rising BJP and sent him to the gallows,” says Mehbooba Mufti, PDP leader.

Though the Congress and the BJP both use Jammu and Kashmir to demonstrate their strength, their different approaches have been pronounced in this election campaign. ‘Complete integration’ of Jammu and Kashmir was a fundamental political agenda of the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s forbear. “ Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan aur do nishan, nahi chalega” (In one country, there cannot be two Constitutions, two heads and two flags) became its slogan, against the special constitutional status to the State. Mr. Modi has found a new mission in capturing political power in the State and undoing whatever little is left of the State’s special status. He is pursuing this by reversing the approach of the first BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who, in the words of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, “did not offer us azadi (freedom) but acknowledged that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.” Mr. Vajpayee’s approach had three components: empower regional mainstream parties, engage the separatists and involve Pakistan. Though Mr. Modi has repeatedly stated his commitment to taking forward Mr. Vajpayee’s policies, he has adequately demonstrated that his path is different. He has shut Pakistan out of the equation; disengaged with the separatist groups and has launched a no-holds-barred attack on the two pro-India parties in the State, namely the PDP and the National Conference.

The Modi-Amit Shah combine has reduced the ‘Kashmir question’ into one of ‘development’ — as if it were an all-encompassing political process — in their mercantile approach to politics — that money can buy everything. The BJP campaign has focussed on the question whether the ‘special status’ has helped or obstructed the State’s path to development. Some points raised by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during the campaign are valid in a limited sense. The State has become a command economy controlled by a handful of people and complicated laws, obstructing it from becoming part of mainstream India’s growth trajectory of industrialisation and infrastructure building.

But the BJP’s offer of development for Jammu and Kashmir is not an apolitical process. Mr. Modi has cited the industrial growth of Kutch, a Gujarat district with a high Muslim population, as proof of his ability to make development an ethnicity-neutral process. But BJP leaders are speaking not only of a Hindu Chief Minister for the State, but also of ‘Indianisation’ and ‘integration’ which have threatened the Kashmiris, as the Sangh Parivar has used these terms as codes of homogenisation. At any rate, the ‘Gujarat model’ and its Kutch variant require the Muslims to surrender their political aspirations in exchange of ‘development.’

Mr. Modi’s Kashmir push is also happening against the context of reduced sympathy for and attention to the Kashmir cause internationally. He calculates that India’s economic power and diplomatic leverage with the Western countries achieved over the last decade and Pakistan’s debilitating internal troubles have allowed India space for a maximalist approach on Kashmir. The flip side of this calculation is that if it goes wrong, there can be disastrous consequences, particularly a new wave of militancy. “But we still believe that [Mr.]Modi is not India, that there are enough Indians who believe in a secular country and are empathetic to the people of Kashmir,” said Mr. Akhtar.  BJP ideologue and a key strategist of the party’s Kashmir policy, Ram Madhav, dismisses the risk of a new surge in militancy as “conventional thinking.” “The BJP is well aware of the possibilities and the risks involved in its Kashmir policy. We will not do anything that will harm the interests of India and we have accounted for all risks.”

 The most vexed problem

Jammu and Kashmir has been the most vexed problems that all Indian Prime Ministers faced. At this juncture, three imaginations are possible for Jammu and Kashmir. The first — the most desirable but the most fraught — is the emergence of Kashmir as the crown of a secular, progressive India, where diversity and democracy are celebrated. The second — and the most aggressive one right now — is to visualise Kashmir as the final frontier of a Hindu India, to be conquered and controlled. This is an imagination that is primarily in the control of the current dispensation. The third imagination, which could be violent and beyond the control of actors in New Delhi, is the possibility of the State becoming a theatre of the clash of civilisations which the Parivar believes in; the place where global  jihadis pursuing their Islamist dreams clash with the pursuit of a Hindu nation. 

varghese.g@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 6:22:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-the-final-frontier-of-hindutva/article6708749.ece

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