Stubborn opposition to a sensible idea can often have dangerous consequences and so once again India-held Jammu and Kashmir is suffering because of the actions of India’s leaders.
A weekend of violence in Kashmir was presaged by the arrest of Muslim League chairman Masarat Alam Bhat on Friday, an arrest that itself was predictable as Mr Bhat appeared with supporters waving Pakistani flags earlier in the week to welcome the return to the region of another key All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader, Syed Ali Shah Gilani, from New Delhi.
However, few doubt the real reason for Mr Bhat’s arrest: the BJP government in the Indian capital is unhappy with its partner in government in Kashmir, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s PDP, because Mr Sayeed has moved to release separatist leaders such as Mr Bhat from detention and taken a softer line than the BJP would like with pro-independence and pro-Pakistan Kashmiri leaders.
First things first however: the detention of Mr Bhat is a brazen violation of the rights of the Kashmiri people.
The rally at which the Pakistani flag was visible was peaceful and Mr Bhat has a right to speak his mind.
Other than the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi feeling embarrassed by the gesture of Mr Bhat’s supporters, there was no real cause to rearrest the recently released leader.
Beyond that, there is a fundamental problem with Mr Modi’s approach to Kashmir. Having won an unprecedented number of seats, though from the Hindu-majority areas of the region, in the recent elections there, Mr Modi and the BJP appear to believe that there are neither any long-standing nor any legitimate and deep grievances in the region.
With the Indian government seemingly convinced that it can contend with armed militancy in the region and with a power-sharing arrangement with the PDP, Mr Modi seems to believe there is no need to reach out to the other strands of the Kashmiri leadership or indeed to Pakistan.
That is as wrong-headed as it is arrogant and ignorant. Kashmir’s problems will not go away simply because the Indian government has acquired the draconian tools the government thinks can prevent another armed uprising in the region.
Only engagement will provide a long-term solution, something that the BJP’s partner in government in the disputed region appears to understand. Chief Minister Sayeed is on the right track; Prime Minister Modi may find it useful to reconsider his stubborn rejection of dialogue.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2015