A MAJOR sign that New Delhi is panicking over the situation in India-held Kashmir is that while Lok Sabha elections will take place in the disputed territory, polls for the J&K legislature have been indefinitely postponed. This clearly shows that Delhi is getting jittery over the reaction of Kashmiris to the brutal tactics it has applied, especially under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch. While officials have cited ‘security reasons’ behind the delay, the truth is that the powers that be in Delhi fear that in a region seething with anger, local polls may turn into an embarrassing referendum against India. Even some of India’s diehard loyalists in the region, such as former chief minister Omar Abdullah, have criticised the delay in polls. Pointing out that this is the first time since 1996 that the assembly elections have been delayed in the occupied region, Mr Abdullah said the Modi regime had “badly ... mishandled J&K”.
The fact is that no matter how much India tries to blame Pakistan for the situation in IHK, discontent in the region is at alarming levels and the movement against India is a largely indigenous one. The reason for this is not hard to fathom; India has treated Kashmir like a colony, using brutal military force against its civilian population. According to one tally, 400 people were killed in the troubled region last year. When the Indian military machine has no qualms about killing, raping and humiliating Kashmiris, it is understandable that the local people will drape their fallen in the Pakistani flag. However, the Indian establishment refuses to soften its tone and shun the path of violence. It has even ignored sane counsel from some of its closest allies in the region; former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti (who headed a coalition government with the BJP until recently) has said that the only solution to the conflict is a “meaningful dialogue with the Hurriyat, Pakistan and with other stakeholders”. However, Delhi seems to differ and assumes that its strong-arm tactics will help it conquer Kashmir. Clearly, this is a fallacious position.
Indeed, if India were to shed its rigidity and earnestly discuss the issue with Pakistan and Kashmiri political forces, South Asia could witness a new era of peace and prosperity. Postponing elections and brutalising the Kashmiri people are no solution and will only further expose India’s policy failure in the region. It is about time this historical dispute was resolved with sagacity and justice. The jingoistic, ultranationalist approach that the Modi government has favoured where Kashmir, and indeed where Pakistan, are concerned, will only cause more conflict in the subcontinent. Whichever government takes power in Delhi after the Indian elections must approach the Kashmir issue with a fresh perspective, shedding the baggage of the past and looking to a brighter future for all of South Asia.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2019