Modi in Kashmir

Published March 9, 2024

NEARLY five years after his government scuppered India-held Kashmir’s limited autonomy, Narendra Modi descended upon the disputed territory to tell Kashmiris how ‘fortunate’ they were to be living under New Delhi’s rule. To thwart protests, Srinagar was put under a security blanket, while rent-a-crowds were bussed in to hear Modi hold forth at a stadium, with government employees reportedly ordered to attend. The Indian PM told the crowd that he had come “to win your hearts”, though his government’s brutal methods have managed to alienate even some of its staunchest loyalists in the occupied region, particularly after the scrapping of Article 370 in 2019. As a former chief minister of IHK noted on social media, the visit was likely designed to remind BJP supporters ahead of India’s general elections that the Hindu nationalist government had ‘solved’ the decades-old Kashmir question — in India’s favour. The reality of the matter is, of course, quite different.

The BJP may have managed to pull off an act of constitutional subterfuge — endorsed by India’s supreme court last year — by tinkering with held Kashmir’s special status. But to think that ‘all is well’ in the disputed region is a delusion. As Pakistan’s Foreign Office noted, “efforts to project normalcy are a facade”. If Mr Modi was so convinced that Kashmiris would fill the streets to welcome him, why was Srinagar put under virtual lockdown? Clearly, Kashmiris want justice, and to decide their future through the democratic process, not sops about development and tourism that India has to offer. Once the dust clears post elections, it remains to be seen how serious the new Indian government is about resolving the Kashmir question. While hawks in New Delhi would insist the Kashmir file is closed, Pakistan, the UN and the Kashmiris themselves beg to differ. If the BJP and other members of the Indian political class are serious about bringing peace to Kashmir, then only a tripartite solution — involving Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris — can pave the way for stability, and, indeed, lower the temperature in the rest of the subcontinent. Will the new dispensation in India take a bold decision and handle the Kashmir file with statesmanship? Or will the same stubborn attitude, and the associated repression and violence, continue to haunt this tortured land? The picture should be clearer in a few months.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2024

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