Modi’s official residence finally hosted an all-party meeting with more than a dozen of J&K’s top politicians, including the much-trounced “Gupkar Gang”. BJP’s loud claims of “Modi Hai To Mumkin Hai” make a sense prevail in many Indian think tanks that this current Kashmir-centric “carrot and no stick” policy, which has to do with shifting sands in the region, is an important baseline of the 5th August 2019 project and has been managed in a strategically crafted manner. Until August 2019, India’s diplomacy had control over the portrayal of the Kashmir conflict, focusing on the problems of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. However, the manner in which the constitutional changes were implemented in Jammu and Kashmir provoked criticism against India. Some analysts believe that the GOI’s 2019 decision set in motion a diplomatic challenge as serious as the one caused by the Pokhran-II nuclear test of 1998.
Notably, with this all-party meeting (APM), the Prime Minister, or the BJP-led government, has managed to overcome that political or moral criticism to a large extent on the international level and within the country as well. Therefore, this meeting can’t be treated as a routine political exercise for breaking the monotony post 5th August but as a huge strategic and diplomatic move that has opened up various possibilities for India on national as well as international levels.
At the beginning of the unprecedented reconciliatory meeting, an 18-member group photograph was circulated within the country and in the major countries of the world where the media is highly influential. This photograph was flashed in newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, on Time magazine and news channels, conveying to the international community that the Modi-led BJP government had reinitiated dialogue and the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir. The critics of the Modi government who had opposed and ridiculed it for withdrawing the special Constitutional commitment given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir now had no room to corner the government. However, the biggest diplomatic salvo to the APM came from Mehbooba Mufti’s statement in which she advocated dialogue with Pakistan. Though it triggered a huge nationalist response on news channels, but it was not in the context that Pakistan was a stakeholder, but rather as an economic and trade neighbour, like Bangladesh and China were, which she clarified later. Strategically, it matters a lot on how Pakistan is treated in the political narrative of Jammu and Kashmir and in the dialogue between the centre and the (erstwhile) state.
At the meeting, which had been primarily organised to bring the National Conference and the PDP on the table, with the rest of the invitees only meant to adorn the session, the BJP reiterated its claim of wanting peace, progress and development in J&K. The invited politicians spoke in hushed words about the 5th August decision as undemocratic, illegal and unconstitutional, and reiterated the demand that a political process be initiated to reverse the 5th August decision. Though the NC did not elaborate in detail, Mehbooba Mufti spoke at length to reporters, saying that August 5 was morally and legally unacceptable and her party’s sustained struggle would continue to have it revoked. The key takeaways of the meeting can be predicted from the statements that have come in tweets, party statements, and interviews. The basic purpose of the APM seems to be to start and restore a democratic process in the form of elections so that a legislature of people’s elected representatives can be formed in Jammu and Kashmir.
The obvious desire of the centre was participation of J&K parties in the delimitation process, although it is a quasi-judicial matter where people neither have a vote nor their approval is required. If the report of the delimitation commission is submitted without the participation of people, its legitimacy and acceptability will be in question, not just in J&K but in the BJP itself in their respective halqas. In that situation, the moral authority of the government or the political party that runs the government will be compromised. A consensus of all political parties is needed on the delimitation process and this, the centre thinks, is achievable. Members of the delimitation commission have come to J&K for discussions and by the end of August or first week of September, the report of the commission will be completed. Soon after that, the election process will likely start.
As far as elections are concerned, the regional parties or the national parties in J&K are more eager than the centre for elections to be conducted. While most of the other unionist parties have already shown interest for early elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the regional parties that espouse an independent political narrative will insist on not participating in elections until J&K’s statehood is restored. However, external or political pressure will finally compel them, especially the PDP, to participate in the election process.
RESTORATION OF STATEHOOD
In the APM neither statehood was assured nor any timeline fixed for its restoration. Political analysts believe that the government has reiterated so many times that it will restore statehood, including in the Prime Minister’s 15th August address to the nation, that it may perhaps set a deadline for it, the sooner if J&K parties participate in delimitation, elections, and form a government. Next year in the budget session, the formal announcement can be made in this regard. As reiterated by the Prime Minister in the APM, restoration of statehood is on the table, unlike Article 370 or 35A. For that purpose, a political process needs to be begun in the erstwhile state.
REVOCATION OF SPECIAL LAWS
The special laws and the changes that took place in J&K post 5th August 2019 were criticised by all political parties, especially NC and PDP. There are also several legal challenges to the abrogation of 370 and 35A. Every day a new law comes into force in J&K now. The question arises as to which of these laws can be reversed and which kept, and how can it be possible? All the laws that have gone from the powers of J&K will definitely not return and many of the changes that have taken place, like the All India Service Cadre which rests with the centre, will not further change. It all depends upon which party comes to power after elections and what kind of political mandate do they have. This gives a new purpose for participation in elections and a new door to return to politics again. This is how a new political process can reinitiate from here. The National Conference fought and won the 1996 assembly elections on the agenda of “greater autonomy”, thereby taking the wind out of militancy and providing a working democratic system in the state again. However, the elections were held and won, but autonomy was neither achieved nor restored. In 2008, the late Mufti Sayeed turned populism into politics in J&K by introducing the “Healing Touch” policy and “Self-Rule” narrative, which worked for both J&K and Delhi at different levels. There, too, elections were held but self-rule not achieved. Similar can be expected from the next elections, whenever they are held here.
The writer is a senior correspondent. [email protected]