J&K: Difference in the detail
Valley hotheads are delusional if they believe the Centre is doing anything but taking advantage of the architecture of dominance it has created to begin talks
Talking to adversaries and/or recalcitrant rebels within from a position of strength is always a good idea in the effort to ensure the benefits of peace, and its twin of prosperity, reach all citizens of India. As is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
So, with the essential caveat that we must keep our powder dry, it behooves all those interested in ensuring that Jammu & Kashmir and the Valley in particular is subsumed into the Indic cultural and political mainstream where core citizenship values are uniform even while what political philosophers term "folk multi-culturalism" (dress, language, food, music, mode of worship et.al) is celebrated as an essential part of the diversity of our nation to keep an open mind on the Centre's initiative to re-start peace talks. The current administration is, given its mainstream and emphatically not fringe ideological provenance, the first among those so interested.
The appointment of former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as the Government's chosen interlocuter with a brief to speak to "whomsoever he thinks fit" too is, contrary to the dominant effete-liberal and communitarian discourse in certain sections, both apt and very welcome as he bears the imprimatur of the Indian deep state and his choice sends out a clear message to the militants/terrorists, their handlers and sympathisers as to the nature of the engagement and what the red lines will most likely be.
Secondly, the renewed peace talks are clearly designed to address the concerns and take on board the views of stakeholders from the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir, so the whole issue of if/when Pakistan should/should not be spoken to is nothing more than a red herring launched by so-called "realists" who in effect are peddling old wares from state-contraction theorists' cupboards even if they don't always know it.
Thirdly, whether it is speaking to the Hurriyat or rethinking AFSPA, which are two of the issues flagged by those whose knee-jerk reaction has been to mock the Centre's choice of interlocuter, Sharma will presumably read the UPA appointed three-member team of interlocuters' report carefully on both issues, confer with his bosses and take a call. Period.
The fact that New Delhi is talking from a position of strength on the ground, as opposed to the very feeble if any hold it has on the "hearts and minds" of Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley where the separateness narrative has undeniably taken deep root, is pretty much undisputed in any serious conversation with those in the know across the political spectrum and security establishment. It is not just the number of terrorists eliminated but the key networks and jehadi tanzeems which have been disrupted by security forces' operations targeting their leadership structures at various levels.
Combined with the squeeze on terror funding which the National Investigative Agency (NIA) is probing rather thoroughly at long last and an Indian establishment that now reflects the fact that the people of the country seem to have lost patience with patronisingly being talked down to and lectured about the "complexity" of the Kashmir problem, Valley hotheads whether mainstream or fringe have to be delusional to believe the Government is doing anything but taking advantage of the architecture of dominance it has created to begin talks at a time and place of its choosing. Tweets by Opposition leaders characterising the Centre's dialogue overture as an alleged failure of the "muscular approach" are not just simple-minded but simplistic in the extreme, and unlikely to gain any traction outside of their echo chambers.
That, of course, is not to say there is no element of political imperative in the decision to restart the dialogue. Reports from the ground in the Valley for the past few months have indicated that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been extremely concerned at the fidgetiness in a large section of the PDP rank-and-file which had been resistant to the idea of an alliance with the BJP but was won over by the prospect of power and the advantages that accrue from it. Many of her cadre were threatening to revolt given the PDP's so-called "soft separatism" stand was perceived by its constituency to have been diluted because of its association with the BJP and the National Conference had moved in adroitly if rather cynically to occupy that space. In a line, she desperately needed something to give her supporters apart from the perks and privileges of power. Having said that, it must be kept in mind that the above is not the reason for the peace talks being announced now; the timeline for the dialogue process is clearly independent of such political compulsions or it would have been announced much, much earlier.
For the BJP and even more the Sangh, the importance of Jammu & Kashmir is far greater than having a government in the State though as a political party the former is not complaining that it's in power, naturally! No, the massive political capital expended and opprobrium withstood by the BJP to stitch together the alliance with the PDP is because it sees the alliance as an effort modelled on the lines of the "Punjab experiment" wherein the party aligned with the Shiromani Akali Dal to form a social coalition of traditional Sikhs and Hindus in the aftermath of the brutally but effectively crushed terrorism in that State by the 1990s.
Whether the values and ethos of a non-Indic origin religion would allow such a coalition to succeed between traditional Muslims and Hindus/Buddhists in Jammu & Kashmir given the Kashmiriyat discourse is all but dead and radicalisation is on the rise is another matter altogether.
Likewise, there is room for debate on whether terror has indeed been crushed in the Valley as comprehensively as feasible without a blanket usurpation of the human rights of ordinary citizens. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the principle on which the Government is working is an emphasis on first being in a position of strength and then reaching out within, which is why the announcement of the interlocutor and the restart of peace talks in Jammu & Kashmir this time around may be qualitatively different from that on previous occasions.
It is, therefore, to extend the analogy, entirely up to the stakeholders in Kashmir to whom Sharma will be reaching out whether they choose to go down the path of Bhindranwale and his ilk or make their peace with the idea of India as a majority of those speaking the language of separatism in Punjab during the bloody years eventually did. On that will depend the putative journey of Kashmir from a vale of tears to the valley of peace.
(The writer is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer)
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