Time now for Sangh to fulfil its Kashmir agenda?

  • Publish Date: Mar 25 2017 9:58PM
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  • Updated Date: Mar 25 2017 10:04PM
Time now for Sangh to fulfil its Kashmir agenda?

                                                     Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

In Kashmir, we need a deep reflection and rethink about our approach to the drastically altered political state of affairs in the country


BJP’s comprehensive win in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand elections has given Prime Minister Narendra Modi an absolute sway over India. And for the first time since 1947, the country looks set for a fundamental ideological makeover. A “new India” as Modi himself said in his victory speech is emerging. And the prospect of this India has become a cause for both, a cathartic celebration for the BJP supporters and a deep apprehension for the liberal Hindus and the minorities, more so, Muslims.


In fact, Muslims have the become handy bogey men of Indian politics. Their very presence polarizes the electoral landscape in favour of BJP and against the secular parties. This is already causing sections of Muslim opinion to speak in favour of the community’s withdrawal from the electoral politics so that the majority community votes for reasons other than those communal in nature. As UP revealed, the majority community largely chose to not vote for the parties which sought votes of Muslims and even boycotted the parties which Muslims voted for. For example Bahujan Samaj Party which had given mandate to more than hundred Muslims. The party has shrunk to just 19 seats, and stares at extinction following its spectacular rise through the nineties.


True, there is much more to Modi’s all-encompassing electoral triumph than just Muslims and of course Pakistan. But Muslims, as the BJP’s rhetoric will tell you, have become the handy wedge issue for the party. Once the hate against the community is invoked, in one stroke the polls turn into Muslims versus the rest. Why does this happen has a long history. It goes back to centuries of Muslim rule, partition, existence of Pakistan and now the lingering problem in Kashmir. There are thus narratives, counter-narratives, prejudices, lies and hate that exist on both sides and appealing to them comes handy for the BJP looking for votes. And Muslims being a small minority, such an appeal to the majority community invariably works to their detriment. In the conveniently manufactured Hindu-versus-Muslim atmosphere, they stand to lose big time, as was the case in UP and Uttarakhand. 


However, the difference with BJP is that it is not communal only for a narrow objective of drawing votes. The problem is that the party’s nation building vision sees the Muslim way of life alien to the Indian way of life which it traces to the country’s Vedic past. It thus sees India as a Hindurashtra, a country exclusively for Hindus, where minorities can only be acceptable if they subsume their distinct identities to one all-encompassing identity – that of Hindutva. 


It is this ideology of nation-building that has caused widespread consternation among Muslims in the country and also in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state. If BJP were to translate its ideology into practice, it will remake India into a Hindu nation. In the days to come, things are likely to get politically more interesting. Modi’s complete grip on his party and over the country will severely test India’s leftover secular fabric and its institutions. His monochromatic national vision is all set to become the reigning ideology of the country.


After UP victory, the field is now open to the BJP’s fanatic fringe and the Sangh Parivar to realize their long-cherished dream of reworking India in Hindutva image: an India in which minorities have little place. And the party’s rule in four more states will only further embolden the RSS to execute its Hindutva agenda, seeing the victories as the endorsement of its work. Decimation of the political opposition, chiefly that of Congress, gives BJP and its ideological affiliates a free run. In this moving juggernaut, media has become more of a spectator and a lapdog than a watchdog. Institutions too have started playing along with some of their newly appointed heads paying their due respect to the Modi’s leadership


One UP important takeaway is the rise and rise of the PM as India’s most popular leader. This has been overawing for India observers. From an ethical point of view, Modi should have had no place in Indian politics following 2002 Gujarat riots. But in his case, riots have served as a stepping stone to his unstoppable political glory. On the contrary, the riots have not only helped burnish his image as a leader but also set off his political ideology. And this ideology, as already said, is a majoritarian vision of India where minorities would keep their place in the society at the pleasure of majority. Unlike Indian brand of secularism which has its own serious flaws, the majoritarianism sanctions a hierarchical community relationship, with minorities formally subservient to the majority. Modism embodies this political outlook and he has become a toast of a vast section of India’s population for this. And this is what should be most troubling for the minorities in India.


On its face, this raises difficult questions about the place of Muslims in India. How will the absence of a putative secular polity affect them? Has Modi’s rise to power changed anything fundamental about India that Muslims need to fear? Not necessarily. For the secularism that Modi has replaced with what he is keen to rebrand as an inclusive Hindutva wasn’t what it professed to be. It was more about form and curtsey than substance and action. More an election season slogan than a policy of governance. More symbolism than deed. More politics than a political philosophy. This is why while so called secular politicians went through their motions, the structures they erected and the institutions they presided over weren’t beholden to secularism. 


                                                     Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

Is this by an accident that Muslims are at the bottom of the development pyramid as reflected by the Sachar Committee report? Is this by an accident that Muslims don’t figure conspicuously in the ranks of bureaucracy, judiciary and the security apparatus? And is it by coincidence that a significant number of the innocent Muslims are the victims of the security campaign against the terrorist violence in the country? Therefore, the question it begs is what worse will an empowered Modi do that was not the case earlier? The answer cannot be in the rhetorical negative. For, BJP, as already stated in this piece, is about much more than the political and institutional discrimination against Muslims. It requires them to either alter their way of life to the demands of Hindutva to be acceptable or otherwise retreat further into ghettos. Any expectation to the contrary will come as a pleasant surprise. 


Worry in Kashmir

In Kashmir, we also need a deep reflection and rethink about our approach to the drastically altered political state of affairs in the country. An entire spectrum of scenarios are possible. On one, of course, is the worst case scenario and at the other there is a possibility of some positive development. The worst scenario could see action on the fulfilment of Sangh Parivar’s long delayed ideological agenda on Kashmir, the ultimate objective of which is the integration of Kashmir into India and bringing the constitutional status of the state on par with other states of India. It could involve dilution of the Article 370, the long apprehended attempts at demographic change, consolidation of more power in the hands of BJP in the state, further deterioration of ties with Pakistan and intensification of cross-border shelling, as has been the case over the past some days.


 A major terror attack in India or on the border resulting in considerable loss of lives could even push things over the edge. A cornered Modi will have little option but to launch another surgical strike inside Pakistan. This could dangerously escalate the situation should Pakistan chose to respond in kind. The fears of Pakistan’s response this time would be far greater as it would be impossible for the country to falsify it as just another cross-border attack.


The situation also can take a turn for the better. Modi can rather chose to engage Pakistan and Kashmir. He could announce some Confidence Building Measures or symbolic gestures of reconciliation. There can be an outreach to Hurriyat and an attempt to return to the ‘institutionalised dialogue” from the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There could be an attempt to try and a respond to the long festering grievances in the state. This can reassure Kashmiris that the centre will not make any move to weaken the state’s constitutional safeguards and instead find a way to create a new compact through engagement with the people of the state. This will certainly go a long way to address the deepening identity anxiety in the state.


Delivered of the near-term electoral compulsions following the resounding UP win, Modi could reach out to Pakistan and resume the dialogue. Kashmir process can be appended to the dialogue with Islamabad to get the best possible outcome not only for the two countries but more importantly for Kashmir. 


But given the existing situation, many people will have serious doubts about this turn of events. Considering Modi brand is set off by adopting a tough posture towards Pakistan and being harsh in Kashmir, it is unlikely that this positive scenario could unfold. But then it is entirely possible that it does. The troubled ties with Pakistan and the lingering turmoil in Kashmir have been two of the most formidable challenges to the sustainable peace in the region since 1947. Modi with the absolute power at his disposal can change this.


The threat of a destabilizing conflict will always loom on the region unless India and Pakistan decide to come together and work to build a shared future. The road to peace and economic growth will basically evolve from the efforts by India and Pakistan to build mutual confidence through cooperation and sustained engagement. In the given circumstances, the immediate task for both the countries should be to reach out to each other and set up crisis tools to fend off a recourse to a bigger confrontation. Any delay on this score will only be to the detriment of the two countries and their people.


Unlike Indian brand of secularism which has its own serious flaws, the majoritarianism sanctions a hierarchical community relationship, with minorities formally subservient to the majority. Modism embodies this political outlook and he has become a toast of a vast section of India’s population for this. And this is what should be most troubling for the minorities in India