Kashmir: A chance for a new beginning?
Over the past few days, the tricolor has been everywhere in Kashmir. In his remarks on Independence Day, the Lieutenant-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir declared, “Amrit Kaal of Jammu Kashmir” and a new dawn of peace and prosperity for all the citizen
On August 15, Shah Faesal, an IAS officer from the 2010 batch who left the civil service in 2019 and later founded the J&K People’s Movement, tweeted that “Kashmir had embraced [the tri-color] with pride.” Shah Faesal was later rehired into the civil service by the Union government in 2022. He had previously tweeted in July that “Jhelum and Ganga have permanently merged into the great Indian Ocean.”
On the reverse is the somber tone former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah struck during his two speeches in New Delhi within a week: the first at the release of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir’s report, “Five Years Without an Elected Administration,” and the second at the no-confidence motion debate in Parliament.
Abdullah warned against being fooled by the typical signs of normalcy, like increased tourist traffic, and suggested that even though the situation appears to have greatly improved, alienation still exists and needs to be addressed in a meaningful way.
The administration touts the celebration of Independence Day and the return of the Ashura procession to Srinagar’s streets in July after an absence of more than three decades as benefits of the repeal of Article 370 and the centralized, double-engine administration that followed.
The Union Territory administration has good reasons for presenting this image.
The Union government is working hard to present India in a positive light for the upcoming G20 Summit. The attendees of the G20 tourism summit in Srinagar were unable to visit Gulmarg and Dachigam due to the security situation. This requires rinsing down.
In addition, the Supreme Court expedited hearings on petitions challenging the weakening of Article 370. Although the government had highlighted the improved situation in its opening salvo, the court did not accept the government’s argument.
Even if assertions that the situation has significantly improved are taken at face value, it would be wise to also pay attention to Abdullah because politicians are expected to have a pulse on the populace by virtue of their profession.
The call for the restoration of statehood and the holding of elections is shared by both regions of J&K.
Faesal may believe that “there is no turning back,” but only effective responses can confirm his assertion. Another opportunity may be lost if these are not taken as soon as possible.
The time is right, according to the government, as evidenced by the L-G’s boasting of the signs of normalcy during his Independence Day speech in the half-full Bakshi Stadium.
According to the violence indices, the situation is hopeless. Pakistan’s proxy conflict is winding down. After the census results are incorporated into its electoral procedures, it will continue to be introspective and look ahead to its national elections.
Thus, the government has scheduled the panchayat elections for after the G20 Summit is over. This can be used as a chance to assess the situation and allow time for assembly elections to be completed by the end of the winter.
It is irrelevant if these would be used for a state assembly. Elections held in response to a Supreme Court decision will make it appear contrite, particularly if the decision, which is imminent, reverses the timeline that Home Minister Amit Shah promised would occur—statehood after assembly elections.
There is little reason to delay because the constituencies have been outlined for some time.
This would bring Kashmir’s integration story to a successful conclusion. The resolution of Kashmir, which was at the top of the government’s agenda when its second term began, as it comes to an end would be a useful platform for the soon-to-be-held national elections.
It would go against the narrative that questions the perspective on Muslims held by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It would fit in well with its tactical change in outreach to Muslims.
Negative omens accompany choosing not to take this path.
At a time when its polity is in flux and its army is divided, Pakistan is experiencing an Islamist backlash for the second time in ten years. The Taliban have come back. India must be protected from any spillover by neutralising any “pull factors” that might encourage interference from outside.
While unrest in Kashmir might support the ruling party’s polarisation strategy as it prepares for national elections in 2024, any reversal there during Narendra Modi’s third term (if the BJP wins the 2024 general elections) could jeopardise his “guarantee” that India will overtake China as the world’s third-largest economy.
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A missed chance will reveal the apparent normalcy as nothing more than a Potemkin village-like hoax.