The 1990s Are Back in J&K as PM Modi Returns to His Roots
jkupdate.com | 27-Nov-2018 02:56 PM
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

There was a time, starting with his Independence Day speech in 2014, when even Indians who had not voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi imagined that they too could be a part of his growth and development vision for India.

This belief was reinforced in March 2015 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed a coalition government with the People's Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir. In those months – despite odd attacks on churches, provocative statements of his party and ministerial colleagues, and a sangh affiliate's controversial Ghar Wapasi campaign – it appeared that Modi was willing to put the divisive past behind him.

Forget Indians who had not voted for Modi; since August 2017, as dissatisfaction triggered by the slapdash roll-out of GST grew, it became evident – borne out repeatedly by election verdicts since the Gujarat result – that even large sections of those who did vote for him were no longer backing him.

This sense deepened in June after Mehbooba Mufti resigned, following which BJP pulled out of the coalition and withdrew support to the PDP.

The dissolution of the State Assembly last week has further pushed BJP to its core agenda.

Instead of being a party which raised hopes and displayed promise, Modi has shepherded it back to being a political force whose triumph or failure depends solely on its capacity to raise fear of the imagined other, and heighten worries of a power vacuum in the event that people don’t vote him back to office.

Departure from Mookerjee and BJP's Vision for J&K Relations

To understand, there is need to analyse what Modi jettisoned in March 2015 when he and BJP president Amit Shah were in attendance, when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took oath as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir along with BJP's Nirmal Singh as Deputy Chief Minister, besides other 23 other ministers from the two parties.

It was a courageous decision to align with the PDP. To do so, Modi had to silence the slogan which served as his party's clarion call on J&K for 62 years since 1953. The slogan was coined by the party in memory of its iconic founder president, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, after he died in June 1953 in Srinagar jail where he was detained for forcibly entering the state despite orders to the contrary:

Jahan hue balidaan Mookerjee,
woh Kashmir hamara hai
(The Kashmir where Mookerjee laid down his life, is ours)

Neither was the air rent with this emotional slogan to convey sense of satisfaction of being in power in a 'lost' state – albeit in a coalition – nor did any of the party leaders or cadre give voice to what they have grown up with – Mookerjee's slogan, or the rhyme, he shouted along with party activists, including 29-year-old Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the course of his agitation on Kashmir:

Ek desh mein do vidhan,
Ek desh mein do nishan,
Ek desh mein do pradhan,
Nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge ...
(In one country, there cannot be two constitutions, two heads and two flags)

Since Mookerjee's death, abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which grants autonomous status to the state along with a separate Constitution, was one of the three contentious issues that was the BJP's hallmark, contributing to its claim of being a party with a difference.

Between 1998-2004, when Vajpayee was prime minister, the BJP was often questioned why it put the three demands on the back-burner. The stock reply used to be that the party did not have a majority of its own.

But post 2014, with the BJP having a majority of its own and not being dependent on coalition partners, this response would not have sounded convincing. This was especially true because the BJP did not dilute its posture on the other two disruptive demands: construction of Ram temple and introduction of Uniform Civil Code.

The formation of the coalition was not billed as evidence of majoritarian triumph in the only Muslim-majority state, despite this having been the stated objective since the Jana Sangh days. Each of BJP's 25 seats were located in predominantly Hindu-majority seats of the Jammu region.

The association with PDP, a party that was often questioned in the past for its ambiguity on militancy, indicated that BJP under Modi was putting a greater emphasis on realpolitik and less on political fundamentals.

The BJP had mounted an audacious Mission 44+ campaign for the 2014 Assembly polls. Despite this acrimonious campaign, its decision to align with the PDP indicated a visible departure from Mookerjee's and BJP's past visions of the state’s relationship with the rest of India. Modi realised that as the national helmsman, he had to view challenges in the state beyond what the party was accustomed to.

Modi Retreats to his Comfort Zone – Vituperative Politics

In utterances, Modi and colleagues indicated the necessity to leave behind the 3Cs – conflict, contradictions, cynicism. Instead, they had to follow just one mantra: R – reboot or reconciliation. Clearly, the party realised that to resolve conflict, dialogue and joint action were the only ways to reinforce the region's pluralistic heritage and extricate itself from the quagmire it has been trapped in for decades.

Yet, Modi squandered the chance of securing the love and affection of the Kashmiris like Vajpayee did. His reiteration of Insaniyat (Humanism), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir's age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity) rang hollow because the Centre faltered on every pledge it made, the worst being the lack of urgency on the flood rehabilitation package.

The situation worsened after the generational transition in PDP following Mufti's death. From April 2016, when Mehbooba Mufti became chief minister, the BJP's engagement in J&K was not with an eye on ushering normalcy into the state.

Instead, each of its utterances and actions was aimed at maximising support for BJP in its core constituency in the rest of India.

There is little doubt that the BJP faces an uphill battle in 2019 and this cannot be won on the basis of this government's performance. To prevent the parliamentary hustings being reduced to a state-wise aggregation of polls, the BJP requires a set of emotive issues. This plank has been under construction for the past several months.

The majoritarian platform contain several elements – Ram temple, fresh confrontation in Varanasi, renaming of cities and towns, continuing campaigns for cow protection and against Love Jihad, and so on.

The BJP's latest tactics on Kashmir and its declaration that the state requires no special treatment coupled with the continuing tough posture on Pakistan completes the bouquet of Hindutva-centric issues with which the BJP will approach the electorate.

As far as Kashmir is concerned, there is now little to differentiate between the sentiment of the fringe that supports BJP and the party's mainstream. The BJP's promise of a paradigm shift is now a mirage.

The optimism of 2015 has faded as Modi has retreated into the comfort zone of vituperative politics.

In the hope of consolidating Hindus to vote on the basis of their religious identity, he has lost the support of those who considered him a pragmatist and not a committed ideologue. The wheel has come full circle for Modi, and also for J&K.

While Modi’s return to his roots was possibly inevitable, the state’s return to the crisis of the early 1990s is a bigger tragedy than it appears to be.(Courtesy:The Quint) 

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Download JKUpdate APP Now: