It would amount to sheer heresy if such a question were asked six months back, when the Modi wave had not ebbed and Kejriwal was far from staging an amazing comeback in Delhi; a place where he had been flattened only a few months back in the general elections. But as they say, a week is too long a period in politics. Today, despite his government’s many achievements in a short span of time, Modi looks vulnerable; no where so dangerously as in Kashmir.
Ever since partition, starting with the massacre of thousands of people belonging to the minority community of the State in Punchh, Rajouri, Kotli, Muzzafarabad, Nowshera, Mirpur and other places, Kashmir has been a graveyard of not just the militants and many soldiers on both sides of the Line of Control; it has also buried the reputations of many leaders on both sides of the benighted border. While some, like Nehru, had their envious reputations permanently dented, others went into political oblivion as a result of their flirtations with the beautiful Valley’s politics of conflict. Lal Bahadur Shastri, who marshalled his meagre resources admirably to offset Pakistan’s initial advantage in the 1965 conflict, too paid the price as a consequence. It is widely believed that the heart attack that claimed his life in Tashkent was triggered by his apprehension of facing adverse public opinion in India, for having returned to Pakistan the tactically vital Haji Pir Pass, as a result of the Tashkent Agreement. Even the formidable Indira Gandhi, despite scoring a famous victory over Pakistan in 1971 operations, did not come out with flying colours, when it became apparent that the wily Bhutto had outsmarted her at Shimla. The latter had succeeded in preventing her from leveraging that victory to gain anything substantial for India. Even a statesman like Vajpayee burnt his fingers by taking a goodwill bus ride to Lahore; a gesture which was reciprocated by the then Pakistani Army Chief, Gen Parvez Musharraf, with the occupation of Kargil heights.
On the Pakistani side, Gen Ayub Khan lost power as a consequence of his intervention in Kashmir in 1965. Though he was forced out three years later, the ill conceived ‘Operation Gibraltar’ launched by him to capture Kashmir by force, created such adverse conditions for him in Pakistan that he did not recover from these, and had to finally make way for Gen Yahaya Khan in 1968. The latter did no better. Gen Yahya Khan, who was at the helm in Pakistan during 1971 war, left in disgrace and was later imprisoned. Another dictator, Gen Musharraf, occupied Kargil heights in 1999, hoping that a surprise Army action, carried out secretly on the forbidding heights, would determine the permanent resolution of Kashmir dispute in favour of Pakistan. He failed to see beyond his nose, as the rest of the world was alarmed by the conflagration between the two heavily armed nuclear powers. After Kargil, Musharaff did succeed to a large extent in projecting his Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharief, as the villain of the peace. However, as time went by, and after Nawaz Sharief had been banished to Dubai, Musharaff’s bluff was called, slowly but surely. Pakistanis came to see him as the person solely responsible for his reckless decision to violate the cease fire agreement between the two antagonists. As truth gradually came out, Pakistanis learnt to their horror that the conflict had cost them numerous casualties, for which they had no gains to show. From thereon, his countdown began, till he had to finally go.
From whatever has happened in the last few weeks in J&K, it is quite clear that it is now the turn of Modi to pay the price. By entering into a coalition with Kashmir centric, Mufti - led Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), he has put his neck on the block. Among the mainstream politicians, Mufti is closest to the definition of a separatist. His party, PDP, is the product of the uprising witnessed in Kashmir in 1989-90, and enjoys open support of the separatists. In its nascent state, the militants openly canvassed to garner support for it in south Kashmir, during the previous State Assembly elections.
On all important issues, on which a big chasm exists between the central government and the State government, Mufti has, over the years, taken a stand that is far from reconciliatory; in fact it is confrontationist. The objective of his belligerent stand is to ingratiate himself with the separatists in the Valley. In his opinion, he could carve out a niche for himself in Kashmir only if he was able to make a dent in rural areas, where National Conference has a committed vote bank. Mufti knew all too well that in Kashmir, he could sway the masses away from the NC if he could raise the level of competitive Kashmiri aspirations, far above those of the former, and more in tune with the demands of the separatists. In 1989, he sensed an opportunity to fulfil his political ambitions, as the masses in Kashmir had turned against the National Conference. Ever since then, Mufti’s policies and programmes have been dictated by this requirement alone.
Mufti’s career graph is filled with actions that contributed greatly to the exodus of our community from Kashmir in 1989-90. To begin with, he took full advantage of the communal tension that gripped the State during the fag end of Gulam Mohammad Shah’s (Gul Shah) short tenure, when Jammu people resented the construction of a mosque within the secretariat premises at Jammu in 1986. The mayhem let loose against the Pandits in the Valley, particularly in south Kashmir, as a consequence, had Muft’s imprint all over. The villages of Wanpoh, Lokbhavan and Bijbehara were badly affected and all temples in the villages had either been razed to the ground or idols placed therein were desecrated. The houses of the minority community were heavily damaged. It was an open secret that Mufti Mohammad Syed, who grabbed the opportunity to make ingress into the National Conference’s rural base in Anantnag and adjoining districts, was largely seen as the man responsible for attacks on the KPs. Having been a Congressman all his life, Mufti Syed’s true intentions as a politician were not so well known at that time. But, with the passage of time, he came to be closely associated with actions that can simply be termed as anti-national, though he did succeed, to some extent, in camouflaging these in the garb of protecting Kashmiri identity; whatever that meant.
People’s Democratic Party that Mufti Syed formed subsequently has established a firm foot-hold in the Valley by espousing causes dear to the separatists and radical elements in Kashmir. Some of these are; insistence on opening the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad road; suggesting Kashmir have its own currency; keeping the State under dual control of India and Pakistan; allotting land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and then making it an issue to rouse anti-Indian sentiment to garner separatist support for his party in the 2008 State Assembly elections; his formula of self rule as a solution for Kashmir dispute; declaring his intention to introduce a bill in the State Assembly to rename Ananantnag as Islamabad; introducing a separate currency for the State, etc. His daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, President of PDP, has taken on from where her father left. During a seminar in Kashmir a few years back, she displayed a map of the State which depicted parts of State’s territory under Pakistan and China. As if all this was not proof enough of Mufti’s separatist-centric political out-look, one of his MLAs Nizam-ud-din-Bhatt, moved a private member’s bill in the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly, seeking deletion of sub-clause (b) of Section 147 of the State Constitution which “ bars legislation challenging Jammu and Kashmir’s status as an integral part of India”.
Therefore, whatever Mufti has done after coming back to power (in coalition with the BJP), should not come as a surprise to anyone. He has merely continued from where he had left. In the presence of the Prime Minister, he thanked Pakistan, Hurriyat and the militants for allowing free elections to take place in the State, by not resorting to violence. It was an uncalled for statement as the empirical evidence of violent incidents leading up to the recent State elections, does not support the assumption. Being a seasoned politician he knew what the truth was; but his statement was directed at the separatist lobby and their benefactors across the LoC and IB. His release of Masarat Alam, call for the return of the remains of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru, directions on the prominent display of State Flag, etc., are very much in line with his political thought. Besides, he wanted to offset the ill effects of having collaborated with the BJP, whom Kashmiri Muslims see as a Hindu Nationalist Party.
On the other hand, BJP has been compelled to put Article 370 in cold storage. Similarly, removal of AFSPA; engaging Pakistan in talks; talking to Hurriyat separatists as a pre-condition for forming the coalition government, etc., have already dented the BJP’s nationalist image, carved out over many decades. Even in the distribution of ministerial berths and distribution of portfolios, BJP has got a raw deal. And it is only the beginning; BJP must expect more to come.
BJP knows this all too well. However, having been voted to power, first time ever (even though in coalition), it considers it to be its duty not to let down its core constituency; the people of Jammu region, who voted for them overwhelmingly.BJP is conscious of the fact that people from the Jammu region have voted it to power with the hope that BJP will do justice to the region that has not got its due, as the ruling dispensations till now, were all Kashmir-centric. With nearly the same number of seats as the PDP, BJP is driven by the desire to correct the long prevailing skewed ratio of distribution of funds, received from the centre, in favour of the Valley.
Mufti, on the other hand, has really nothing to lose. He sees the current political scenario as a win-win situation. If BJP continues to yield, Mufti will expand his constituency in the Valley and the former will lose its USP; its ultra nationalist image, with devastating effect on its future. If BJP resists Mufti’s separatist driven agenda, Mufti will present himself as a messiah of Kashmiris, who is willing to stand up to the Hindu Nationalist Party, for their ( Kashmiris’) sake. I feel that at some stage, Mufti will provoke Modi to withdraw support and then 'Mufti the martyr' will tell Kashmiris," For your azmat (honour) I even gave up the chair." Banking upon a sympathy wave that such a course of events is likely to generate, Mufti will then expect to reap rich dividends in the Valley, during the elections which will have to be announced, sooner or later. BJP, on the other hand, would have burnt its bridges with the people of Jammu, who elected them, because of collaborating with the known anti national. In the rest of the country, it would also have lost its USP, irrevocably. The end result...Mufti will come to power without any encumbrances; with a majority of his own.
It may, however, be said in Mufti’s favour that he is not the first mainstream politician to have acted thus. Right from Sheikh Abdullah’s days, the mainstream politicians have thrived on anti India politics and have exploited this sentiment in Kashmir, whenever it suited them.
This is a high-stakes game in which BJP has less to gain and lot to lose. More importantly, Modi, like many others before him, has made himself the latest bait to be sacrificed at the altar of Kashmir problem. For the sake of India’s future, which looks bright under NaMo, I wish I am proved wrong.