Has BJP’s hubris let it down in Kashmir?

In the BJP’s case, the arrogance bred by two successive general election victories convinced the party that it was now in a position to do more or less whatever it wanted, of which the first and foremost was the implementation of its longstanding desire to abolish Article 370, writes Amulya Ganguli for South Asia Monitor

Amulya Ganguli Oct 21, 2020
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The latest events in Kashmir may have made the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) realize the difficulty of implementing the party’s agenda in a democracy. Even a parliamentary approval, which the party obtained for scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution of India, may not be easy to sustain in the face of an insistent demand for the restoration of status quo ante in the valley.

Apart from local voices in favour of recognizing Kashmir’s special status, there is likely to be pressure from the world community as well. The BJP may reject such calls from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia on the grounds of being an instance of pan-Islamic solidarity which ignores ground realities and are an unwarranted interference in India’s internal affair.

Kashmiri politicians

But if the concern is expressed by some of India’s Western allies, as has already been done, then New Delhi will not be able to turn a deaf ear for long. Since there is all likelihood of a Joe Biden government in the US being less indulgent in these matters than President Donald Trump administration, the BJP’s worries over what the newly-released Kashmiri politicians will say are bound to increase.

While the India-US strategic partnership may not be disturbed because of the perceived threat from China, the question of foreign investment can come under a cloud if local sentiments in Kashmir are sought to be marginalized as they were for a year from August 5 last year when the former state, now a Union Territory, lost its special status under the Indian constitution.

It was during this period of an overwhelming military presence in the valley and the muffling of the Internet that it was customary for the BJP’s spokespersons to dismiss the claims of parties like the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) representing the mainstream. Instead, the spokespersons asserted that the dynastic lineages of former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, the Farooq Abdullahs and Mehbooba Muftis, like that of the Nehru-Gandhis, made them self-serving families who had less interest in Kashmir’s welfare than on their own.

Launch of Apni Party

The BJP’s objective, therefore, was to replace them with others in the political field. It was with this aim that the Apni Party of Syed Altaf Bukhari, a former member of the PDP, came into existence earlier this year. Although it was called a "King’s party" by critics, the BJP denied any connections with it.

However, the idea of a party which is close to New Delhi striking roots in the valley has taken a hit with a vice-president of the organization, Chaudhury Zulfikar, endorsing the latest initiatives of the NC and the PDP in favour of restoring Kashmir’s special status.

What this means is that at least one objective of the BJP is beginning to unravel. Among the reasons why the best-laid plans of mice and men can go awry are hubris and the faultlines of a democracy which enable political opportunism to flourish. In the BJP’s case, the arrogance bred by two successive general election victories convinced the party that it was now in a position to do more or less whatever it wanted, of which the first and foremost was the implementation of its longstanding desire to abolish Article 370.

With the help of opportunistic "King’s parties" in parliament like the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress, and others, the BJP pushed through a parliamentary measure which robbed Kashmir of Articles 370 (that granted special autonomous status to J&K) and 35A (which permitted the local legislature in Kashmir to define permanent residents of the region). What was expected to be done only with the imprimatur of Kashmir’s own legislature was accomplished when the latter was not in session and with the imposition of curfew-like restrictions, including the detention of the ‘mainstream’ leaders as well as a large number of activists.

The only fly in the ointment for the BJP was that democracy does not allow such repressive conditions to persist beyond a reasonable period of time. The BJP neglected to take into account this iron law of an open society although it did try various ways and means to circumvent this problem.

For instance, it organized an all-expenses-paid junket of European politicians to showcase Kashmir as a haven of peace and quiet last year in October. The only difficulty was that most of them were known to be far-right elements with a strong anti-Muslim bias. As a result, their certificates lacked credibility as did the one furnished by a more broad-based delegation presumably because they were also on a conducted tour where they could not meet whoever they wanted.

Promise of local body elections

The next ploy was the Apni Party followed by the promise of local body elections. But the elephant in the room was the incarceration of the Abdullahs and Muftis. Now their release is fraught with the possibility of opening a Pandora’s Box in Kashmir.  For one, the earlier restrictions can no longer be imposed without the BJP being seen as a fascistic outfit. And, for another, the absence of detentions entails a gradual resumption of political activity.

Herein lies the BJP’s problem. How will it respond if there is a growing chorus for the rolling back of the August 5, 2019 decision?

A second clampdown is out of the question, at least in the foreseeable future. Yet, the party cannot take a step back without a serious loss of face. If only hauteur had not blinded it to the perils of banking on repression to push through a partisan agenda.

(The writer is a current affairs analyst. The views expressed are personal)

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