Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Conference (PC) leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami have arrived in New Delhi separately to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first meeting after June 2018 with the mainstream leaders of Jammu and Kashmir later today. National Conference (NC) President and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah also left Srinagar for the national capital Thursday morning to attend the meeting.
Even as the invite does not mention any agenda, media and political circles are suggesting a three-hour-long closed-door discussion on the three-year-long political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir.
Four former Chief Ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — and four former Deputy Chief Ministers of the erstwhile State — Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Tara Chand, Nirmal Singh and Kavinder Gupta — are reportedly among the 15 representatives from five regional and three national parties attending the meeting today.
The Centre would be represented by Prime Minister Modi along with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh.
Mehbooba Mufti’s suggestion to the BJP-led government at the Centre to include Pakistan in the proposed dialogue process has instantly generated speculations of major political changes in Jammu and Kashmir. Senior officers of the security forces and the J&K Police have held at least two meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to update the list of the Union Territory’s political prisoners. It includes a number of the political activists from some outlawed separatist organisations who, according to the Police and security forces, have been operating as ‘over-ground workers’ of certain militant outfits.
Leaders of three particular mainstream parties—NC, PDP and CPI (M)—insist that many of these detainees were either civilians of no political affiliation or associated with their organisations. Some of the officers view a déjà vu in the new development, believing that the Modi government had decided to reverse its Kashmir policy of the last three years. They refer to the separatist hardliner Massart Alam’s release in the first week of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s taking over as Chief Minister in March 2015.
Before sailing into the stream of speculations, one needs to analyse why exactly Modi had desired a round-table conference with the J&K leaders, his first after the withdrawal of J&K’s special status and Statehood and its split into the two independent UTs in August 2019.
A robust ecosystem of the valley’s separatists, militants and their intellectual sympathisers is watching the developments with its fingers crossed but making a constituency believe that India was “succumbing to the American pressure”. Some of them insist that New Delhi was just implementing her commitments with the UAE.
Independent political analysts, nevertheless, believe that Modi would never like to lose the gains achieved in J&K to any track of diplomacy. The cult of stone pelting and violent demonstrations, which reached its zenith in 2015-18, has vanished and hardly a civilian has died anywhere in the valley after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A.
Many in the NDA government believe that much more than Pakistan it is the ‘nexus’ between Kashmir’s mainstream and separatist politicians which has sustained the militancy in the last over 20 years.
“After 2002, separatists and militants have been like silent partners and beneficiaries of the government”, says a veteran political analyst on the condition of anonymity. “In the PDP’s coalitions with the Congress and the BJP, many of the separatists and the militants grabbed key positions in the government. Proximity to the separatists and militants was a big qualification. Several separatist leaders and their satellites entered the government services and institutions through the backdoor. It was like Pakistan was ruling Kashmir and India was ruling Jammu. Whenever a militant or an OGW was arrested, the PDP leaders got him released in seconds. Burhan Wani and the situation witnessed after his death in an encounter was all the creation of a mainstream political party”.
Kashmir’s armed insurgency, which was at its peak in 1994, has been decimated by the security forces quantitatively several times in the last 31 years. But every time there was resurgence— sometimes due to Pakistan’s direct ‘moral and material support’ to the militant organisations and sometimes due to the separatists’ and the militants’ clout in the power corridors.
“They (separatists and militants) have two types of support structure. First, the visible sympathisers who take care of their logistics, provide them hideouts and help them escape from criminal cases and encounters. Secondly, the combination of intellectual and political support, having access to and influence in the government systems. Actors of this network sustain the separatist narratives while
maintaining liaison with top politicians and bureaucrats”, said a retired officer who has held senior positions in the J&K Police.
The year 2016 street turmoil, which is continuing to an extent in a different format, began with Massarat Alam’s release. He was permitted to hold a massive reception for the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It was after a long pause of five years that the demonstrators in front of the J&K Police Headquarters, on the Srinagar airport road, were permitted to raise the Pakistani flags and slogans for Hafiz Sayeed and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. It was a turning point the separatists needed desperately.
Even after a violent summer turbulence in 2010, in which nearly a hundred demonstrators died in the Police and paramilitary firing, Omar Abdullah’s government had controlled the situation. The year 2011 witnessed J&K’s highest turnout Panchayat elections. Peace was fully restored in the next four years. Inspite of Afzal Guru’s execution, there was no violence in Kashmir in the year 2013. And the year 2014 witnessed the best held Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. From 2011 to 2014, the number of active militants dipped to the lowest of 30-40 and not more than 8 fresh recruits joined the militancy in a year.
Contrarily, the PDP-BJP coalition ended with the gory incidents like the journalist Shujaat Bukhari’s assassination at Srinagar’s Press Enclave followed by the killing of 40 paramilitary personnel in the valley’s deadliest terrorist strike.
The political process and the Assembly elections are inescapable realities and requirements in J&K. There can be a discussion on all the demands put forward by the J&K politicians. There is a strong possibility of the restoration of Statehood. But nobody can expect the Modi regime to recreate a haven for the separatists and the militants within the government system. Zero-tolerance to the mainstream political and intellectual support to the separatists and the militants is Modi’s compulsion, particularly ahead of the Assembly elections in UP and some other States and the year-2024 Lok Sabha elections.