Till a couple of weeks ago, November 21 to be precise, it was business as usual in Jammu and Kashmir. Shut downs, clamp downs, civilian deaths, encounters, militants killed, soldiers shot, persons abducted – with New Delhi seemingly determined not to shift an inch from its declared stance of zero tolerance for the Valley.
RSS and BJP leader Ram Madhav had some days before – November 14 – declared in Kathua that there was no question of dissolving the state Assembly and that Governor’s rule would continue till at least mid-December when its duration would have expired.
Then, suddenly, Governor Satyapal Malik dissolved the Assembly – after a visit to Delhi while the political effort by the PDP to stake claim with the help of the National Conference and the Congress was underway.
He has since maintained that he did so to prevent Sajad Lone from forming the government – a decision now applauded by PDP and NC – and went on to say a day later that he could well be transferred.
Since then movement on the Kashmir front has been quietly dramatic. Ram Madhav, a very vocal RSS leader on deputation to the BJP and handling Kashmir, has fallen silent, with not a word from him about the dissolution, which came so soon after he declared Governor’s rule would continue.
This has added to the buzz in Delhi of a turf war unfolding between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Ram Madhav. Governor Malik is working closely with the Prime Minister’s Office, as his statements have continuously indicated – that he has been given leeway by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that the PM wants democracy in the state, and more to that effect.
Meanwhile Madhav, after bursting on to the Kashmir scene and handling the Valley almost solo after the Modi government came to power in Delhi, seems to have lost some lustre. Once almost omnipotent in his presence, with a finger in each Kashmiri pie, he is less visible in the Valley than he used to be. Madhav is a hard working, dynamic leader of the RSS and became the face of not just the RSS but the BJP in the state.
But there seems to be an effort now to trim his wings, with the dissolution of the Assembly contradicting his assertions to the contrary, and making him fall into uncharacteristic silence. Quite unlike the Ram Madhav who was seen in the media and outside on a daily basis, in forming the government in the state, and then again when the BJP pulled out and PDP leader and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned in June this year.
The RSS incidentally is charged with the mission of bringing in a non-Muslim chief minister from Jammu to govern the state, but four years in power does not seem to have brought it closer to its goal.
In the process an old player has been resurrected after many months. Art of Living’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who was a visible entrant in Kashmir politics after the BJP came to power, was eased out and left the scene for a while, until now when he has re-entered via Norwegian peace envoy, ex-prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who has visited the Valley, met the Hurriyat leaders and moved on to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where he has met the political leadership as well.
Clearly his visit and meetings were cleared by the PMO here, given the visit itself and the persons he was allowed access to. The talks have ignited interest in strategic circles in Delhi – not for what these might have achieved, but more because of the how and the why.
The Hurriyat has welcomed the move, expressing optimism about renewed dialogue, in the wake of the Kartarpur Corridor which PM Modi compared to the breaking down of the Berlin Wall.
Ravi Shankar vanished from the Valley in March this year, when he was heckled at a “message of love” function, to which Kashmiris claimed they had been lured on false pretext. The Art of Living Founder had never really hit it off with Ram Madhav, indicative over their differences on the Ram temple. Last year Ravi Shankar indicated he would start the mediation between different groups for the temple, but was immediately contradicted by Ram Madhav who said that it was still early and the courts were seized of the issue.
Now however, Ravi Shankar is back in the picture, with the Norwegian leader publicly giving him credit for his presence in India.
But despite the speculation in Delhi, these seem to be little more than tentative moves to keep exploring the ‘other side’ as it were. Currently there is little to indicate that, apart from a probable turf war within the ruling establishment, New Delhi is actually considering other alternatives seriously.
Kashmir and Pakistan along with the temple are powerful inputs into the RSS-BJP larger strategy for the forthcoming elections. Perhaps the most reliable indication into government thinking comes from the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, whose remarks move the uniform into the political realm.
Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj directly turned down Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of peace. But so did Rawat, when he said there would be no let up in the military action in Kashmir. “To think that by having just one good year you can give peace a chance that may not be the best option. You have to have repeated successes and then think of giving peace a chance. I think that is what we are doing now,” he said.
Rawat also said that the Kartarpur corridor should be kept in “isolation”, in that it could not be interpreted as a harbinger of peace in the larger context.
In the last few days Rawat has made it clear that the youth in Kashmir cannot fight the Army and must realise it, indicating that from his point of view it will be a fight to the finish. He has also spoken publicly of using drones – as the US did in Afghanistan – on “hostile targets” in Kashmir, provided the nation accepts the “collateral damage”.
“The Indian army is capable of using drones to attack hostile targets inside Jammu and Kashmir and across the Line of Control, and sees no problem in using them, provided the nation is willing to accept mistakes and collateral damage,” the Army Chief said.
All in all there is not going to be a shift in policy towards Kashmir, nor for that matter in Pakistan, till at least the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
As the BJP campaign for the ongoing Assembly elections has demonstrated, the focus will remain on the mix of ingredients for a potent communal end result, with peace – despite the hesitant efforts mentioned above – not even part of the official rhetoric.