Home >opinion >J&K civilians may suffer from BJP’s political stunt

A motormouth legislator, spokesperson or influential associate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) usually either sets the tone of future action and law-and-order stasis or queers the pitch to diminish the party’s spin on a particular development. In that, the ongoing drama in Jammu and Kashmir has proved to be typical.

On 22 June, Lal Singh, BJP’s member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Basohli in Kathua district warned media in Kashmir to “mend their ways" or they could meet the fate of Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir who was assassinated in Srinagar on 14 June. Two of Bukhari’s bodyguards died as well. The prevailing narrative assumes that Bukhari, who openly preached dialogue among all sides as a prerequisite for any progress, let alone peace, in the state, was killed by militants at the behest of their Pakistan-based handlers and masters.

Singh’s remarks drew outrage among many in media and led to condemnation by the Editors Guild of India, and a demand that BJP discipline the MLA—the demand remains ignored. Perhaps the party feels that punishing Singh, who lost his job as minister after his belligerent support for alleged perpetrators of the Kathua rape in January, would be too much of a shove that could cost BJP crucial support.

The fact that Singh leveraged Bukhari’s death to threaten journalists, and remains unchastized—indeed, his colleagues in Jammu and Kashmir have even defended him—points to the direction BJP cohorts expect the lumbering and dented political convoy in J&K to move toward after the party pulled out of its partnership with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on 19 June. That dissolution of partnership quickly led to imposition of governor’s rule in J&K.

As I suggested in last week’s column , the rupture in J&K will shore up its support in the Jammu region, and will please hard-line adherents there and nationwide. This will without question form an important nationalistic plank in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

The central government in New Delhi—specifically a combination of the Prime Minister’s Office, the national security adviser, several intelligence agencies, the army and paramilitaries, and the ministry of home affairs—will weigh upon Jammu and Kashmir governor N.N. Vohra for the next several months. Pro-government media across India have already begun to tom-tom the central government’s insertion of elite counter-terrorism commandos in the Kashmir Valley as a force-multiplier for operations by the Indian Army, its adjunct Rashtriya Rifles, and several paramilitary organizations.

The absence of local police and administration in this media-fuelled rhetoric is an eloquent indication of policy as much as public posture.

A concern remains: the fallout of any muscular approach that draws in civilians into the web of collateral damage. Such an approach—including the now-infamous, and indiscriminate, use of pellets alongside bullets—to control protests and angry crowds visibly destroyed any semblance of law or order in Kashmir Valley in the aftermath of the killing of militant icon Burhan Wani in mid-2016.

Governor Vohra was at pains to point in an interview with Harinder Baweja of the Hindustan Times, published on 26 June, that the “entire administrative apparatus, from the very top to the bottom shall function with efficiency, speed and accountability to serve the people and regain the trust of the common man." While such intent is admirable, the BJP-PDP combine had undertaken to do precisely that, especially from 2017 on, including the appointment by the home ministry of an interlocutor for dialogue.

Jettisoning the PDP seems more like jettisoning a political irritant than an operational irritant.

The BJP and its K-team in this case are positioned to run the risks as well as reap the benefits. But such risks may be limited to Kashmir while political benefits may accrue elsewhere—for which the people of Kashmir will continue to pay indefinitely.

J&K’s brutal theatre in which Pakistan shares the lead with India is far from over.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun and Highway 39. This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.

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