Here is the second of a series of executive summaries of key conflict, conflict resolution, and human rights matters in Indian and South Asia in 2018.

Jammu and Kashmir: Dineshwar Sharma, India’s new interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir, spent some days there earlier this week on pretty much what he has been doing since his appointment in October: publicly, with photo-ops, meeting relatively tame groups of civil society. If Sharma, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau whom New Delhi projects as its representative for “sustained dialogue" in Kashmir, is India’s gentle hand, it will be much calloused in 2018. India’s security establishment may be winning the numbers game against militants and terrorists, but those numbers hardly matter if a population is lost—as certainly it is in the hearts-and-minds stakes in Kashmir; even as the southern Jammu region is repeatedly projected as a largely Hindu, and, therefore, safe bastion of nationalism in the roiled state.

It is a good thing Sharma is the new face of New Delhi on the ground in Kashmir, even if as a prophylactic. Few in the current security establishment, including home minister Rajnath Singh or national security adviser Ajit Doval, will be taken with anything but great cynicism in Kashmir. Along with the army and in greater part the paramilitaries, they were directly identified with the disastrous muscular policy since 2016, especially as massive popular protests erupted after the killing of Burhan Wani that July.

It was as if for the rest of India—an image driven by New Delhi and subservient media—all of Kashmir had turned “stone-pelters". Even with Pakistan’s complicity in sustaining protests, the fact that the root cause of anger and resentment lay with India was blithely ignored. Blowback soon arrived; and this in a state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a partner in power with the Peoples Democratic Party. Photographs of men, women and children with pellet-streaked faces and ruined eyes and civilian dead still continue to be the dominant images from Kashmir in South Asia and elsewhere in the world. Just like that, Kashmir became our Palestine.

“Peace must be restored in Kashmir," Sharma had declared in an interview soon after his appointment in October. That’s a long haul: before peace comes trust. An indication of it came in November, when chief minister Mehbooba Mufti—with the benign approval of New Delhi—ordered the withdrawal of cases against more than 4,000 “stone-pelters", mostly youngsters.

Assembly elections: State polls in Meghalaya and Nagaland, due before their terms end in March 2018, will be of low calorific value. But in Tripura, where the new assembly must be in place in March 2018, the Hindu-nationalist flavour and undercutting of the incumbent Communist alliance through glib sponsorship of an already on-edge tribal population is already months in play. Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, high on the radar of must-keep states for the Sangh Parivar, need assembly elections done and dusted by January 2019. The campaigns for these pivotal states will easily leapfrog to the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

Close