In democracy, the ballot and not the bullet is the wonder weapon best suited to resolve conflicts and replace governments. When those rejected by ballots resort to murder and mayhem to destabilise an elected establishment, the bullet becomes the most preferred means to erase the threat. The Narendra Modi government has to stand firm on a-bullet-for-a-stone policy to save Kashmir from dangerous demons disrupting democracy. Last week, the Supreme Court decided to step in where successive governments at the Centre and the state have failed in 27 years. It directed all stakeholders to visualise the roadmap for a meaningfully inclusive dialogue. It also asked the government to refrain from the pellet policy if the agitators stopped hurling stones at the security forces.
Numerous dialogues, both formal and informal, have happened in the past to restore normalcy in Kashmir. Many free-and-fair elections have been held with record turnouts. European Parliament, a symbol of pluralism and liberalism, sang paeans to Indian elections. Soon after the last J&K election, it issued a statement: “The high voter turnout figure proves that democracy is firmly rooted in India. The EU would like to congratulate India and its democratic system for conduct of fair elections, unmarred by violence, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The European Parliament also takes cognisance of the fact that a large number of Kashmiri voters turned out despite calls for the boycott of elections by certain separatist forces”.
Perhaps, stung by this endorsement and the rise of a first-time government with nationalist participation in J&K, saboteurs of the democratic process with lucrative side benefits are running amok in the state. Stone pelting is their bloody, money-spinning sport, where the prize is defeating the collective will of the people. In 2016, there were 2,690 incidents of stone pelting as against 1,157 in 2015—a rise of almost 250 per cent. Almost half of these occurred in North Kashmir, followed by 875 in South Kashmir and 567 in Central Kashmir. The year 2016 was also the bloodiest for the security forces since 2008—87 uniformed personnel martyred until last December compared to 51 in 2014. More than 20 have been killed since January. Last year, 165 terrorist scalps were taken—also the highest count in the past eight years.
Local factors have less to do with the ominous surge in violence than the liberal financial and ideological support to separatists and their agent provocateurs from across the border. Ironically, New Delhi has given J&K the status of a most preferred state. According to official sources, between 2006 and 2016 it received per capita Central assistance of Rs 91,300 as against Rs 43,000 for Uttar Pradesh. This mega munificence has forced the percentage of people living below the poverty line in J&K to drop to a minimum of 3.48 per cent as against 25 per cent in 1980. Over 26 per cent live above the poverty line in the rest of India. Kashmir’s per capita income has been growing at about 12 per cent. Recently, the Centre allotted Rs 19,000 crore of the Rs 80,000 crore development packages announced by PM Narendra Modi to J&K. But Kashmir is also the valley of illusion. The unrestricted river of rupees flowing from Delhi to Srinagar has only helped fatten the assets of the double dealers who have made terrorism and extortion Kashmir’s cottage industry.
Their scruples are shallower than the Dal Lake in a summer of discontent. Since containing terror and protecting unarmed civilians pose a threat to economics, politics and crossborder detente, the sharks of separatism spread fear by attacking peacekeeping forces by using women as human shields and stones as weapons. For the past three years, Modi has kept his mantra for Kashmir close to his chest. He has maintained a significant silence on the Valley’s precarious state of affairs. With his predilection for springing surprises, he is expected to make a move, which will make or mar his image of leader with a mission and vision. Some of the proposals on his table are:
• Act on a second surgical strike to destroy all training camps. Modi is unlikely to face international hostility as most of the Western world is fighting terror.
• Appoint a strong governor to keep a check on the state government. The sell-by-date of current incumbent N N Vohra (81) is past. This member of the pro-dialogue cabal is instrumental in adopting a soft line. Modi is under pressure to send a younger person with an Army background to the Raj Bhavan.
• Treat unrest in the Valley as treason and a law and order issue. Use force to contain it at any cost by deploying the BSF in large numbers. Security experts are peeved with the state government for removing Army bunkers from strategic points. Militants and terrorists are scared of the power of India’s military, if it is given operational freedom and modern weapons.
• Create fully-trained armed women battalions to deal with misguided female stone pelters.
• Break the nexus of local cops, separatists and terrorists responsible for the spurt in attacks on uniformed forces by insulating the state police from ISI infiltration.
• Move all the terrorists and stone pelters in Kashmir’s jails to faraway states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat etc. This prevents them from establishing contact with their local masters. Terrorists and their supporters in local prisons have access to modern communication equipment.
• Withdraw or downsize the security cover of Hurriyat leaders who attend prayers with youngsters waving IS flags and raising pro-Pakistan slogans.
• Create special jobs for Kashmiri youth in BJP-ruled states to stop them from joining the burgeoning brigade of stone pelters.
To be the Samson of Srinagar, Modi has to flex his muscles against the devious doves who have infiltrated his system and are pushing for dialogue with Pakistan in private and in public. Even those retired officials, rewarded with insignificant sinecures, are writing articles pleading for engagement with Pakistan—the fount of terror. Modi can win the Kashmir war only if he takes the less-trodden path ignored by his predecessors. He has junked the old style politics and politicians. The time has come for him to also dump professional peaceniks, free junketers and Pak-friendly chatteratti and adopt disruptive diplomacy and a determined defence strategy to bring Kashmir back on track.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla