The Big Story: Talking Kashmir
It is unfortunate that, at a time when the Centre has promised talks, Kashmir has become a battleground for nationalism again. Over the weekend, Congress leader P Chidambaram said Kashmir’s demand for “azadi”, freedom, was really a demand for greater autonomy under Article 370 of the Constitution. This article gives the state special status and allows it to have its own Constitution. While his own party distanced itself from his remarks, the Bharatiya Janata Party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, loudly decried them. During a day-long visit to Karnataka on Sunday, Modi claimed that the Congress spoke the language of Pakistan, that its support for azadi was an insult to the brave jawans at the front and against the spirit of the surgical strikes.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the prime minister’s visit to Karnataka is being seen as a precursor to the BJP poll campaign in the state, bound for elections next year. It is also no coincidence that his remarks would be heard in poll-bound Gujarat, where the incumbent BJP is showing signs of strain. Militant nationalism has been key to the BJP’s election campaigns in the recent past and Kashmir is a useful linchpin for these sentiments. During the Uttar Pradesh poll campaign at the beginning of the year, there was much muscle flexing over the Indian Army strikes aimed at militant launchpads across the Line of Control. This year, the prime minister has seen fit to invoke jawans at the mere mention of autonomy, creating a false opposition between the two. Modi’s remarks now suggest he has gone back to the hardline posturing that was briefly abandoned when, on Independence Day, he said that hugs not bullets would resolve the Kashmir issue.
This does not bode well for the incipient dialogue in Kashmir, where the government recently appointed an interlocutor. To begin with, the BJP seems unable to separate military operations at the Line of Control from the political process of negotiations in the Valley, where autonomy will almost certainly be one of the demands on the table. It also seems unable to distinguish between azadi, which would mean secession, and autonomy, an administrative arrangement within the ambit of the Constitution, one that was even promised under Article 370. Just this weekend, the BJP’s own leaders in Jammu and Kashmir said separatists of the Hurriyat, who openly champion azadi, are stakeholders in the state. But if the Centre is not even willing to consider the lesser demand for autonomy, what exactly are the “legitimate aspirations” it is willing to address?
In the Kashmir Valley, the initiation of talks under a former Intelligence Bureau chief has been met with scepticism. It was not helped by Delhi’s history of talks that dragged on for years and went nowhere, with the Centre conceding nothing. To most constituencies in the Valley, talks have become another strategy for maintaining the status quo. The BJP’s chest-thumping now could scupper this fresh initiative before it has even begun.
The Big Scroll
If Centre’s initiative in Kashmir is to succeed, there must be no preconditions for dialogue, writes Shujaat Bukhari.
While engaging Kashmir, Delhi must first battle its own legacy of talks in bad faith.
- In the Indian Express, MM Ansari argues that the Kashmir problem must be solved politically.
- In the Hindu, Happymon Jacob points out that while the United States would like to make India the centrepiece of its South Asia strategy, Delhi must keep interrogating Washington’s calculations.
- In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee finds the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nervousness in Gujarat intriguing.
Abdul Aziz of the Dhaka Tribune finds out why so many underage Rohingya girls are married and pregnant.
“On Wednesday, when taking treatment at the Panbazar medical centre, Rohingya refugees Mubina Begum, Sapura Khatun and Ramija Begum described why girls in the state prefer being pregnant all the year round.
According to the trio, army men, assisted by local Buddhists, rape Rohingya girls for hours at a stretch after picking them up from their homes, an organised campaign of sexual assault against the Rohingya Muslims that has been continuing for decades.
They burst into tears as they described their terrible ordeal to the correspondent.”