Undoubtedly, Kashmir is more anti-India today than ever before. India is fast losing whatever limited public support it had in the Valley. With the declining violence since early 2000s, there was a hope for a peaceful settlement to the 70-year-old Kashmir issue.
However, the situation in the Valley has gone out of India’s control in the recent years and with that the hope for a negotiated settlement too has faded away. At present, India seems to have gone inside a dark tunnel and more worryingly not even looking for light at the end of it.
While Kashmir is slipping out of India’s control in an alarming speed, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi does not seem to be in a hurry to salvage the situation. The central government has been consistently pursuing a strong-arm policy to crush dissent in Kashmir. It continues to bypass the authority of the state government and regularly uses brute force to quash protests.
It is for anyone to see that this high-handed strategy is not working and rather becoming counter-productive. That has led some to wonder if the government has any policy on Kashmir or not. There is no doubt it has one, but it's uncertain if that policy has been designed to bring peace and to find a political settlement through negotiation.
Kashmir has been the crux of the bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan since the two nations gained their independence. India's endeavour to "stage-manage" elections in Kashmir and stifle dissent have marked Kashmir's history since 1948, but it was not until 1989, that discontent turned to violent militancy. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1995, ruling out the demand for independence, had assured that as far as autonomy for Kashmir was concerned, the sky would be the limit.
The United Front governments continued Rao’s policy of promising maximum autonomy. Vajpayee’s famous, but mystifying Kashmir Doctrine of "Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat" also extended that approach. However, it was Manmohan Singh, who brought a semblance of normalcy to the Valley, improved the relationship between India and Pakistan in spite of several spoilers trying to derail the process and had almost reached a final settlement to the Kashmir issue with Pakistan while taking most of the critical Kashmiri stakeholders along.
The Kashmir Valley became nervous when India elected "Hindu hriday samrat" to the Prime Minister’s Office in May 2014, and the BJP swept the elections in Jammu in December 2014. Modi’s desire to capture the rein of the state of Jammu and Kashmir led him to make an opportunistic alliance with the PDP. This took away the political capital of the PDP, which was of some hope for a majority of Kashmiris to find a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue.
The only thing that PM Modi seems to have done for Kashmir is to make it "self-sufficient with militants". In the past three years, Kashmir valley has become a fertile breeding ground for new militants and the home-grown militants have outnumbered the foreign fighters.
As the militants are now local boys, they enjoy huge local support. Any security operation against them now witnesses villagers coming out in the open in their support.
A working relationship with Pakistan is a must to hope bring law and order in Kashmir, but the relations between two countries have been on the edge since the Pathankot airbase attack. Instead of trying to normalise the ties, the government does not miss any chance to display brinkmanship by regularly warning Pakistan of a "befitting reply". So much so that even ordinary cross-border operations are being turned into media blitzkrieg.
In spite of the failure in restoring normalcy in Kashmir, the Modi government seems to be adamant to continue the senseless policy in the Valley, which is bereft of legality, morality and basic human values.
Political expediency of the regime has forced the security forces to carry out an extremely difficult and thankless task of maintaining law and order in a very hostile environment. Last year, it was forced to use pellet guns and this year the human shield.
It is difficult to imagine that a leader like Modi, who is so careful about his own image, cannot see how the security situation in Kashmir and the Army brutality is gravely damaging India’s image abroad.
The use of pellet guns last year to quell protests had caused large-scale visual impairment among civilians in the Valley and brought severe condemnation from human rights activists from all over the world. This year, besides the pictures/video of a civilian tied to the bonnet of a jeep, the other image which has brought the Kashmir issue to global attention is that of schoolgirls in headscarves leading the protests in the Valley.
The political leadership in Delhi, instead of taking care to help the security forces improve their image, seems to be encouraging them to take more and more atrocious and counter-productive crowd-control measures, which will only incite the Kashmiris more.
It's not only the Army chief who gave a "commendation card" to major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, but even attorney general MokulRohatgi came out in support of Gogoi's act of tying the man to a jeep.
It is true that the Kashmir situation has almost gone out of control and Modi’s hard-headed policy is primarily responsible for it. However, Modi is unwilling to change the course because this present policy enhances his carefully cultivated image as a strong leader in mainland India.
An unsettled and violent Kashmir is bad for India and India’s image abroad, but surely beneficial for Modi and his Hindutva politics. Continued unrest in the Valley helps Modi and his men mobilise their support base in the name of Hindu nationalism. Territorial integrity of the country has the potential to be a very powerful electoral slogan in 2019, which can come handy to hide failures of the government on socio-economic fronts.
For the greater interest of India, Modi needs to stop being a politician and act like a statesman on the Kashmir issue. Is that too much to expect from the country's prime minister?