With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning the last Lok Sabha elections with a whopping majority, the new central government looks keen on continuing its stronger policy towards Kashmir valley. In his maiden visit to the Valley, Home Minister Amit Shah not only firmly displayed an iron-fist but the air was different, and Srinagar was on roads—not to protest, but to move on with their lives.

It was the first time in the last three decades when the pro-freedom groups like Hurriyat Conference didn’t call for a shutdown, which had been the norm in all these years, to express protest against a cabinet minister’s visit. The contemplation of talk of talks in Kashmir were shushed by Mr. Shah when he spoke at the parliament, a day later.

Speaking on the issue of extending the President’s rule in J-K to six more months, and Kashmir awaits a conducive atmosphere to conduct elections, Mr. Shah said, “Those who want to separate J-K from India must have fear in their minds. Some say there is an atmosphere of fear there. Those who are against India should have fear in their hearts. We are not against common people of J-K.”

The message was clear: New Delhi is in no mood to entertain anyone who raises a voice against the constitution—whether it is within mainstream or non-mainstream politics. Clearly, with him stressing upon the dynastic parties misusing Kashmir’s conflict, it explains that it won’t be easy for any regional party to form the next state government without the BJP backing them.

The BJP has been tirelessly working to live this time—where it strengthens its grip on the regional politics of the state and it is slowly ripping the fruits. The party won three Lok Sabha seats from the state in recent parliamentary elections and is aiming for thirty assembly seats in the upcoming state elections.

For the BJP, it is the same for militancy. Mr. Shah’s visit was scheduled in accordance with security review meetings ahead of the Amarnath Yatra, as well as to review the development projects. As per reports, he has even told the top security brass of J-K to fix a deadline to wipe out remaining militancy from Kashmir.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the new government is all for rooting out the militancy from the Valley to shape a new model of government. It is less visible that the engagement between New Delhi and the pro-freedom leadership—whosoever is out of jail, is on the cards anytime soon.

While in the stronghold of militancy, the impact of operations against the militants have had an effect and damage to local populace also, there is a sense of fear and search for an escape to find a way out—from the continuous trauma. Within such multilayered socio-political set up the BJP has grown its branches across the Valley – to intensify its influence on the upcoming elections. 

The aim of the BJP seems to be reducing the political distance between New Delhi and Srinagar, which the home minister believes was created by the previous governments. Speaking of the previous governments—which was mainly Congress, Mr. Shah said that “there’s a rift between people of India and people of J-K and the previous government did not work towards it.”

In the last one year, Kashmir’s political landscape has changed—in one way or another. As most of the pro-freedom leaders are in jail, and with a ban imposed on Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a group that shunned gun in the mid-90s to find a solution to Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations, the idea of dialogue looks hollow on the part of the pro-freedom leaders. But with the ban, BJP has made it clear that there is no room for any anti-India position, even though if you had shunned gun. The word sent across is clear—whether you have a gun or not—you can’t stand in the way between New Delhi and Kashmir.

However, the party still leaves a room for dialogue but only under the ambit of the constitution. As the BJP’s national vice-president and J-K affairs in charge Avinash Rai Khanna said, “We are up for the dialogue and the fact is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is creating an atmosphere for peace and reconciliation. We are open to talks with Hurriyat leaders but within the ambit of the constitution.”

It has to be seen if the BJP will continue with its iron-fist policy or adjust talks with the Hurriyat – at their own terms or unconditional. But while many leaders are in jail—people’s eyes are on the two senior anti-India leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani—the only two who are out of jail, in the absence of Yasin Malik—if they would agree for dialogue ‘within the ambit’? While we wait, the lingering issue of Kashmir passes more years—people live and die—amid violence and uncertainty.

This article originally appeared in the 1-7 July 2019 print issue of The Kashmir Walla.

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