Modi led RSS-BJP Govt. invited 14 leaders of different parties of J&K and held discussions with them on June 24, 2021 at Delhi. Most of these leaders belonged to the parties which had been party to Gupkar Declaration against steps taken by the Modi Govt. on August 5, 2019. This alliance was earlier called Gupkar gang by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. It is a change in the attitude of RSS-BJP Govt. but from what reportedly transpired at the meeting, it is clear that this change is mostly formal while Modi Govt. refused to commit to reversal of the steps taken in August 2019 i.e. division of the state of JK into two union territories and depriving it of the status of a province; virtually annulling Article 370 and repealing Article 35A, the two articles forming the bedrock of what was being seen as autonomy of the state though in practice it has been under direct and indirect military rule with AFSPA holding sway over citizens’ lives.
Many commentators have pointed out that this initiative to meet leaders of parliamentary opposition parties is driven by geopolitical changes. These relate to defeat of US and allies in Afghanistan and also to the change in approach brought about by new US President, Joe Biden. It is well known that RSS-BJP had been particularly close to Donald Trump whose white supremacy matched with their Hindutva besides his aggressive militarism directed against China. Not only Modi had called, in his US trip, for re-electing Trump, RSS affiliates in US had mobilized their followers to support Trump despite overwhelming majority of Indian Americans being opposed to Trump. While anti-China campaign of US imperialism will stay under Biden and hence their courting of India to contain rise of China, his domestic constituency is not supportive of anti-minority Hindutva of RSS-BJP.
RSS-BJP’s open alliance with US under Trump has been a singular disaster. Trump is out of power in US and in the process, Indian Govt. has lost trust of Russia.
Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is having serious repercussion on the political landscape in the region. Biden has announced September 11, 2021 as the date when withdrawal will be completed but reports are that it will be done before that. That the US Admn. has no faith in the survival of Afghanistan Govt. is obvious from their decision to airlift thousands of their collaborators and their families from Afghanistan, the total estimated to be over 50,000. Talibaan are certain to wield main power in Afghanistan. Indian Govt. had earlier been ruling out all relations with Talibaan, but is now talking to Talibaan in Qatar. For managing withdrawal of troops and exercising influence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan, US dependence on Pakistan is going to increase. It is for this reason that US and allies have tried to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan. Role of UAE in Pakistan and India agreeing on February 25 to observe cease-fire agreement of 2003 is well documented. It is reported that at the time of that agreement, it was agreed to normalize situation in J&K. On June 7 US Assistant Secretary of State had called for dialogue with Kashmir leaders. This discussion on June 24 is therefore believed to have geopolitical dimension.
Besides this, RSS-BJP govt. is confronted with rising anger of the people, best exemplified by the ongoing farmers struggle which has exposed its pro corporate character. Gross mismanagement of Covid and electoral setbacks is some big provinces have added to the pressure on the government. This is the domestic scenario in which the govt. has held this meeting.
That this meeting was merely formal is largely due to the fact that the parties invited for talks do not enjoy support of the people in the Valley. Nor do they represent the aspirations of the people of J&K. Govt. has deliberately avoided the organizations which command people’s support in that region. The participants in the meeting did not even enquire about the agenda proposed by the Govt. It appeared that they were just happy to be invited.
RSS-BJP Govt. is keen to hold elections to show to the world apparent normalcy. For that purpose it wants delimitation of the constituencies so that it could increase weight of its supporters. Delimitation is not due in J&K. Assembly had put it off till after 2026. Even the parliament of India has put off delimitation till after 2026. It is clear that this delimitation exercise is driven by the agenda of RSS-BJP. PM Modi emphasized on delimitation and holding of elections without outlining what rights such elected representatives will have i.e. without even declaring restoration of statehood to J&K. Probably it will depend on who are elected. This is a managed democratic exercise if not a frank mockery of it. J&K leaders have been cajoled into attending this meeting to justify undemocratic and unconstitutional steps of the RSS-BJP Govt.
As a byproduct of this exercise, there may be some relaxation in the prohibitions placed for the people in J&K. If that happens, it may be some relief for the people who have been living in one of the most militarized regions in the world and under one of the most stringent denial of democratic rights.
Progress in resolving J&K issue needs recognition and willingness to respect democratic aspirations of the people of J&K. Without that it may not amount to much despite this talk between a Govt. bent on crushing the people and leaders who do not represent these aspirations and the people.
June 25, 2021