Operation Kashmir


People throwing stones at security forces near a site of encounter at Tazipora-Mohanpora village in Kulgam.

After its massive victory in the Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party plans to capture Jammu and Kashmir on its own strength, and it is expected to be an operation with no holds barred.

On the afternoon of May 23, as it became clear that Narendra Modi was headed for a massive victory in the general election, many in Srinagar’s newsrooms and political circles switched off their television sets and resigned themselves to listening to grim commentaries from perturbed friends and colleagues who tried to make sense of how this sweeping mandate for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would alter the course of Kashmir’s politics.

The discussion was unavoidable since a major component of the BJP’s nationwide polarising game was to whip up sentiments against the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, virulently reject the political aspirations of its people, and vow to do away with the constitutional safeguards guaranteed to Jammu and Kashmir. The election results established that this trenchant nationalism had resonated well in the Hindi heartland and no less in Jammu, which voted decisively for the saffron party enabling it to retain both the Jammu and Udhampur constituencies and lead in 28 Assembly segments, three more than its all-time best tally of 25 in 2014. The common refrain among Srinagar’s political observers was that the BJP was now all set to make its anti-Kashmir manoeuvres with more belligerence across the Pir Panjal, rendering Jammu an unopposed hunting ground for it and guaranteeing its emergence as an indispensable shareholder in any future coalition government in the politically fractious State.

Kashmir’s local newspapers were rife with editorials drawn around this refrain. An article in Greater Kashmir titled “All roads lead to whom?” said: “The fears of political surrender and the challenge of according a sense of belongingness to Jammu have grown deeper.” Kashmir Observer was more candid in underlining the Sangh Parivar’s thickening Hindutva plot in an op-ed aptly titled “Next Stop J&K”. “The Hindutva party has ambitious plans up its sleeve, seeking even to become a majority partner in the new government,” it said. However, what Kashmir’s local press has failed to factor in so far is that the Sangh Parivar has smelled the opportunity for a far bigger leap in Jammu and Kashmir than simply being a partner in government.

BJP’s 35+9 formula

A conversation with several BJP leaders and their election strategists based in Jammu underscored the point that the party is planning to capture Jammu and Kashmir on its own strength by executing a “35+ 9 formula”: a minimum of 35 seats from Jammu and Ladakh, which elect 37 and four legislators respectively, and nine from the Kashmir Valley to secure a majority in the 87-member State Assembly. The BJP’s phenomenal success in the general election has reinforced its conviction that fomenting and aggravating the fear of the “Muslim other” and minting an implicit slogan of “Hindu first” have the capacity to effect an unprecedented consolidation of majority community votes. It plans to repeat that experiment in Jammu by seizing on people’s unease with the influx of Rohingyas—5,700 Rohingya refugees are settled in Jammu and 7,664 in Ladakh, as per the Jammu and Kashmir government’s estimate—and weaponising the pending citizenship issue of West Pakistani refugees as a “betrayal of Hindus”. In the 2019 election, the BJP’s vote share in Jammu and Kashmir increased to 46.4 per cent from 34.4 per cent.

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