WITH Narendra Modi back in the prime ministerial saddle, legitimate questions have arisen about how the Indian leadership is likely to handle the simmering discontent in India-held Kashmir.
After all, Mr Modi’s previous stint in power witnessed a brutal approach, with a militarised response to Kashmiris’ yearning for freedom and dignity.
In fact, the radical Hindu BJP said it would end Kashmir’s special constitutional status, and remains committed to this dubious goal.
This violent, clumsy response from Delhi to what is a political issue has increased the sense of alienation among Kashmiris, with many young and educated citizens of the region taking up arms to resist the Indian military machine on the battlefield and the erosion of Kashmiri autonomy.
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The killing by Indian forces of young Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani in 2016 sparked protests in the held region, and also highlighted the trend that young educated Kashmiris were willing to opt for armed struggle against India after being disillusioned with the political process.
Indian forces recently gunned down Zakir Musa, said to be India’s ‘most wanted’ militant, who was among Wani’s comrades. Following the killing of Musa, thousands turned up for his funeral.
Unfortunately, ugly cycles of violence in occupied Kashmir have become the norm, and unless the establishment in Delhi comes up with a fresh approach, they will show no signs of abating.
Along with the concerns many in the region have regarding Mr Modi’s approach to regional politics and his government’s treatment of minorities within India, the issue of Kashmir will remain prominent.
Will the Indian prime minister continue with his hard-line approach, pushing Kashmiri youth to the wall and forcing them to fight the Indian state? Or will he display statesmanship and adopt a fresh approach to the troubled region?
While those wishing to see peace prevail in South Asia will be hoping that Mr Modi picks the latter option, the reality may be more of the same.
However, while the BJP’s suppression of the Kashmiri freedom struggle has resulted in the disillusionment of practically all Kashmiris with India, even some of Delhi’s most loyal supporters in the held region — the Abdullah clan, Mehbooba Mufti etc — appear dismayed at the way the Hindu nationalists have treated Kashmir.
A different approach to the occupied territory by Delhi can help break the deadlock in South Asia, but only if Mr Modi and his acolytes have the courage to opt for it.
Published in Dawn, June 1st,