J&K and the Vajpayee Doctrine's Continuing Relevance

27 Aug, 2018    ·   5509

Dr Ashok Bhan weighs in on the importance of compromise and stakeholder management for the Kashmir peace process


Ashok Bhan
Ashok Bhan
Distinguished Fellow

Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee famously announced in a 2003 public rally in Srinagar that issues could be resolved if guided by the principles of 'insaniyat', 'jamhooriyat', and 'Kashmiriyat'. This maxim, referred to as the 'Vajpayee doctrine', has been variously interpreted. One unmistakable, however, inference is that it was enthusiastically received by the people of J&K. The statements coming out of Kashmir, including from the separatists’ camp, mourning Vajpayee’s passing, is testimony to the high esteem in which he was held. His death brings to attention the need to revisit how both J&K and relations with Pakistan have been handled.

Despite the Kargil misadventure and heightened violence in its aftermath, the Vajpayee government announced a unilateral "non-initiation of combat operations (NICO)" in 2000, which lasted 185 days, and initiated political dialogue through KC Pant. Militancy in the Valley at the time was largely driven by terrorists sent by Pakistan, some of whom were Afghan war veterans. As in the case of the 2018 ceasefire announced during the holy month of Ramzan, the 2000 NICO announcement did not yield the desired result.

Despite this, India hosted General Musharraf at the Agra Summit in May 2001. The Srinagar assembly attack in October 2001, and parliament attack in December of the same year, whose origin was traced to Pakistan, did not deter Vajpayee from pursuing peace. India and Pakistan agreed to a 'comprehensive ceasefire' along the International Boundary (IB), Line of Control (LoC) and Siachen from 25 November 2003. This ceasefire brought to an end the unlimited miseries that border-dwellers were subjected to, and held for nearly five years.

Vajpayee travelled to Islamabad in January 2004, and around the same time, the first meeting between the separatist leadership and then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani took place in New Delhi. The point being made is that peace processes are non-linear, step-by-step, long-drawn exercises in a continuous sequence. They must include all key players and be consistent. The Vajpayee approach included all these elements, and this was the primary reason for its acclaim.

There is however a caveat. All key players must be willing to talk. It is in this regard that the separatists have to do serious soul-searching. They must realise that spurning offers of talks will only prolong longstanding hardships. Similarly, maximalist positions like ''right to self-determination," "azaadi" or "assimilation" with the Union will not permit any forward movement. Competing regional aspirations on both sides of the Pir Panjal must first be harmonised.

Insaniyat is best explained as a meeting of hearts and minds, and this has to be achieved through both word and deed. The unpardonable error of painting everyone with the same brush has created a serious trust deficit. While the government must prioritise the restoration of peace by targeting terrorists and their overground support structures, it must simultaneously reach out to the people and take citizen-centric measures. A responsive governor’s administration and all-round development - such as special attention to harnessing the youth in sports, education, skills development, and employment in and outside J&K - can help in this regard.

Successive governments have given primacy to jamhooriyat by consistently holding free and fair elections since 1996. This is demonstrated by assembly elections being held despite a large number of incidents of terrorist violence and killing of political activists in 1996 and 2002; inter-regional tension and violence after the 2008 Amarnath land row; and devastating floods in 2014. Periodic elections to the Indian parliament and the path-breaking panchayat elections in 2011, held after four decades with a voter turnout of over 80 per cent, supplemented this effort. The democratic deficit of the electoral variety was largely diminished as people voted in large numbers in the 2014 assembly elections, even from constituencies with a sizeable separatist following. Faith in Indian democracy was at its peak at this time.

The intention of the governor’s administration to hold municipal elections in September-October and panchayat elections in October-December 2018 can help strengthen jamhooriyat. It will also help test the waters for future Lok Sabha and state assembly elections. The government will have to take all political parties into confidence to devise a well-informed strategy to ensure that these elections offset the dent in the democratic process caused by the poor turnout in the 2017 Lok Sabha by-election in Srinagar, and inability to hold the Anantnag PC by-poll. Any attempt to abuse the 2014 mandate will damage faith in jamhooriyat achieved through credible elections and respect for the popular mandate.

Kashmiriyat has received a serious blow from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Among others, it led to Kashmiri Pandits being forced into exile. Killing and destruction are traditionally alien to Kashmiriyat. The influence of Sufi Islam was so strong that puritans were kept at the fringe of Kashmir’s religious and social life despite the introduction of Salafi thought over a century ago. Admittedly, however, the Salafi thought promoted by Jamiat-e-Ahle-Hadees has permanently dented Kashmir's Sufi tradition. This cultural shift, with other causes, has encouraged radicalisation and added to the growing alienation. It is primarily for Kashmiris to decide how the Sufi traditions that promoted Kashmiriyat can once again take centre stage.

The Vajpayee doctrine envisages the government pro-actively reaching out to all stakeholders. For this, maximalist stands on both sides have to pushed aside. Insaniyat could lead to a breakthrough by addressing popular sentiment. Strengthening jamhooriyat will require the state to build confidence among the people to exercise their franchise - every government action will be closely scrutinised for democratic due process. The onus to create atmospherics conducive for the return of Kashmiriyat lies exclusively with the people.

The Vajpayee doctrine continues to be relevant, and deserves to be given a chance once again.

Dr Ashok Bhan is Distinguished Fellow, IPCS; former Director General of Police, J&K; and former Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), Government of India.

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