Modi & Kashmir

With Lok Sabha election round the corner BJP’s PM candidate has upped his ante against one and all hoping to strike a chord with Indian middle class voters by exploiting deep rooted communal sentiments.

So far Modi has managed to draw large crowds (mostly floating party workers) for his extravagant rallies across India to keep the threat perception for ruling party Congress alive.

But it is Modi’s December 1st Jammu rally which has kept congress and other regional parties on their toes in anticipation of a rhetoric filled speech from BJP’s new poster boy. Interestingly, since Modi’s elevation to BJP’s PM candidate, he has maintained a tight lipped silence over Kashmir issue. He has not even once mentioned Kashmir during his rallies spread across India. But given the mood in Jammu post Kishtwar riots, Modi will try to galvanize the simmering communal sentiments, to bring state BJP out of misery. But the question is what will Modi offer his voters in Jammu? Given his tough image, maintaining which costs Gujarat exchequers thousands of dollars per month, Modi cannot simply stick to BJP’s traditional stance on Kashmir i.e. abolition of article 370, Jammu neglect, hosting of flag in Lal Chowk etc. Being a PM candidate he has to speak his mind regarding Kashmir issue. He cannot rely on just rhetoric here.

Barring Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s six year tenure as PM, BJP has always exploited Kashmir issue. Be it BJP’s flag hosting gimmick at Lal Chowk in 1991 (which was just a photo-op for its leaders under tight security cover) or its much recent Tiranga Yatra (Jan 26, 2011) which was not allowed to enter Kashmir by Omar Abdullah’s government, it has always tried to sell Kashmir issue to its India based voters.

Apart from construction of Ram Mandir at a disputed site in Ayodha, BJP in last few decades has successfully elevated the issue of abolition of article 370 in Kashmir as prestige matter for Indian lower middle class. It is a different story that article 370 has been eroded to the extent that there is nothing left to protest.

Another issue that has helped BJP keep the pot boiling is Kashmir based unionist’s so-called ‘soft approach’ towards separatists. BJP has missed no opportunity to question the loyalties of Kashmir based political parties. They have sold the idea of sell-out to separatist ideology by politicians based in Srinagar to a larger audience in India for political gains.

With trainloads of BJP loyalists reaching Jammu everyday from different corners of India to fill rally photo frames, it would be interesting to see how Modi will balance his tough image without hurting India’s fragile relations with neighbouring Pakistan. Or will he once again rely on the history books to draw cheers from his loyalists, before taking the ‘I was mis-quoted’ route.  Because anything said about Kashmir creates news.

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