AMIT SHAH IN KASHMIR
Amit Shah, who is perhaps India’s most powerful Union Minister of Home Affairs or MHA who recently made his maiden visit to Kashmir valley as newly appointed Home Minister of India. Mr. Shah’s visit, unlike past visits of other central ministers and even prime ministers was notably unprecedented in many ways, including the fact that no call for the customary strike was given against Mr. Shah’s visit by the JRL for the first time in 30 years, the significance of which was something that was not lost on anyone in Kashmir valley – be it mainstream politicians, JRL or even common Kashmiri.
Mr. Shah’s visit and his deliberations in Kashmir were characteristically significant in as much as about what he did as it was about what he did not do. While Mr. Shah’s visit to Kashmir valley undoubtedly showed that Kashmir remains the top most agenda on MHA’s list of priorities, the high-profile visit of Mr. Shah once again put focus on the strong but tumultuous relationship between MHA and Kashmir valley, which is otherwise not much talked about.
MHA has traditionally occupied the second most powerful position after the Prime Minister Office (PMO) in the union cabinet. In fact, many Home Ministers have gone on to become Prime Ministers of India like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Chaudhary Charan Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao and other Home Ministers like Zail Singh and R. Venkataraman have gone on to become President of India. What most people however don’t know is that the office of the Home Minister of India has also been occupied by two Kashmiris.
The first Kashmiri to occupy the office of MHA as Home Minster of India was Mr. Kailash Nath Katju (1951-55), who belonged to a Kashmiri Pundit family that had settled in former princely state of Jarora in present day Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Katju, a Congress man served under Prime Minister Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru. He additionally served as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and Governors of the states of West Bengal and Orissa. Markandey Katju, the noted columnist, who retired as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is grandson of Kailash Nath Katju.
The other Kashmiri who served as India’s Home Minister was none other than Late Mufti Mohammad Syed (1989-90), who remains India’s first and only Muslim Home Minister to occupy the second most powerful position in union cabinet. He served as member of Janata Dal under the Prime Minister V.P. Singh. The Janata Dal was an agglomeration of disgruntled members of PM Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet like V.P. Singh, Arif Mohammad Khan, I.K. Gujaral etc., as well as that of factions of former socialist parties that operated under “Janata Party” tag.
Mufti Mohammad Syed was part of Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, who left Congress along with V.P. Singh and other Congressmen to join a newly formed Janata Dal. He won from Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh on Janata dal ticket and joined V.P. Singh’s cabinet as Home Minister of India. It was during this time that he is said to have come in contact with and made friends with Mr. Satya Pal Malik, who had also fought and won on Janata Dal ticket from Aligarh Lok Sabha constituency, the neighboring constituency of Mr. Syed’s Muzaffarnagar. The same Mr. Satya Pal Malik today serves as the Governor of J&K state.
Mr. Shah is the fourth Home Minister to occupy the office of MHA from the BJP. He follows the footsteps of Murli Manohar Joshi (1996), L.K. Advani (1998-2004) and Rajnath Singh (2014-2019). In his first visit to Kashmir valley as newly appointed Home Minister, what Mr. Shah did not do was to have a customary meeting and interaction, both with the mainstream political leadership of Kashmir valley as well as that of JRL. Forget about NC, PDP and Hurriyat, Mr. Amit Shah did not even meet BJP’s close ally PC of Sajad Lone. If reports are to be believed, Mr. Shah chose to ignore even telephone calls from mainstream parties and JRL.
What, Mr. Shah did not however ignore was to instead have a “direct outreach” to groups like delegations of Sarpanches and Panches from different parts of Kashmir and representatives of Kashmir’s Gujjar and Bakarwal community. He also met family members of Arshad Khan, slain Inspector of J&K police. This “by-passing” or snub of Kashmir’s power elite in favor of a “direct outreach” with the people of Kashmir happened even as overnight Income Tax raids were conducted on residences and business premises of Abdul Rahim Rather, senior leader of NC from Kashmir and Janak Raj Gupta, senior leader of Congress from Jammu, just before Mr. Shah was to reach Srinagar. The opposition parties of J&K predictably cried foul play and accused BJP of the misuse of state’s institutions to intimidate opposition parties.
When we put together, all these events, contours of Mr. Shah’s Kashmir policy become very clear. In addition to expected continuation of tough stance of Modi 2 government against militancy in Kashmir valley and continuing disengagement with the JRL, Mr. Shah seems to be even less enthusiastic about engaging with the traditional mainstream parties of Kashmir valley, whom he clearly considers as “part of the problem” rather than “part of the solution”.
The “carrot” in the “carrot and stick” policy of Mr. Shah’s Kashmir strategy seems to be the “direct outreach” to the people of Kashmir valley through improvement in governance, effective implementation of social welfare schemes and strengthening of grass root and state level democratic institutions. The critics however point towards the need of tackling the political nature of Kashmir problem as the key to permanent peace and stability in Kashmir valley. And oscillating between these two narratives lies the need to create a middle ground, where Delhi and Srinagar can come together and talk. Will that happen and who can create this middle ground – traditional mainstream, emerging mainstream or JRL – only time will tell.
The writer is a Political Activist and aspiring Politician and can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org