Both the national political parties of India – Indian National Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party – have attempted to solve the Kashmir issue in their own different ways, suiting their political style and agenda. It was Vajpayee’s way that stood out. Even though coming from the folds of the Bhartiya Janata Party (considered with having a hardline Hindutva approach in politics), former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s blueprint for Kashmir was novel, unorthodox. His approach towards understanding and addressing Kashmir issue came to be called as the Vajpayee Doctrine.
The main crux of the doctrine can be encapsulated in his newfound slogan for Kashmir – Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat, which meant humanity, peace and keeping the sanctity of the people of Kashmir. It also included restarting fresh talks with Pakistan on the matters of Kashmir and achieving peace, progress, and prosperity in the valley as well as with the neighboring country. Often these clear visions and noble ideas remain limited to the pages of the policy document. But Vajpayee brought them to the discussion table.
Many people, not just from different parts of India, but from Kashmir valley had confidence in Vajpayee and his approach towards Kashmir. This remains Vajpayee’s true legacy that he managed to infuse faith and confidence for an Indian leader among Kashmiris. In fact, after his demise in 2018, Times Now highlights that not just the commoners of Kashmir but even the separatist leaders mourned his loss.
As per Times Now’s article, senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Naeem Akhtar had said, “His electoral loss in 2004 (Lok Sabha) is considered a loss for Kashmir and south Asia. He was one PM who bonded with the sentiments of Kashmiris and scripted a new peace agenda for south Asia, establishing in the process the centrality of the sentiment of the people of Kashmir and that Kashmir can be resolved without the use of force and without redrawing borders.”
As stated earlier, he brought noble idea like reinstating peace and democracy in the valley to the working table. This can be witnessed in the assembly election in 2002. The election saw a substantial voter turnout and is hailed as one of the fairest ever election in J&K, one that replaced the scars of fraudulent elections of the past, and particularly the assembly polls of 1987.
Vajpayee also made a visit to Kashmir in 2003, met with the people in the Valley and listened to their pains face to face. In his statement in the Lok Sabha on his two day visit to Jammu & Kashmir, Vajpayee tells that he assured the people of Jammu & Kashmir that “we wish to resolve all issues – both domestic and external – through talks”. He stressed that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaniyat (Humanism), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity).
In that very visit, he also extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan and stated that this hand of friendship should be extended by both sides.
Yet, his true vision for Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations came to light during the Agra Summit of 2001. History remembers the Agra Summit as one of the greatest missed opportunities of India-Pakistan relations. News18 reported that the then Pakistan’s President Parvez Musharraf had proposed what was called ‘Four-Point Solution’ for solving the Kashmir issue. According to different accounts and media reports, the four-point solutions were, in principle, acceptable to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, the deal fell through hours before the signing ceremony.
Musharraf’s four point solutions were: Demilitarization or phased withdrawal of troops; There will be no change of borders of Kashmir. However, people of Jammu & Kashmir will be allowed to move freely across the Line of Control (LoC); Self-governance without independence; A joint supervision mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir.
Though, the solutions were acceptable to Vajpayee, many media sources reports that the deal fell through because of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who described the solutions as ‘vague’. Other accounts suggests that it was the then deputy Prime Minister LK Advani who became the ultimate roadblock. However, the deal and Vajpayee’s own steps were clear what he had envisioned for Kashmir—a free and fair democratic system, demilitarization, autonomy and peace and progress with Pakistan.
When the BJP’s new Prime Ministerial face, Narendra Modi, actually stepped in as the Prime Minister of India, his initial steps indicated an amicable approach towards Pakistan and the solution of Kashmir issue on the lines of Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat. His brief Lahore detour, when he visited Nawaz Sharif at his residence at Raiwind, who was celebrating a family wedding as well as his birthday, revealed his bold action-plan for Pakistan, one that could bring the two countries together without any bloodshed.
However, the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A on 5th August, 2019 broke hopes of many for a cordial relationship between the two neighbors. Many believe that the major terror attacks in an Indian Air Force Station in Pathankot and the Uri attack in 2016, subsequently after his Lahore visit, broke the glimmer of trust PM Modi had in Pakistan and whether the neighboring country is serious for any peace talk. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35A also ushered in a new chapter in the lives of Kashmiris and the Kashmir conflict.
PM Modi, on multiple occasions, have vouched for Vajpayee’s formulae as the only one that can work for Kashmir. Even in an interview to Aaj Tak on 26 April, just few months before the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, PM Modi vowed to follow Vajpayee’s doctrine of “Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat.” Yet, the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A has been the one which has achieved the reverse of what Vajpayee had envisioned.
Ever since the abrogation, the whole J&K is under the President’s rule and witnessed one of the harshest security lockdown, curfews and communication’s blackout. For forty-two months, Jammu and Kashmir, has been without an elected government. While the local bodies elections were recently held, there is yet no date on when the assembly elections in J&K will be held. Some are speculating that it would be next year, in 2022, but the confirmation is yet to be made. Hence, establishing a free and fair democratic system remains yet a distant dream for PM Modi.
Ever since the abrogation, the whole J&K is under the President’s rule and witnessed one of the harshest security lockdown, curfews and communication’s blackout. For forty-two months, Jammu and Kashmir, has been without an elected government.
A massive deployment of troops started to take place just a few days before the abrogation, and a major chuck of them still remains deployed in the valley. It is widely recognized that Kashmir is the most militarized place on earth. With 500,000 troops deployed there, there is one soldier for every 30 civilians, according to the 2020 Armed Conflict Survey. Despite the grim figures, PM Modi has not made it clear, in any of his speeches, that this heavily guarded fortress would likely be loosened in future. Thus, demilitarization also remains to be seen.
As stated in above argument, with forty-two months without an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy for J&K is, perhaps, the last priority for PM Modi and a fading aspiration for Kashmiris.
Now, if anything abrogation of Article 370 has substantially achieved is that it has further cemented the hostility between the two neighboring countries – India and Pakistan. Immediately after the abrogation, both nations withdrew their top diplomats and consular staff were expelled or withdrawn. To put it another way, the relations between the two countries are at an all time low, with no trade, transaction or communication. Pakistan has, even today, closed its airspace for planes flying from India. Briefly in April, 2021, Pakistan showed interest to buy sugar from India and Pakistan finance minister Hammad Azhar even announced that Imran Khan government has decided to import sugar. However, a day later, interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said the decision had been “deferred” until New Delhi restored “Indian-administered Kashmir’s” special status.
Thus, Kashmir remains the fulcrum of India-Pakistan’s strained relations, with no side budging for a compromise. The author here does not suggest that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A has been an utter failure or was needless in the first place. That is for the future to decide. However, they have yet remained ineffectual in realizing Vajpayee’s vision for Kashmir – a free and fair democratic system, demilitarization, autonomy, and peace and progress with Pakistan – a vision respected by Kashmiris, opposition and many Indians, including PM Narendra Modi himself.