Since 2014, New Delhi’s policy vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has broadly been a combination of tough approach towards separatist elements; reliance on mainstream politics; and keeping Kashmir out of the India-Pakistan bilateral equation. Early on in its tenure, New Delhi cancelled a foreign secretary-level dialogue with Islamabad when the latter invited Hurriyat leaders for a consultation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had its best electoral performance in J&K after winning 25 seats in the Jammu region. Yet, its alliance with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) has not been able to cash in on the opportunity to resolve certain continuing issues in the state. With the ongoing disturbance in the state, it is unlikely the government will alter its J&K policy before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
After Indian Prime Minister (PM) Modi's invitation to Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony, many Kashmiri leaders such as Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expected that the BJP government might follow former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's policy that combined elements of insaaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat (essence of Kashmir) and jamhooriyat (democracy). However, this did not happen. Then, the BJP and the PDP formed a coalition government in J&K, which the electorate in the Valley viewed as a betrayal by the PDP because the PDP had actively campaigned against the BJP during the elections. This sentiment of betrayal is at the root of the anger against the coalition government in J&K.
In a political outreach to the locals, PM Modi announced an INR 80,000-crore package for the state and invoked Vajpayee's policy at a public meeting in November 2015. This strategy did not bear results as some critical issues such as political engagement with the Hurriyat leadership and reaching out to Pakistan remained unresolved - resulting in differences being created between the alliance partners. Controversies such as regarding the construction of sainik colonies (accommodation for soldiers), separate townships for displaced Kashmiri Pandits, etc, further added to the growing sense of insecurity among the locals.
Mainstream politics is losing credibility in Kashmir mainly due to non-fulfilment of some promises made in the BJP-PDP 'Agenda of Alliance' and increasing separatist sentiments since the violent uprising after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. Episodic killings of local parties’ workers and civilians have generated a fear among Kashmiris. Meanwhile, the absence of a strong political representation of the ruling coalition, lack of dialogue with different stakeholders etc have led to widespread alienation in the Valley. The abysmal voter turnout in the recent by-polls could be a direct manifestation of this growing phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, the PDP's stronghold, South Kashmir, is witnessing the worst phase of militancy in the recent years.
Moreover, the current situation in J&K has exacerbated internal regional differences within the state. Both Jammu and Ladakh regions have held the ongoing disturbance in the Valley responsible for negatively impacting their economic, tourism and development related activities. More recently, protests were held in some parts of Ladakh demanding Union Territory (UT) status for itself, which suggests growing impatience in the region. Also, an absence of an intra-regional dialogue and persisting disturbance in Kashmir could further widen these differences.
After India called off the foreign secretary-level talks in September 2014 after Hurriyat members met the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, Pakistan followed an aggressive agenda to internationalise the issue. Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif glorified Wani as a "symbol of the latest Kashmir Intifada" in his speech at the 2016 UN General Assembly.
Similarly, Pakistan's security establishment has been openly propagandising its Kashmir agenda. For instance, in February 2017, Paksitan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a video, titled Sangbaaz (stone pelters) as a "tribute to Kashmiri struggle" to celebrate the Kashmir Day. Incidents of ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts have also witnessed an upward trend since 2016. Although the "surgical strikes" post the Uri attack put Pakistan on the back foot, it seemed like it did so only temporarily, because Pakistan did not stop sending terrorists across the border.
Islamabad continues to mention Kashmir domestically and internationally at forums such as the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), European Union (EU), etc to counter New Delhi's diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. Although Pakistan is criticising India’s J&K policy, the US and the international community have largely been cautious regarding the Kashmir issue given Islamabad’s own duplicitous policy on Afghanistan and its track record on terrorism. However, West Asian countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran have raked up the issue in the recent past, much to India's diplomatic chagrin.
The government's J&K policy has gravitated more towards the "law and order" problem since July 2016, allowing security agencies for clearance and to contain the situation. According to official data, local militants have outnumbered foreign ones with 110 from Kashmir and 90 from Pakistan. At least 88 local youth took up arms in 2016, mostly after Wani's killing. Over 60 militants from different terror groups have been killed in the first six months of 2017. While a range of political and security-related factors have led to this situation, the predominant narrative among local Kashmiris has been that they view the government’s policy of using excessive force, use of pellet guns etc as unjustified.
In the present circumstances, New Delhi might find it difficult to initiate a dialogue process in the state. The outcome of the Srinagar by-poll and the postponement of the Anantnag one may have further aggravated political insecurity in the Valley. A clear manifestation of the politically charged atmosphere in Kashmir can be witnessed via the locals' response to the government's J&K policy. Their actions probably indicate that if political negotiations are rejected and the focus remains on a security-based solution in the Valley, there could be further boycotting of polls and public opinion in the region will sway towards supporting protests that could turn violent.
So far, New Delhi has managed to tackle the external involvement in J&K, but it will require an innovative solution to address the internal dimension of the Kashmir issue.