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No, Mr Modi. 'Development' is not the cure for the Kashmir conflict

Wajahat Qazi | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 7:47 IST

Narendra Modi has finally broken his silence on Kashmir. Speaking at an event to commemorate the sacrifices of freedom fighters on Quit India day at Chandra Shekhar Azad's village at Bhabra in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, Modi said that only dialogue and development can ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi added: "Kashmir wants peace and the government is committed to the development of the region. Whatever Kashmiris want for the betterment of their livelihood, the Centre will provide. We want development for J&K."

While Modi is spot-on on the dialogue front, if his working assumption vis-a-vis Kashmir is that development will be the panacea to the conflict in and over Kashmir, he is wrong.

The reasons pertain to the very nature of the conflict - its history, trajectory and denouement.

Missing the wood for the trees

The conflict in and over Kashmir is in the nature of a religio-nationalist conflict, which involves India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. Articulation of the conflict in any form that negates other stakeholders amounts to denial.

Given the dynamic of the combination of religion and nationalism in the conflict, territory assumes a teleological and sacral significance. This renders the conflict zero sum because none of the parties to the conflict are willing to climb down from their respective perches.

While the conflict over Kashmir remains frozen, the conflict in Kashmir implodes time and again. The 2016 protests, following a series of similar protests with different catalytic spurs, illustrate this point.

The larger point here is that there are multifarious dimensions to the conflict in and over Kashmir. Focussing on one means missing the wood for the trees.

This is precisely what Modi is doing.

Pacification, not conflict resolution

Essentially, Modi's emphasis and focus on development means conflict 'pacification', not conflict resolution.

In Modi's schema, things have reached a boiling point in Kashmir, and those leading and supporting the protests can be pacified through development. This is not only fallacious reasoning, but also constitutes the fallacy of reductionism. It reduces the complex, multi-layered conflict in and over Kashmir to mere development.

Intriguingly, this approach, which, given the political economy of Kashmir, morphs into patronage and patrimonial-clientism, has been tried in the past. The results have been as insalubrious as the premises informing this flawed approach. Will it be different this time?

No. Absolutely not.

Rational vs irrational

Kashmir, to use a business metaphor, is at an ' inflection point'. A younger cohort of Kashmiris is replacing the older cohort. The consciousness of this younger cohort is structured by the conflict in and over Kashmir. If there is anything that protests 2016 have done in Kashmir, it is that the baton of conflict has been effectively transferred to this younger cohort.

The issue, then, is more in the nature of emotion, sentiment and sensibility and consciousness - all of which, to repeat, are structured by the conflict in and over Kashmir.

Modi's development mantra does nothing to address these 'thymotic' and 'irrational' dimensions of the conflict. What Modi is doing is pacifying the conflict by bureaucratising it.

But bureaucracies are, by their very nature, 'rational', while as conflicts are irrational. Bureaucratisation means a technocratic approach to what is essentially a political problem.

From another perspective, commoditisation of the conflict through bureaucratisation means privileging process over people, whereas the conflict in and over Kashmir should be about people.

Overlaying all this is the fact that development in Kashmir has never been and still is not about development per se; it is about patronage and patronage politics - the benefits of which percolate only to clients of politicians and political parties.

The implications are stark here: even if, hypothetically speaking, the conflict in and over Kashmir were about development, it would not work here because of the patronage-driven politics.

Modi is being Sisyphus

Modi's development pitch, even if he follows it up with vigour, is in the nature of a Sisyphean endeavour. It will neither have traction nor work in Kashmir.

The message of Kashmiris through the 2016 protests has been loud and clear: Kashmir is in conflict, and it needs to be resolved. And given that the conflict is multi-layered, complex and even labyrinthine, a mono-focal, reductive and ahistorical approach that reduces the conflict to developmentalism is as flawed and as short-termist as can be.

Moreover, given the nature of Kashmir's political economy, developmentalism vis-a-vis Kashmir is a mug's game.

One would have thought that, over the years, the powers that be at the Centre would have wisened. But as Modi's speech reveals, it's still a far cry. Alas!

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 10 August 2016, 9:37 IST