New Delhi: One of the significant gains of counterinsurgency operations of the mid-nineties was the relatively successful sanitization of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir. Being the state capital, its political salience could scarcely be overstated. Not a day passed prior without firefights especially in the old quarters of Downtown Srinagar which was densely populated and tightly packed with building clusters of some vintage. When the attacks grew severe, the army was reluctantly deployed, and this advertised the abnormality of the situation.

But slowly, and showing remarkable restraint, the army was able to restore peace and normalcy in Srinagar. Sangars that had erupted like pox all over the capital city gradually disappeared. Curfew was relaxed. It appeared as though blood had started flowing through desiccated veins again. The darkness seemed gone. Men and women were back on the streets. Schoolchildren in bunches had returned to the lovely routine of schoolchildren all over the world: restrained on the way to classrooms and rushing back home excited about the day that lay ahead. The army quietly withdrew from Srinagar and returned to holding stations in rural areas still prone to insurgent and terrorist attacks.

Since early this year, however, militancy has reared its head in Srinagar once more. The shift occurred in February with Lashkar-e-Toiba violence leading to terrorist and security force deaths and the trend has hardened since. Encounters and explosions have slowly gripped Srinagar which also saw the high profile assassination of a senior journalist, Shujaat Bukhari. Explosions are particularly noteworthy and some have occurred in Downtown Srinagar suggesting an imminent spike in terrorism in a highly sensitive locality. It was a security challenge to clean up Downtown Srinagar in the old days and the clock has turned back. If Srinagar is hot with militant activity, you could well imagine how far worse the rest of the Valley is, and the dramatic upsurge of violence in the state can be directly attributed to the muscular policies of the Narendra Modi government. The Narendra Modi doctrine has finally manifested its wretched consequences and it will take decades to return peace to the Valley.

Of all the recent governments at the Centre, the Narendra Modi government has proved the most ahistorical. A parvenu who ran a small state like a fiefdom before taking power at the Centre, Modi was unshakeable in his belief that a muscular approach would bring instant solution to the Kashmir problem that had eluded previous governments including the one led by A. B. Vajpayee. If he had patiently listened to the army leadership of what was possible and learned to value incremental gains, he would have adhered to the tried and tested course. He blundered, however, in promoting a loudmouth out-of-turn as army chief and the obliged chief did his bidding. Not a day passed without hard talk. BJP politicians who wouldn’t dare set foot in Kashmir without security advocated harsh measures making no differentiation between civilians and outlaws. There was the further oddity of Modi talking sweetly with Nawaz Sharief while long abandoned repressive measures had returned here and there. When the rogue Major Leetul Gogoi became the symbolic face of the army, it should have set alarm bells ringing at the highest levels of government; except that he became a heroic figure for some in authority.

It has been the considered opinion of the army leadership for long that the threshold of violence can be minimized but not altogether eliminated in Kashmir. The army leadership has over many years sought a political solution to the problem. It has not explicitly asked for talks with Pakistan because it is a political decision but it has certainly spoken of winning hearts and minds of the people and done its bit. Nevertheless, there is no solution without engaging Pakistan although the propitious time for talks may be next year after the general election. Having a political governor cannot substantially alter the Kashmir situation although kindness and caring do help. India’s strength is democracy and an elected government must be in place in Kashmir at the earliest. The local bodies’ election was a farce and it does not enhance India’s image in the world. Violence has now returned to Srinagar. This in itself proclaims the failure of Narendra Modi’s muscular doctrine. Wisdom lies in accepting failure and returning to time-tested policies.