New Delhi: Just before the 2009 general election which Manmohan Singh comfortably won against L. K. Advani, this writer remembers writing against the UPA-1 government. Prices were skyrocketing. Corruption was peaking and Manmohan Singh appeared in no position to control it, although he was -- and remains -- a wonderful economic technocrat. This writer’s advance warning to voters was useless. Advani’s prime-ministerial ambitions were decisively dashed. It took voters five more years to finally see through the venality of the Congress leadership which had effectively chained Manmohan Singh to the Prime Minister’s Office and tied his hands and feet. In 2014, the Congress received a historic drubbing from which it has not recovered.

In Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hour of victory in the Delhi municipal election, it might seem odd and slightly out of place to recall events of more than eight years ago. And yet, considered in dispassionate and objective light, there is little that is odd or out-of-place about them. Despite Narendra Modi’s grand electoral victories in Uttar Pradesh and now in Delhi, it is only correct and dutiful to point out that grave flaws have crept into the Prime Minister’s functional style. They may currently not be of such electoral significance (as this writer’s warnings of 2009 were not) as to impact Modi’s re-election chances in 2019. But by the end of his second term, his prime ministry would be battered if he were not to correct his flawed and arrogant governance. He would go down in history as perhaps India’s best-dressed and rather poorly performing Prime Minister.

A body can never be healthy if an infected organ is not treated in time. Kashmir is that infected organ today. The Modi electoral wave that is sweeping North India sits oddly and rather cynically with the rising cycle of violence in the Valley. Students in growing numbers have come on to the streets. Girl students are now in the forefront of stone-pelting in Srinagar and other places. Indian security forces are powerless dealing with women protesters. Being your own citizens moreover, and falling in the age bracket that would define them as girl children, the forces would be seriously handicapped in dealing with them. On one hand, you have a flagship programme called the “beti-bachao” programme whose nobility and high purpose cannot be overstated. On the other, your security forces are potentially ranged against girl students of Kashmir. Ignore for a moment the headlines around the world hysterically castigating Indian democracy should any violence and bloodshed result from a realization of this scenario. Can the rest of India live with itself in the event of violence perpetrated on Kashmiri girls?

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met the Prime Minister earlier this week presumably pleading for a political dialogue to prevent the street violence in Kashmir from spinning out of control. The media says the Centre’s stand is that dialogue can only commence after the violence is brought under control in the Valley. Further media reports say the Centre apprehends Pakistan is in a position to scuttle the internal dialogue with more violence directed from across the border. Giving due respect to the Centre’s dilemma and concerns, should Pakistan be allowed a de facto veto on India’s internal matters? How can the Narendra Modi government cede the space and opportunity for talks to Pakistan? Are the Indian forces in Kashmir so weak and helpless?

The ground reality is this. There is never a perfect, peaceful and still moment for a dialogue. Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician and philosopher, said, “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth.” What he implied was there is no still place in the universe. There is the stillness only of quietus which is hinted in a place in Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. On the other hand, William Shakespeare writes immortally of “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life. Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

In the ever-spinning, ever-moving, ever volatile Kashmir situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to find his footing to make moves of peace. There will never be a perfect time for Kashmir. Ask any general or police officer who has served in Kashmir, and they will tell you the same thing: You can reduce the threshold of violence but never entirely eliminate it. Decades of violence have congealed that threshold to higher levels. Things will not get better in Kashmir to accommodate the Prime Minister’s strategy. There is no military or police solution to Kashmir.

The Prime Minister’s problem is that he is either badly advised on Kashmir or doggedly trusts to his instincts. Instincts can go wrong, and Kashmir is too sensitive for experiments of instinct. It is also undeniably true that the Prime Minister is bereft of able advisors and talented ministers. Nitin Gadkari is the only obviously talented minister in Modi’s cabinet, but his talents are limited to public works. On the other hand, the Prime Minister’s man for all seasons, Arun Jaitley, is an unmitigated disaster. If anyone is singlehandedly turning the honest middleclass taxpayer against the government, it is Jaitley, with his frequent threats issued against them. If the PM didn’t know, Jaitley is called “Cess” Jaitley. He has angered and harassed taxpayers by the mad scheme to link Aadhaar to PAN when these are designed and purposed differently and when Aadhaar has become a hacker’s dream. Jaitley says everything is hackable. Fine. In the end we are all dead. Does it mean we should commit suicide en masse?

Kashmir, the rising tide of middle class anger and the most recent Sukma CRPF deaths all point to one thing: The Modi government is seriously out of its depth. As violence in Kashmir grows, the spectre of a two-front war with Pakistan and China are all too frighteningly possible. It is easier to win hearts and minds than confidently wager on the chance of war. The Indian Army would be greatly reinforced by a supportive Kashmiri population pitched against India’s external adversaries than an enraged and subversive one. It is this same population that worked against Pakistani tribal raiders in 1947-48 and enabled the retention of Kashmir.

In his hour of unprecedented victory today, the Prime Minister must remember that Kashmir is a bleeding wound. War costs infinitely more than making peace. Ideally for a nation’s growth and prosperity, a balance must be established amongst defence and security expenditures, social spending, and industrial investments. This balance is not easy to establish, but there is no alternative to it. The spiralling defence and security expenditures will ultimately kill the Indian growth story. It bought down a Great Power like Soviet Russia. Costing a fraction of authoritarianism with its vast internal security apparatus to contain dissent, democracy works economically on debates, dialogue, negotiations and consensus. These are missing in Kashmir, and blame for this squarely must rest with the Prime Minister. In the end, it does not matter what the future holds for Modi. Prime Ministers come and go. The futurity of this great country and the sanctity of its inestimable democracy cannot be compromised. It is now for the Prime Minister to make the imperative course correction or have merciless history gain the upper hand.

Editor’s Note: 1. Prakash Singh, a respected former Border Security Force chief, has focused, correctly, on strengthening state police forces to combat Maoism and terrorism. The Punjab Police under K. P. S. Gill broke the back of terrorists in the state. It worked, inter alia, on intelligence provided by local people who were harassed and victimized by terrorists, including preying on young women in villages. This writer gathered the same situation in Kashmir when the state police forces overcame terrorists for a time. The Centre should transfer the burden of counterinsurgency to Jammu and Kashmir Police over a period of time while taking precautions against terror moles, internal sabotage, etc. Out-of-state forces can at best have marginal success against insurgents or terrorists, and the army can only be employed against the gravest threats.

2. The question to ask of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is this: Why has the CRPF been headless for close to two months? Who is to blame?