The water of the Dal sparkles under the July sun; anchored shikaras bob up and down as gentle waves lap at the shores of the iconic lake in the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Buses carrying pilgrims to the Hindu cave-shrine at Amarnath move along the boulevard that skirts Dal Lake; passengers peek out from the windows to click photographs on mobile phones as they soak in the beauty of the picture-postcard landscape. The buses are tucked in a military convoy—a long, winding row of diesel-powered vehicles carrying soldiers to this land of flaming-red chinar and snow-capped Himalayan peaks. It’s the land Mughal emperor Jahangir once famously described as the heaven on earth. It’s a paradise almost lost. It’s a paradise India seeks to regain.
For the BJP-led government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kashmir needs a closure as an “issue”—an unfinished story that dates back to the time when Maharaja Hari Singh signed an instrument in October 1947 to accede the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley to India. Two wars with Pakistan and three decades of insurgency later, the government believes the time has come to achieve what successive governments had tried but failed. Into its second term with an overwhelming mandate, the Modi government wants to pull Kashmir out of its existing morass, break the status quo and integrate the Valley to the rest of the country. Even if it means shaking up the system and uprooting the old political order. On one hand, the government wants to handle terrorism with an iron hand and, on the other, it wants to improve governance at the grassroots level.