Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his day-long visit to Jammu and Kashmir on July 4 by referring to the auspiciousness of the holy month of Ramzan and Amarnath Yatra saying that there could not have been a better atmosphere for his maiden visit to the state.
But little did he realize that due to his visit people of Kashmir in general and Srinagar in particular were not allowed to offer Friday prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid. Most part of the city was under curfew and no one including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head priest, was allowed to enter the Mosque on the first Friday of the month of Ramadan.
The strike call given by the separatists is routinely used to register their protest against a prime minister’s visit. This time too it was on expected lines. And surely Modi must have known about how the police had barricaded the people in the name of security. This cannot really be reconciled with the rhetoric describing the month of fasting as auspicious.
It is a fact that it was Modi’s first visit to the state as Prime Minister. Much was not expected from him. He has to be given time to understand Kashmir and the complexities that entail it politically. Many analysts would suggest that his visit was premature in this sense, but he needed to inaugurate the rail link to Katra and commission the second phase of the Uri power projects both of which were overdue. The previous UPA government started and completed these mega projects but did not inaugurate them and take credit.
While Modi continued to invoke former PM A B Vajpayee’s line on Kashmir issue, he ignored it at the same time. His government has shown enthusiasm in the return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits, and took up the matter within a month of coming into power. So far this seems to be the only priority for BJP government vis-a-vis Kashmir. Earlier ‘The Hindu’ reported that Omar Abdullah government had submitted Rs 5,800-crore project under Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme aimed at incentivising return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. This also included the suggestion of repurchasing the properties that the KPs sold after their migration in early 90s.
While another plan of settling them in three separate zones within the Valley evoked strong reaction from various quarters in Valley, Omar Abdullah gave it a new twist. In an interview to Suhasini Haider on Saturday last, he said: “We are encouraging Kashmiri Pandits to return. We are saying you are welcome to consider group housing. 4-5-6 of you get together and get a plot of land. Why should we have a problem with a group housing project that blends in with the community in the place you choose to live in? I see no problem with that”. Return of KP’s to their home and hearth is also close to the hearts of majority community but the way it is hurried up as a “war package” will have adverse impact and cannot help in real reintegration of the community in Valley.
The BJP has not begun on a positive note in Kashmir. On Monday its Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay demanded that two flag system in the state should be abolished thus furthering the apprehensions that there was surely something “sinister” in its bag for Kashmir. Earlier on the first day in office, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendar Singh touched the raw nerve called Article 370, saying that the discussion with stake holders had begun to abolish it. It created a storm in political circles with opposition from most of the political parties, but the fact that was ignored was that BJP did make it a public issue while being in power, irrespective of the clarification issued by Dr Singh later.
The party has bagged two Lok Sabha seats in the Jammu region, but now that it is in power it needs to expand its area of attention and focus to include Kashmir Valley as well. It is presently being perceived as a Jammu-centric government as it only addresses the “concerns” which are essentially seen as anti- Kashmir.
Whatever the agenda BJP has, it cannot, rather should not ignore the ground realities in Kashmir. The PM could have struck a chord by speaking of the issues concerning the people, and his silence has been noticed and commented upon by the people in Kashmir. The PM’s visit to the headquarters of the Srinagar based 15 Corps was also symbolic. It appeared to underscore the popular Delhi view that Kashmir can be managed by the Army. Except for Vajpayee, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and now Modi have still to express their views about the political measures that need to be taken to restore peace and equilibrium in the state.
It is naive to believe that while traveling from the Srinagar airport to Badamibagh and then to Uri, the Prime Minister would have not seen the deserted streets below him. He still has to spell out his choice for ‘managing’ Kashmir, whether it will be through dialogue or through the Army.
PM Modi has not yet publicly outlined his Kashmir policy except that he talked about winning the hearts of people through development. Development surely is an ingredient to undo the sense of despair that has been witnessed in past two decades but it has to be supplemented and complimented with the political initiatives. Two tracks of dialogue process between New Delhi and Islamabad and between New Delhi and Srinagar are must for addressing the issue through real pragmatic means. The processes from 2003 to 2008 had shown spectacular change in the atmosphere and the credit goes to Vajpayee and then Manmohan Singh.
If at all Modi believes in following Vajpayee he must start picking the threads from that derailed process. Development will go on but the sense of security, confidence and political achievement for the people can only come through the institution of dialogue process that is untagged of conditionalities on all sides. Putting more military might into action is not the answer to today’s Kashmir. It needs humane approach that is embedded with strong political will to see that there is a dignified and practicable solution to the problem.
By arrangement with Rising Kashmir