Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meeting in Srinagar on Monday (December 8) was not a routine election meeting. It was surely a significant one since BJP has never put up a show of strength in the capital city like this. Modi had chosen Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium as the venue of the meeting.
The stadium has a mixed history of dissent and hope. It was the same place where the Indian cricket team faced a hostile crowd during two one-day international matches with Australia and West Indies in 1983 and 1985. The pitch was dug up by the anti-India youth most of whom were later to land in the armed rebellion camp. Both the matches proved to be a huge embarrassment for Indian team. That was an underpinning fact about the alienation in Kashmir but ignored as usual by the state. As the militancy erupted the stadium like other facilities remained deserted for years.
However, after the return of “democratic” government in 1996, it was used as “safe” venue for public meetings by the mainstream parties. Omar Abdullah’s coronation also took place in this stadium in June 2000. It was in April 2003 when the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee used this venue to rekindle hope not only for Jammu and Kashmir but for the entire South Asian region. His unexpected turn in policy towards Pakistan took everyone by surprise.
After December 2001 parliament attack, both India and Pakistan were at the edge and war seemed imminent. When Vajpayee landed in Srinagar on April 18, 2003 and straightaway drove to the Stadium, the air was full of hostility. But when he opened his mouth it changed into an air of hope. The flow in his speech was statesman like. He offered friendship to Pakistan even as his colleagues wanted war. “As Prime Minister of the country I wanted to have friendly relations with our neighbours and I went to Lahore, but it was returned with Kargil. We still continued and invited General Pervez Musharraf to Agra but again failed. We are again extending a hand of friendship but hands should be extended from both the sides. Both sides should decide to live together. We have everything which makes us to have good relations,” Vajpayee told the gathering in the first public rally addressed by any prime minister in 15 years then.
Vajpayee did not stop there only but on a later occasion he changed the discourse on talks within the constitution, saying, “We will talk within the ambit of Insaniyat”.
On Monday, when Modi spoke to a gathering, that was not as well attended as was expected; he first chose to strike a chord with youth by talking about development, employment and progress. Obviously, luring the youth in election time is something that is well understood. Modi’s speech on non-political issues was full of strength as he took on traditional political parties in the mainstream for exploiting the people. He also touched people’s raw nerve- corruption that has led to a rot in the system.
He also made a reference to Vajpayee’s idea of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat”. But he did not elaborate on those three important touch points. Modi also did not talk about the turnout in the first two phases of ongoing Assembly elections.
What is important is to underline the fact that his public meeting was held by locking down Srinagar city. Any election rally is manifestation of a free will and choice for people to align with a particular political thought. No doubt his rally was addressed by thousands of people and that does make it significant. Whether his adversaries call it a “managed” show but after all there were people who had come from different corners. Only a few years back, a party such as BJP would not have even thought of holding a rally.
May be it is because BJP is in power and people in Valley are prone to allurement. However, one thing is clear that BJP has made some inroads in Kashmir society and its plan is grand. It is not looking at immediate gains in Kashmir. Its target is to have greater share of political space by the end of 2020 when the next assembly elections would be due. All those bragging about BJP as a force inimical to Kashmir’s identity and culture will have a challenge to keep them at bay.
PM Modi was bound by Model Code of Conduct and it might not have been possible for him to announce sops for youth. But by invoking Vajpayee’s idea, he could not reach out to people at the political level. One departure is welcome. He avoided Pakistan bashing from the soil of Kashmir. But at the same time he preferred to be in denial mode as far as the political issue is concerned.
Elections have been held in past and will be conducted in future. Employment generation and development has not stopped in last over a decade. But that has not changed the situation on the ground. With an eye on elections, Modi could have done justice with his mentor Vajpayee by extending an olive branch to separatists who represent the alienation.
One may disagree with their strategy but it is a fact that they are indirect stakeholders in the resolution. Vajpayee had done a remarkable job by two-pronged involvement to infuse a life in the process of resolution. While extending hand of friendship to Pakistan from Srinagar, he drove the point home that Islamabad was party to the dispute. At the same time he engaged with the separatists. The period of 2003-08 raproshma brought a new hope for Kashmir and its tangled issue. On Monday Modi’s tone was soft but at the same time he could not carry forward the spirit of Vajpayee. Only similarity was the venue.
By arrangement with Rising Kashmir