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When PM Modi goes to Kashmir

If there was ever a time when J&K needed a healing touch, it is this.

Written by Rekha Chowdhary |
Updated: November 7, 2015 4:38:56 am
narendra modi, modi, narendra modi in kashmir, modi in kashmir, kashmir modi, narendra modi on kashmir, modi kashmir visit, narendra modi kashmir visit, india news Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally in Madhubani on Sunday. (PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir on November 7 is coming at a moment when the state of Jammu and Kashmir is going through turbulent times and there is a general feeling of disillusionment in the Valley, not only about the restoration of the peace process but also about the flood relief and development package.

In 2014, when the BJP recorded a massive victory in the parliamentary elections, hopes were raised in Kashmir about the continuation of the peace initiatives undertaken during the earlier NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Disillusionment with the Congress government, especially with its inaction in 2009-14, led many, including separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to hope that with the BJP’s definite victory, Modi would pick up threads of the peace process from where Vajpayee had left off. Modi, for his part, invoked Vajpayee to forge an emotional chord with Kashmir, and reiterated his mantra of “insaniyat, jamhooriat and Kashmiriyat”.

Meanwhile, the rise of the BJP as the ruling party in the state had led to different kinds of expectations. Though many in Kashmir were critical of the PDP-BJP alliance, terming it “unholy”, the BJP’s stake in the state government led many to expect that J&K would be flooded with money. It was generally believed that the state would get a huge flood-relief package and that there would be overall development.

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One-and-a-half years after Modi became PM, and 10 months after the BJP and the PDP allied to form a government in J&K, there is a general feeling of disappointment in the Valley about the restoration of the peace process. With Modi clearly steering away from any sort of political initiative, hope has given way to scepticism. Such scepticism has been augmented by the increasing hostility between India and Pakistan, and has clear implications for the overall political environment in J&K, and particularly the Valley.

Despite the fact that the democratic space has expanded and the popular response towards the electoral process has changed since the peak of militancy (as reflected in the massive voter turnout during the 2014 assembly election), there are definite signs of both the resurgence of separatist politics and the renewal of militancy. Separatist leaders have not only been emboldened by the ground-level situation but have also become more strategic.

Overcoming ideological and other differences and projecting a united face, they have been using every opportunity to mobilise people. Militancy-related news, meanwhile, is quite disconcerting. Known to have receded, with a small number of militants remaining active on the ground till few years ago, it has taken a new turn, with a small group of local militants from affluent backgrounds using the modern technology and social media to lure young people. That support for militancy and/ or separatism has increased was recently reflected during the funeral of two Hizbul Mujahideen militants in south Kashmir, which was attended by thousands of people. The death of Abu Qasim, the Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, a few days later, met with an even more intense response.

Contrary to expectations, the PDP-BJP alliance has not worked to the economic advantage of the state. The inordinate delay in the flood-relief package has added to the general mood of despondency, which was reflected through the complete shutdown on the first anniversary of the floods.

Meanwhile, the alliance has not worked to its best potential. Contrary to the possibilities that this combine (with BJP having its stronghold in Jammu and PDP in Kashmir) presented to bridge inter-regional political differences, the gulf has widened and the state has witnessed some tense moments. Apart from the issues emerging from the Jammu High Court decision related to the state law on the killing of bovines, issues pertaining to Articles 370 and 35A have pitted the legislators of the alliance partners against each other. The sharpened political divide had a communalised spillover, resulting in the unfortunate death of a Kashmiri driver and injury to two others.

If there was ever a moment when the state, in the terminology of the PDP, needed a “healing touch”, it is this. With the PM visiting the state and addressing a joint rally of the PDP and BJP, this can be a moment of hope. There is lot of speculation in Kashmir that the PM is going to announce a big financial package, both for infrastructural development as well as flood relief. However, it is doubtful that an economic package only would be enough to deal with situation.

The state demands political intervention and initiatives. It is these political initiatives that endeared Vajpayee to the people of Kashmir and infused hope among them. Not only Kashmir, the border areas of the Jammu region had also witnessed an unprecedented peace, with guns falling silent for the first time after the 2003 ceasefire agreement between Pakistan and India. Can Modi emulate Vajpayee?

The writer is a former professor of political science at the University of Jammu.

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