Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation, following his government’s decision to read down Article 370, demote the status of Jammu and Kashmir, and carve it up into two Union Territories, was keenly awaited. It was expected, and hoped, that the speech would provide some answers in the aftermath of a move as unilateral as it is consequential. The PM’s speech made certain key assertions: That Kashmir’s destiny is intertwined with that of the rest of the country; that Article 370 is now history; that there is no returning to status quo; that special status had only bred corruption and nepotism and secessionism; that under Central rule, by implementation of Central laws and programmes, Kashmir would become prosperous and peaceful. And that at an indeterminate point in the future, after Kashmiri youth have stepped up to leadership roles, Kashmir may become a state again. Prominent in the PM’s speech was a list of benefits, allowances and schemes that government employees in J&K would be able to access because Kashmir is now a UT. He also told Pakistan — and the world — that he had redrawn the red lines of Kashmir diplomacy.
The message was unequivocally clear. It was also important for what it didn’t say. The PM made no mention of the words and sentiments that have consecrated the place of another BJP prime minister in a troubled Valley’s political imagination — there was no reference to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s invocations of “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat”, which PM Modi has himself echoed earlier. There was none of the soft play with ambiguity, which has always helped the Centre expand its space for manoeuvre in the Valley. There was no reference even to PM Modi’s own assurance, delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort on an Independence Day two years ago: “Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagaane se… (Kashmir’s problem will not be solved by abuse or the bullet, but by embracing its people)”. Today in Kashmir, that embrace is needed, more than ever. For, the promise of Good Governance will shape and be shaped by a political setting that has seen violence, terrorism and a popular uprising for three decades now. As he talks of a new generation of leaders in the Valley, PM Modi cannot be unaware of the grim backdrop of his government’s making — the detention and arrest of mainstream leaders, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, the snapping of lines of communication between the Valley and the rest of the country.
In a state as broken as Kashmir, words do heal and yet they are never enough. Much more needs to be said — and done — to assure Kashmir and the nation that the government is mindful of the trust reposed by its enormous mandate in the world’s largest democracy, that it does not intend to continue to impose its will on the Valley or be seen to rule it by diktat.