Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday signalled a course correction in his government’s approach towards the prevailing unrest in Kashmir. Or so it seemed from his remarks to a delegation of opposition parties from Jammu and Kashmir.
Expressing “deep concern and pain” over the seven-week-long clashes between protesters and security forces, the Prime Minister said those who lost their lives “are part of us, our nation”.
“Whether the lives lost are of our youth, security personnel or police, it distresses us,” he said, urging parties to convey his sentiments to the people of the border state and emphasised the need for a dialogue.
Modi’s comments mark a departure from his three earlier statements since the outbreak of the unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July .
For one, efforts are being made to provide a healing touch by acknowledging the protesters in the Valley as “part of us, our nation”. It could be an attempt to blur the hyphenation between young protesters and peace-loving people.
Blaming Pakistan and separatists for instigating protests has lent credence to the shrill jingoistic discourse on Kashmir but has done little to contain the violence in the Valley.
At a rally in Madhya Pradesh on August 10, Modi spoke of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s path of “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” , but in the same breath blamed “a handful of misguided people” for “hurting” Kashmir’s great tradition.
At an all-party meet in New Delhi two days later, he talked about the “pain felt by all of us” irrespective of whether it was a civilian or security personnel injured or killed, adding that “to spread the myth that this is a public agitation is far from the truth”.
The reference to the unrest in Kashmir in his Independence Day speech was marked by an escalation of rhetorical hostility with Pakistan over brutalities in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Monday’s remarks by the Prime Minister, therefore, signalled a change in the Centre’s assessment of the situation in Kashmir. His appeal to the opposition parties to convey to the people in Kashmir his distress over the loss of lives of “our youth”, security personnel and police could be the first step towards bridging the trust deficit in the Valley.
BJP sources said the Prime Minister hinted at a rethink in his interactions with party leaders in the past few days. Modi suggested to some party leaders last week that the country’s stand vis-a-vis Pakistan on cross-border terrorism should not be confused with that on protesters who should be dealt with differently. The healing touch offered by the PM on Monday comes in this backdrop.
On Monday, Modi also emphasised the need for a dialogue. But the question is: ‘Dialogue with whom’? Will the government have a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders? Vajpayee had sent his deputy LK Advani to talk to the separatists . Will Modi walk the talk on following Vajpayee’s path?