The Prime Minister finally attempted to reach out to Kashmir’s enraged youth, who have taken to the streets since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8, but the gesture lacked sincerity. For one, it came after 32 days of turmoil in the Valley and two, it came after a impassioned plea from ally and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti urging Delhi to engage ‘our own boys’. Modi, while speaking of ‘kashmiriyat, jamooriyat and insaaniyat’ said he wants Kashmir’s youth to hold laptops and cricket bats, not stones.
Modi borrowed words used by former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but they also served as a reminder of the fact that various prime ministers — from across the political spectrum — have used different phrases like ‘sky is the limit’ and ‘insaniyat ke dayre mein’ to cool tempers in a state that has been in the grips of militancy since 1990. Merely using Vajpayee’s lingo is not enough. The former prime minister took concrete steps by opening his door to the separatists and sending his home secretary to Srinagar for a dialogue with the Hizbul Mujahideen. The youth who have paralysed the Valley are unlikely to respond to Modi’s promise of development. As former chief minister Omar Abdullah pointed out, “if you give laptops to these youth, they’ll throw them right back at you”. If financial aid is what Kashmiris were looking for, then Modi’s Rs 80 crore package would have helped the NDA buy itself out of a problem.
The youth have grown up in an environment steeped in violence and an endless cycle of deaths. Burhan Wani’s death only ignited a pent-up anger that has been building over decades of neglect and mistrust of Kashmiris by both state and central governments. What Modi and his ally in Srinagar must understand is that the rage, palpable on the streets of the Valley, stems from the fact that generations have grown up to the dictates of men in uniform in the world’s most militarised zone.
The oft-heard complaint is that the army and the paramilitary forces speak with their boots and their weapons. Former home minister P Chidambaram tried hard for a gradual withdrawal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act but hit a wall. In 2010, another cycle of violence had claimed over 100 young lives. In 2016, the pellet gun has become a powerful symbol of the state’s brutal arm but Modi steered clear of this in his attempted outreach. If he and Ms Mufti are serious about attending to a problem that has been festering for decades, they will have to engage directly with the youth. The answer to the problem lies in a sustained political dialogue that addresses the rage and the alienation. Development can follow, not replace it.