After nearly two months in office Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not sent out any positive political vibes to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly to those in the Valley. From his assertion to winning the hearts of people through development to the negligible focus on Kashmir in his government’s budget, he has started proving right his critics who say his policy vis-à-vis this protracted conflict would be tough.
During his July 4 visit to the state he did not speak of any rapprochement. Ironically, Modi’s first visit to Kashmir saw the Valley barricaded by security personnel, who were deployed to ensure a smooth and incident-free day. He was also greeted with a strike called by separatists as their routine to protest the visit. Not only did Modi fly over the city to reach Uri to inaugurate a power project, he began his Kashmir journey from the headquarters of the Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. The Army is seen as a source of irritation by the majority in Kashmir, though it might have done a ‘great national service’ in neutralising militancy. Beginning his connect with Kashmir from a heavily fortified zone was not a great idea.
Kashmiris have suffered immensely in the last 25 years. They have borne the brunt of violence and faced the onslaught of both State and non-State actors. Though in a precarious situation, they did choose the ballot over bullet from time to time. Despite having minimal faith in the institution of democracy, owing to manipulations right from 1947, they still picked elections as a means to address everyday problems. It was interpreted by the Government of India as an ‘endorsement’ to the finality of accession, but the core issue of political disempowerment that has stemmed from the string of deceptions and unfulfilled promises, has not been addressed.
Kashmir did not get a fair deal in the 10 years of UPA rule. It might have pumped in more development money but the impact remains negligible. Workable relations with Pakistan are a must to address Kashmir, but bilateral ties were strained because of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The internal dimension too was abandoned. Talks with a section of separatists were attempted but left halfway. Three interlocutors were appointed after 120 youth were killed during the unrest in 2010. But their recommendations were ‘disowned’ by the same government, further denting Delhi’s credibility in Kashmir.
It was Modi’s BJP predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had laid the foundations for doing something different in Kashmir. Vajpayee proposed moving away from a hawkish bureaucratic mindset that views Kashmir as a mere law and order problem or as Pakistan-sponsored irritant. Vajpayee’s initiatives brought new hope but the fruits of that process from 2003 to 2007 were not consolidated. Last year, Modi invoked Vajpayee’s policy of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’ but is yet to deliver on that score. Being in denial about the reality of Kashmir being a contentious issue, if not a dispute, does not help to move forward on ‘winning hearts’. To address people in J&K through the prism of communities and regions also does not augur well.
Kashmir needs to be addressed holistically as a humanitarian issue. Justice to the victims of violence, withdrawal of the Afspa, throwing the doors of jails open and taking a leaf from the process initiated by Vajpayee are some steps in the right direction. Kashmir does not need any stern message. Re-opening processes that would connect two parts of Kashmir and giving the people a sense of confidence and trust are the only ways to get closer to them. With a strong mandate Modi can do a lot politically for Kashmir.
Shujaat Bukhari is a senior journalist based in Srinagar and is currently Editor of Rising Kashmir
The views expressed by the author are personal