Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the people of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday to shun violence and walk the path of development, saying the entire country would stand by them.
The PM’s remarks were his first on the month-long unrest in the Valley that has claimed 58 lives and inured 2,000, and came a day after chief minister Mehbooba Mufti urged him to win the hearts of her people.
Modi accused “a section of leaders who cannot digest development and progress” of putting “stones in the hands of children when they should be holding books, laptops and cricket bats”.
“What will their future be? We’ve decided we will not allow any injury, any stigma on Kashmir, which is India’s heaven,” he told a gathering of over 20,000 people in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhotrada village. He was here to launch ‘Yaad Karo Kurbani’, a national campaign to commemorate those who died for India’s independence, from the land of birth of freedom fighter Chandrashekar Azad.
“The youth of Kashmir want peace. The citizens of Kashmir want to earn more money through tourism, for which it has great potential,” Modi said.
Invoking former PM AB Vapayee and his vision for Kashmir, he said, “Atal Behari Vajpayee adopted the path of insaniyat (humanity), jamhuriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat and we walk the same road. Jammu and Kashmir has the same strengths and freedom that any other Indian state enjoys.”
Mufti — who heads a coalition government of her Peoples Democratic Party and the BJP in J&K — had also spoken on Monday of the need to “take the same initiative of winning the people’s hearts that was taken during Vajpayee’s tenure”. On Tuesday, she held a meeting with NDA ministers during which the two sides agreed on several measures for the state — including a recruitment drive by paramilitary forces for Kashmiri youth, increasing security on key roads and a pro-active approach by troops in stopping large gatherings of protesters.
“It is our responsibility to strengthen every panchayat in J&K, give employment to its youth and stand by every person there… We will build half a kilometre of road less in other parts of India but we will ensure J&K’s aspirations are fulfilled,” Modi said.
In a rare gesture, he thanked the Congress and other opposition parties for condemning terrorism and separatists, and commended the state government for ensuring the Amarnath yatra progressed smoothly at a time of unrest.
The violence set off by the killing of militant Burhan Wani on July 8 has given way to simmering anger, especially over injuries caused by security forces’ “non-lethal” pellet guns. Most parts of Kashmir remain curfew-bound and hospitals are still struggling to treat the injured.
Opposition leaders had criticised Modi for his silence on the situation in Kashmir. “Finally”, tweeted national Conference leader and former J&K CM Omar Abdullah on Tuesday, before pointing out that development wasn’t the solution to every problem.