No Prime Minister has made so many trips to Kashmir in such a short span as Narendra Modi. But his latest outing – fourth since he took over as the PM in May last year — was billed as “historic” and “a new beginning” by the ruling People’s Democratic Party much before his touchdown at Srinagar.
Even chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed made all the right noises in the run up to much-hyped visit. He lavishly praised Modi as “tolerant and exclusive” in the backdrop of a nation-wide clamour against growing intolerance. As patriarch of a Kashmir-centric party, Mufti knew the signficance of atmospherics only too well. His gambit of inviting prime minister to address a public rally hinged on Modi going beyond the package and reaching out to both Kashmiris and Pakistan.
The Valley, where a sense of alienation is as deep-rooted as Chinars, was expecting the Vajpayee 2.0 — a step forward on former prime minister’s pragmatic paradigm of ‘Insaaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’ for resolution of internal and external dimensions of the vexed Kashmir imbroglio.
Modi delivered a hefty package but skipped the political nuance and narrative on Kashmir, the ground zero of India-Pakistan conflict. But, by making development and employment as the fulcrum of his vision for a “new and modern Kashmir”, the PM has signalled a shift in his Kashmir policy. The development gambit is aimed at forging a new narrative in consonance with a “home grown” solution, de-hyphenating Kashmir from Pakistan.
That Modi has re-interpreted the Vajpayee mantra sans a larger political context of the dispute was not lost on many in Kashmir. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah was quick to discern the shift : “Vajpayee employed three words to address the issue of Kashmir from a political standpoint while extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan”. Money cannot solve the Kashmir issue, only political initiative can, he said. That view resonates widely across the Valley.
With Modi steering clear of political articulation on Kashmir dialogue, a sense of diappointment was all-too-evident in PDP which swears by dialogue with separatists and Pakistan. In fact, engagement with even those who don’t believe in the Indian Constiution is part of ‘Agenda of Alliance’ — a common minimum programme of the BJP-PDP alliance.
At another level, PDP was expecting Prime Minister to address the Kashmiris’ anxieties, rather that of entire Muslim community in the context of the killing of a Kashmir truck driver and the Dadri lynching.
“Here was Modi’s chance to redeem himself on the platform of a Muslim-majority state and emerge as a statesman. But he didn’t take it,” a close aide of the chief minister said.
Modi’s new paradigm of addressing the Kashmir issue only through development is unlkely to go well with PDP’s core constituency and may put strain on its ties with the BJP which has all its political stakes in the Hindu-dominated Jammu.
In that sense, Modi’s hugely symbolic address from Sher-e-Kashmir stadium has not lived up to popular expectations, and it could turn out to be yet another chapter in Kashmir’s history of missed opportunities.