An air of expectancy hung over Jammu and Kashmir amid curfew-like restrictions on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Srinagar, where he is likely to announce a much-awaited economic package for the volatile state.
But the dynamics of Modi’s Kashmir outing, his second pre-Diwali visit to the state since taking over as Prime Minister, could change as Pakistan on Friday offered an olive branch to New Delhi on resumption of stalled bilateral dialogue with India.
In his public rally on Saturday at the heavily-secured Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in the heart of the state’s summer capital, Modi is expected to unveil a hefty package — likely to be Rs 92,000 crore — for rehabilitation of flood victims and rebuilding infrastructure as a booster dose for the state’s economic growth.
Last year, he had opted to be in the Valley on the festival of lights as a gesture of empathy for flood-ravaged Srinagar.
This time, a frisson of tension was palpable in Kashmir as the authorities put frontline separatist leaders under house detention and rounded up hundreds of their supporters to thwart their call to hold a parallel show of strength in Srinagar on Saturday.
Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has given the call for a “million march” continues to be under house arrest for past many months. The authorities disallowed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq from holding his customary Friday congregation at Jama Masjid in the city and put restrictions on movement of people in downtown Srinagar where separatists hold a strong sway.
Controversial MLA Engineer Abdul Rashid was also put under house arrest as he was planning to show black flags to Modi.
The restrictions went beyond rounding up more than 300 separatist leaders and sympathizers. Shops and schools remained shut, examinations were cancelled for the day and public transport was suspended. Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets.
It remains to be seen whether Modi will use the Srinagar pulpit on Saturday to redress the internal dimensions of Pakistan-stoked troubles of the state where the BJP made history by coming to power in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) last year.
Even the PDP is expecting Modi to go beyond the financial package and deliver a political message that would signify his reaching out to Kashmiris and a broader commitment on resuming peace talks with Pakistan. “We want the Prime Minister to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan as this is part of our agenda for alliance,” Waheed-ur Rahman Para, political adviser to chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, told Hindustan Times.
Union minister of state in the prime minister office, Jitendra Singh, who represents Jammu in the Lok Sabha, said his party would carry forward former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s pro-dialogue legacy on dialogue on the Kashmir issue.
So, will Modi respond to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s conciliatory gesture? Relations between the two neighbors have been in the dumps since the proposed national security adviser-level talks got stalled in August.
Significantly, the break-point was over Islamabad’s insistence on talking with the separatist Hurriyat leaders ahead of the dialogue, a precondition New Delhi refused.