A New Deal?
Hearts and minds are stronger than bricks and mortar — and yet paradoxically in greater need of constant repair. This is true especially for Jammu and Kashmir. It is one thing to know that the future of the state largely depends on how New Delhi brings it closer to the rest of India by providing much-needed economic help, and quite another to think that only funnelling money into J&K will make things hunky-dory. It is here that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his first visit to the state, has taken the initiative by launching a two-pronged strategy — addressing the need to make the Kashmiri economy tick again as well as to repair the very real social and psychological damage wrought on the state for decades.
More than a gesture towards Pakistan, New Delhi’s decision to cut the number of troops in J&K is a genuine attempt to put an end to the ‘siege mentality’ that has haunted the state. By lacing his address with personal touches, Mr Singh underlined the fact that Kashmir is not so much a geographical entity as about a people who need to go through a ‘healing process’. Whether it be Sheikh Abdullah’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ or P.V. Narasimha Rao’s ‘the sky is the limit’, Kashmir has been the repository of verbal flourishes for a long time. It is here that Mr Singh has to make the quantum leap from words to action. By committing the Centre to fund a Rs 24,000 crore ‘revival plan’, the economist in Mr Singh has joined forces with the statesman. But he has to ensure that this ‘new deal’ goes beyond the airy-fairy of budgetary allocations and actually reaches the people.
It is easy to listen to people who broadly share one’s opinion; harder when it comes to people who are vocally opposed. Mr Singh’s gesture of being ready to listen to ‘all voices’ is, thus, a pragmatic step that leaves old dogmas at the door. It is another matter that the Hurriyat continues to misuse the leverage of ‘differences’ to stay away from the dialogue table.
J&K is an integral part of India, not only in terms of Indian wishes, but also increasingly according to Kashmiri ones. But it would be naive to believe that ‘Kashmir’ can be fully solved by keeping mum about Pakistan. Mr Singh’s rejection of the ‘Musharraf Plan’ covered the lid on any proposal to redraw borders. The PM’s visit has, however, opened up something else: a genuine road that will hopefully connect J&K to the rest of India — both in terms of hearts and minds.