Modi in Kashmir
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Srinagar on Saturday will, for a moment, divert attention from the Bihar elections. Senior leaders of the PDP-BJP coalition government in the state have expressed hope that the Prime Minister will announce a development package of Rs one lakh crore, including the much-delayed relief package for the devastating floods in September 2014. If certain media outlets in Kashmir are to be believed, the flood relief package would only amount to Rs 5,000 crore, despite the state government’s request of Rs 44,000 crore. Suffice to say, New Delhi has always sought to douse the fires of political unrest by pouring money into Kashmir Valley. However, special packages in the past have failed to achieve any tangible targets for the local populace, primarily because such amounts have not necessarily translated into better infrastructure and economic opportunities for the people. One has to only witness the state of government schools and hospitals and the endemic corruption that plagues local administration. Suffice to say, there has been no real movement on that front, despite the intermittent flow of funds. If and when Prime Minister Modi does announce a special economic package, the Centre must ensure that none of the money is lost to corruption, with due diligence enforced at every level of government. Economic growth may not be a panacea for the Valley’s troubles, but the proper functioning to basic state institutions, in addition to the proliferation of private enterprise, will go a long way in healing the wounds of the past three decades. However, in order to witness the proliferation of private enterprises and overall economic development, the Centre must respect and recognise political fault-lines that exist in the Valley. By all accounts, the Valley has been troubled by escalating border tensions, which have risen over the past year and a half. New Delhi’s hard-line stance against Pakistan has not done much to douse tensions in the state. There is hope among certain political commentators that we will witness a “Vajpayee moment” in Srinagar from August 18, 2003, at a time when Indo-Pak relations were still poor after the Kargil War, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had made a call for friendship with Pakistan at a public rally in Srinagar. One of the key arguments made by many supporters of former Prime Minister Vajpayee was that only the hawks (a BJP regime) can actually establish peace with Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi paid heed to this moment during his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014, when he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. Since then, it is fair to suggest that things have gone south between the two neighbours. Therefore, to expect Modi to indulge Srinagar in a “Vajpayee moment” seems rather hopeful and far-fetched. Influential players in the Government of India have dabbled in a rather hawkish view that it is the Pakistani establishment that must show good faith first. The cancellation of Foreign Secretary-level talks earlier this year due to the Pakistan High Commissioner’s decision to meet separatist leaders was a manifestation of such a diplomatic position. Of course, who can forget the recent cancellation of National Security Advisor-level talks?
In fact, the ground reality suggests that the Indian establishment has a tough task reining in pro-Pakistan and separatist elements in the Valley. With growing incidents of violence in the state, perpetrated both the terrorists from across the border and Indian security agencies, a climate of fear have returned to the Valley. On October 29, Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Qasim was killed in a successful operation by security agencies. However, a cause of deep concern for the state administration is the large number of people who attended Qasim’s funeral and the outpouring of anti-India sentiments. Thousands of mourners had come together, with separatists firing three rounds of bullets in the air. The scale of attendance and the anti-India hysteria was last witnessed, according to certain political commentators in the state, was last seen in the late 1980s and early 90s. Suffice to say, these events are not unconnected to the current political climate in mainland India. Earlier this year, a Jammu court had resurrected an old ban on the sale of beef in the state. The beef ban in the state has created a sharp divide between the ruling coalition partners. The PDP said that the prohibition cannot be accepted. Meanwhile, the BJP wanted to press for strict implementation. It is clear that the repercussions of the Dadri lynching were felt in the Valley. If that wasn’t enough, a Kashmiri trucker, Zahid Rasool Bhatt, was assaulted to death after the truck in which he was travelling through Udhampur in Jammu was attacked over rumours that it was transporting cows for slaughter. Add to the mix, irresponsible statements by senior leaders of the ruling BJP-led dispensation at the Centre, and you have a toxic cocktail ready to explode. The politics of meat, practised by many political parties, especially the BJP, has given ammunition to pro-Pakistan and separatist elements in the State. Stuck in the middle of all this hullabaloo is Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who has tried rather hard to put up a brave face, defending Prime Minister Narendra Modi.