The government is arresting separatists and shutting down social media to thwart the ‘Million March’ challenge to Modi’s Srinagar rally tomorrow
Srinagar: In his last public rally in Srinagar in December 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had talked of fulfilling his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Kashmir vision. “I will fulfil Ataljis’ dream of Insaniyat (humanity) Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat (democracy),” he had promised his audience at the BJP’s election rally at Sher-e-Kashmir stadium on December 8.
Soon after, the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir shook hands with the BJP, which had swept the parliament elections, claiming that it saw an “opportunity” in the alliance to end political uncertainty in the state. In the past nine months, however, almost nothing that has happened on the Valley’s political front has followed the PDP’s script; from failing to shrink the space for separatists to pushing for dialogue with Islamabad and the latest debate over the intolerance, the party has been continuously drawing flak for allying with the right-wing BJP.
Given this growing criticism, the PDP is now pinning its hopes on Modi’s visit to Srinagar on Saturday, when he will address the first joint public rally of the alliance partners and is expected to announce a one lakh crore rupee development package for the flood-hit state.
However, even before the package has been announced, questions are being raised about its intent and effect. As a close aide of PDP President Mehbooba Mufti put it, “An economic package alone will give the impression that the Modi government too is continuing the policy of treating J&K as an economic problem. That’s disappointing as we want things to move on the political front as well.”
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been repeatedly invoking Vajpayee’s historic Srinagar visit when he offered friendship to Islamabad and an olive branch to separatists, in a bid to stress that the path shown by the former Prime Minister is the only way to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Speaking to reporters in Srinagar on Tuesday, Sayeed said, “I am hopeful that Modi’s visit to Kashmir will be path-breaking and help in building an atmosphere of trust that could pave the way forward on political issues.” He then proceeded to praise Modi as being “all inclusive” and “not at all intolerant” at a time when the Prime Minister is being criticised over his silence on the various acts of intolerance and violence in the country.
Sayeed’s showering of praises on Modi invited criticism from separatists and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s National Conference, who described his remarks as “surrender of his conscience to the RSS for power”.
The Chief Minister and PDP are hoping that Modi’s Saturday visit would give a new impulse to the ‘Agenda of Alliance’, a framework worked out by the coalition partners for governing the state. The opinion within the party is that the “settling period” for the government was over and now the time has come to set rolling the agenda that has political and peace components as well.
A senior PDP leader and a close aide of the Muftis told The Wire, “Vajpayee became Vajpayee in Kashmir only when he talked of resolving the Kashmir issue within the ambit of humanity (Insaniyat ke daiyray mein). November 7 can be the Prime Minister’s (Modi’s) Vajpayee moment if he chooses to.”
Political analyst Rekha Choudhary believes that the Prime Minister’s visit is “very important” and “a matter of survival” for the PDP in the Valley after the party’s failure to deliver anything concrete on the political and economic front. “These aren’t good times in Kashmir…the 2014 flood has left people helpless, there is revival of militancy, separatists are gaining ground in the absence of any political initiative and the youth are getting disillusioned. All this could end up threatening the PDP,” Choudhary pointed out. According to her, only a comprehensive political package by the Prime Minister could help the PDP regain popular trust.
That helps explain Mehbooba Mufti’s call to people on Wednesday to replicate the peaceful atmosphere that existed during Vajpayee’s 2003 visit, when Modi arrives. At the same time, Mehbooba, who is expected to take over the reins of the state from her father next year, did not fail to emphasise the need for a political initiative on Kashmir. She has talked of “high hopes” riding on the Prime Minister’s visit in reviving the stalled political process.
The ‘Million March’ and the crackdown
What threatens to upset the PDP’s plans is the call for a ‘Srinagar Million March’ on November 7 by separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which has found support from other separatists as well. To make matters worse, the march is expected to culminate at the TRC Ground, just metres away from the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium, the Prime Minister’s venue.
Sensing a major challenge, the state government is now attempting to pre-empt the march, with the J&K police launching one of the biggest crackdowns on separatists in recent times, and detaining hundreds of pro-azadi political activists. Separatist leaders including Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Shabir Shah have been put under house arrest, while JKLF Chairman Yaseen Malik, Nayeem Khan and others are in police custody.
Geelani, who has been served a notice by the government to refrain from taking out the rally, has stated, “Our aim is not to sabotage Modi’s rally, but to present to the world the reality of Kashmir.” Unfazed, Geelani has said that the rally would be held as planned despite the arrests and the “oppressive measures”.
The police is also keeping a close eye on social networking sites as the Million March call has generated a lot of support on social media. Around 200 Facebook pages advocating support for Geelani have already been blocked and many known “internet warriors” are on the police radar.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed the arrests as proof of the PDP-led government’s growing “intolerance and authoritarianism”. “Modi’s Srinagar rally will be historic – for the number of people arrested to make the rally possible. There couldn’t be a more tragic end to the ‘battle of ideas’ hoax,” Omar tweeted.
The state police, maintains that the crackdown is just a part of the “security drill” ahead of Modi’s visit, given apprehensions that people might come out to breach the peace. However, a senior police official wishing anonymity confided, “The raids are meant to detain potential trouble makers across Kashmir to ensure Modi’s rally passes off peacefully.” Whether it will or not, remains to be seen.