The Prime Minister’s refusal to look at the political dimension of the Kashmir issue is bad news for the PDP and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
Srinagar: In his maiden interaction with the media in Srinagar in May this year, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had brushed off concerns that New Delhi was delaying funds for flood-hit Jammu and Kashmir.
“The money has to come and it will come,” Sayeed had said in response to a question. “My concerns are much bigger. We have to start a new beginning (on Kashmir).”
Earlier this month, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 80,000 crore development “package” for J&K, Sayeed and his Peoples Democratic Party got a breather after having sold their alliance with the BJP as a “necessity” to get generous funding from New Delhi.
But before their hands went up to applaud Modi, it was clear that he had delivered a blow to the “new beginning” talk – of engaging Islamabad and the separatists – that the Chief Minister had been repeatedly referring to in the run up to the prime ministerial visit.
“I don’t need any advice from anyone on Kashmir,” Modi said in his speech at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium.
‘Disappointment’ for PDP
From the day Sayeed shook hands with the BJP at the cost of his popularity in the Valley, he has been invoking Atal Bihari Vajpayee to remind Modi that the only way New Delhi can emerge as a major world power was by engaging Islamabad.
During his Srinagar visit, Modi did talk of Vajpayee’s vision of jamhooriyat (democracy), insaniyat (humanity) and Kashmiriyat but redefined these terms by relating them only to development and not to the possibility of dialogue with Pakistan and the separatists.
“There is a sense of disappointment within the party as we were expecting the Prime Minister to announce a political package as well,” a senior PDP Minister told The Wire. “He could have used the grand occasion to send across a political message.”
The ‘development only’ and ‘no politics’ talk by Modi, described as a “snub” to the chief minister by political analyst Siddique Wahid, is bound to hurt the party which had raised expectations of people by claiming that the visit would be “historic and path-breaking”. Indeed, the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ – the roadmap for the PDP-BJP coalition for governing the state – clearly talks about engaging Pakistan and the separatists:
The Union Government has recently initiated several steps to normalise the relationship with Pakistan. The coalition government will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in the peace and development within the sub-continent…
The earlier NDA government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat”.
Following the same principles, the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.
Modi’s ‘no need for advice’ line is also being interpreted as a grim reminder to the state government that it should limit its politics to development only and that it is New Delhi alone – as and when it chooses – which would decide the course of its Pakistan policy and approach towards the Hurriyat and other separatists. The PDP can forget about playing any role in this is what the Prime Minister’s words essentially conveyed.
According to Wahid, Modi’s speech was a “direct message” to Sayeed to limit his politics to ‘development’.
“It was direct and discourteous,” Wahid told The Wire.
For the PDP, Modi’s silence on the separatists would also mean a blow to the Chief Minister’s concept of allowing the “battle of ideas”, i.e. allowing space to the separatists – an idea that had already effectively been shelved after the state government started following the previous administration’s policy of caging separatists and detaining protesting youth.
Though Modi’s ‘insaniyat-minus-politics’ speech might have saddened the PDP, Gul Muhammad Wani, who teaches political science at Kashmir University, said the party was likely to continue to push for dialogue on both the external and internal front.
The challenge that confronts the PDP this time around, however, is that 2015 is not 2003 – when India-Pakistan relations started to develop under Vajpayee
“The environment too is missing today, and Modi as of now, is unchallenged,” said Wani.
Nevertheless, PDP spokesman Mehboob Beg believes the Prime Minister’s direct reference to Vajpayee’s vision and his attempts to reach out to the youth marked a “beginning” on the Kashmir political front. “There has to be forward movement on Kashmir,” he said.
Not by money alone
From the Rs.8,687 crore package by Vajpayee in 2002 that went mostly to strengthen the defence grid along J&K’s borders, the Rs.24,000 crore worth of assistance announced by Manmohan Singh in 2005, most of which went into the kitty of NHPC, and now the latest Modi package, New Delhi has been treating Kashmir primarily as an economic problem.
That is what former chief minister Omar Abdullah stressed when he slammed Modi for repeating the mistake of trying to solve the Kashmir issue with money.
“People haven’t sacrificed their lives for money. Kashmir is a political problem which needs a political solution,” Omar said at a press conference as he lashed out at the J&K government too over the manner in which the prime minister ignored the advice of the chief minister to re-engage Pakistan.
“What is Mufti sahab doing then? If whatever he says doesn’t hold even for five minutes, then what must have happened to agenda of alliance?” Omar said rhetorically.
Modi’s apolitical visit also drew criticism from the separatists too, who argued that economic development was contingent on political stability.
Quoting from Modi’s speech, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said he reduced Vajpayee’s vision to the level of panchayat polls which, according to him, was “hugely disappointing”.
He questioned New Delhi’s silence on the prevailing political uncertainty in Kashmir, its failure to address human rights violations and to take any initiative to revoke the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, as successive chief ministers have demanded.
“These are the real issues but unfortunately the Government of India is not ready to acknowledge them,” Mirwaiz told The Wire.
Amid the talk about Modi “missing an opportunity” to start a new beginning on Kashmir, the poll verdict in Bihar where New Delhi had announced a Rs 1.25 lakh crore package in run up to the elections is seen as a message to BJP.
“If such a package couldn’t bring electorate dividends for Modi in Bihar where there is no political problem and no Pakistan factor, how can you turn around Kashmir with a Rs 80,000 crore package,” asked Gul Wani.
What make the prime minister’s silence on Kashmir especially disappointing for the PDP-led government is that it comes at a time when the Valley is witnessing a revival of home grown militancy.
There is also resentment in Kashmir about the muscle-flexing by Hindutva groups in Jammu even as voices of dissent in the Valley are suppressed.
“There is growing anger on the streets, a danger that New Delhi should realize,” cautioned the Mirwaiz, who has shown a willingness in the past to talk to New Delhi provided both external and internal dimensions of Kashmir are addressed.
Wahid-ur-Rehman Parra, political analyst in the chief minister’s office, said the biggest challenge for the government was to reach out to young people in the Valley who are “living a life without a mission and any agenda”.
This was the reason the Prime Minister talked about importance of Kashmiri youth and focused his speech on giving a new direction to them by promising different economic avenues.
“Our vision is to focus on the problems of Kashmiris and work for the Kashmir resolution together; one can’t wait for the other to happen,” said Parra.
The PDP, as per party insiders, however was banking on the Prime Minister’s visit to address “the growing alienation” among the youth and to start a new discourse on Kashmir’s political turf.
Two weeks on, it is clear Modi’s high profile visit hasn’t met the PDP’s expectations, at least on the political front.