In his Independence Day address from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that “bullets or abuses will not solve the Kashmir issue” and that it can be addressed by “embracing every Kashmiri”. The remarks have come at a time when there are apprehensions among people in the Valley regarding the abrogation of Article 35A, which defines the permanent residents of the state.
“Na gaali se samasya sulajhne wali hai, na goli se, samasya suljhegi har Kashmiri ko gale lagane se (Kashmir problem cannot be resolved by either bullets or by abuses. It can be resolved by embracing all Kashmiris),” Modi said in his fourth Independence Day speech.
From the early hours on August 15, all mobile services were shut down in Kashmir. Mobile internet services were also suspended from 8 am onwards as a “precautionary measure”. The services were restored only after Independence Day celebrations were over at 1 pm.
The main Independence Day function was held at Bakshi Stadium under unprecedented security arrangements.
Soon after Modi’s address, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, while welcoming his remarks on Kashmir, said that she has “all along believed that dialogue and peaceful means only can help in resolving issues as the futility of violence has been established all around.”
“The slogan Bandook say na goli say, baat banay gi boli say coined by our party some 15 years ago is as relevant today as it was then. I assure my fellow citizens that whenever it comes to the identity of Jammu and Kashmir, we are all united,” Mufti said.
The chief minister also expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would dismiss a petition that challenges Article 35A of the constitution. “The battle for power and political battles are a separate issue,” she said, adding that she was thankful to Farooq Abdullah for meeting her over the Article 35A issue. “I sought his guidance on the issue of the challenge to the special status of the state. He gave me a fatherly advice and I acted upon it.”
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the state and National Conference leader, also welcomed Modi’s remarks on Kashmir, but sought concrete action for a follow-up on the ground.
“PM Modi’s words for Kashmir have been very well received by people here but everyone here is weary of yet more talk & no concrete action,” Omar tweeted soon after the prime minister’s speech, expressing his skepticism in his subsequent tweets.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We look forward to being embraced in the warm grip of understanding, acceptance & respect.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 15, 2017
That respect must include respect for the unique status J&K enjoys within the constitution of India that sets it apart from all other states
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 15, 2017
Hurriyat (M) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also welcomed Modi’s remarks, calling for “insaniyat” and “insaaf” to replace “goli and gali” to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Welcome @narendramodi also believes"Goli&gaali will not help resolve Kashmir"if insaniyat &insaaf replace themResolution can become aReality
— Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (@MirwaizKashmir) August 15, 2017
Skepticism in Kashmir
Political analysts and senior journalists in Kashmir, however, are skeptical of the prime minister’s remarks given the long history of political betrayals, broken promises and talks of dialogue from New Delhi that haven’t achieved anything on the ground.
Zahid G. Muhammad, a political analyst and regular columnist for the leading daily Greater Kashmir, does not see anything new in Modi’s remarks. “For past many decades ramparts of Red Fort have been used by most of the prime ministers of India from Jawaharlal Nehru down to the present PM for reaching out and announcing big tourism and economic package,” he said, adding that Manmohan Singh has also in the past announced constitution of five working groups for addressing the international dimension of the Kashmir problem. “But finally it boiled down to naught. It is an old discourse, nevertheless it sounds new to ears as it comes from a person who had chosen not speak about Kashmir.”
Muhammad said that the few sentences on Kashmir were not meant for the people of the state, but for the international audience. “I suspect there will be no change in the Kashmir policy that his government is pursuing in the state since he took over as PM,” he said.
Hilal Mir, a noted journalist and editor, said that the state should stop killing and blinding Kashmiri children and instead “acknowledge the political aspirations of Kashmiris and let it also undo frauds committed during the past 70 years.”
“Then only Modi’s comments will mean anything. Otherwise, Red Fort rhetoric of all Indian PMs has become a joke.”
Historian and writer Khalid Bashir Ahmad said that nobody ever believed that bullets and abuses could resolve the Kashmir problem. “Had it been so, the Kashmir issue would have been settled long back,” he said. “The important question here is whether what has been said now is a sincere realisation or a mere play of words.” Unfortunately, he points out, the long history of 70 years does not allow any room for optimism among people in Kashmir.
Mushtaq Wani, the president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), which is an amalgam of local industry and commerce bodies, welcomed the prime minister’s remarks. “We at KCCI have always been advocating a dialogue process and still favour it,” Wani told The Wire. “The reference of PM to ‘abuse’ is the venom spewed every evening on primetime news channels against Kashmiris,” he said adding that initiating a sincere dialogue process can certainly help Kashmir overcome its political and economic problems.
“It is all symbolism till it is proved on the ground here,” Farhan Kitab, the spokesperson of Kashmir Economic Alliance, an umbrella body of trade and business organisations from the Valley, told The Wire. He said in the past PM Modi had also announced Rs 80,000 crore developmental package for Kashmir which was soon followed by civilian killings by the government forces. “There has been a complete mayhem here since the 2014 floods in terms of business, and the economy is also down,” he pointed out. “So more than just embracing us through words, there is need of a political will and statesmanship from the PM to resolve the issue.”
MLA Engineer Rasheed said Modi’s remarks on Kashmir did not carry a lot of weight according to him. “Like successive Indian prime ministers, Narendra Modi has yet again tried to misled world community by claiming to throw his arms open for Kashmiris and embracing them,” said Rasheed, who had attempted to take out a march, waiving black flags and chanting pro-plebiscite slogans, from his residence at Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar in order to “to mark the black day on eve of India’s Independence Day.” However, police foiled his march and arrested Rasheed along with his two dozen supporters.
“All what Narendra Modi wanted to convey in his Independence Day speech has nothing to offer but just means few traditional words like what Narsima Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and others have told from time to time,” said Rasheed, who also questioned Mufti talking about Article 35A and the special status of the state. “It is she who facilitated the entry of Sangh parivar in the state to bulldoze the rights of people including the special status of the state.”
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar, Kashmir.