A Year of Disappointment and Broken Promises for Kashmir

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Omar Abdullah, and Governor NN Vohra at Srinagar airport, September 7, 2014 (Credit: PTI)

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Omar Abdullah, and Governor NN Vohra at Srinagar airport, September 7, 2014 (Credit: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes a much discussed and analysed first year in office and while it’s tempting to spread the net wide and comment on the entire spectrum of this period, I’ll resist the urge and confine myself to his stewardship and what it’s meant for Jammu and Kashmir.

Low-hanging fruit

It wasn’t long in to his term in office when the PM chose J&K for a visit. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, my state was one of the first that he visited. He was fortunate to have been gifted a few projects commissioned by previous governments, including three by PM Manmohan Singh, that were ripe for inauguration. These projects straddled the entire state – a railway project in Jammu and no less than three power projects in Kashmir, Ladakh and Kargil respectively. Having been a part of the United Progressive Alliance, I must confess to being very disappointed at that point that no one had found the time in the run up to the general election to cut the symbolic ribbon, leaving some very attractive low hanging fruit for the newly elected Modi to sweep in and pluck. This fruit even included the military court martial of the Macchil fake encounter accused as well.

True to form, the PM and his party organised events to coincide with all these inaugurations and much was made of the new government’s commitment to J&K. Some went so far as to say that what the UPA couldn’t do in 10 years Modi did in 4 weeks by constructing a rail link to Katra. Bizarre as that sounded there were takers for this dishonest boast, particularly in the realm of social media.

It was impossible to shake the suspicion that this love for all things J&K was very closely linked to the impending Assembly elections. The BJP had made no secret of its desire to replicate the Modi wave in the state and here was the PM visiting J&K more times in the first few weeks than his predecessor had during my entire term in office. Mission 44 was in the initial stages of planning and its contours were already visible – sweep Jammu, pick up a few seats in the Valley & replicate the Lok Sabha success by winning a seat or two in Ladakh as well. In fact, in a marked departure from past practice, the PM took personal credit for getting, perhaps forcing, the Army to apologize for a civilian killing incident which was seen as a way to break the ice in the otherwise hostile Valley. Remember this was the same Modi who campaigned everywhere in the run up to his victory but didn’t come to the Valley. That things didn’t quite turn out this way is another matter altogether.

Talk is cheap

The PM talked development, he talked about doing away with regional discrimination, perceived or real, he talked about taking the state on a new trajectory of growth. All well and good but in those immortal words uttered by Tom Cruise – “Show me the money”.

Talk is cheap and never more so than in J&K, where people are used to visiting leaders promising much and delivering far less. Railway projects take decades more than promised, funds for projects dry up mid-stream, scholarship schemes for youngsters evaporate mid-course and talks to resolve the issue of J&K start and stop more time than the traffic in Mumbai. Here too much promise was attached to the restart of talks between India and Pakistan. The invitation extended to the Pakistani Prime Minister for the swearing in ceremony and the subsequent bonhomie around the two PMs’ mothers were keenly watched in the state. It didn’t escape anyone’s attention that Modi was doing more than the BJP would have ever allowed another PM to do had they been in the opposition.

Some tentative hope was held out that the unexpected mandate Modi and his party had received would translate in to concrete steps and a sustained dialogue with Pakistan. The hope didn’t last long because we were soon back to shrill words – and more than just words along the border. The ceasefire, a gift to the state from the previous NDA government, nurtured by the UPA, was at risk of completely collapsing. Heavy, sustained firing along the international border engulfed civilian hamlets and both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other while at the same time claiming complete innocence when asked who started the firing in the first place. The truth, as is often the case in these sorts of incidents, lay somewhere in between the positions taken by each side. Either way the damage had been done, the promise held out by the sari and shawl diplomacy lay in tatters. The people of J&K were once again in that familiar place where the only question on everyone’s minds was ‘what if?’ and no answers were forthcoming.

Where’s the flood relief?

None of this was new to the people of J&K. Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt would be the best way to encapsulate events until, that is, September 2014. Nature intervened in the first week of that month to hand the Prime Minister an opportunity to show the people of J&K, particularly Srinagar and the surrounding areas that he was cut from different cloth. The summer capital was hit by floods of Biblical proportions and everything lay in tatters. Enough has been written about the aftermath of the floods and my government’s performance – or lack of one to be precise – but this is neither the time nor the place to put up a defence. Anyway, I doubt one would make a tuppence of a difference in perceptions anyway.

The PM flew over Srinagar and then held a meeting at the airport to review the situation. He promised all possible help and then went the extra mile by promising the government in Muzaffarabad (across the Line of Control) all assistance in rebuilding their part of Kashmir that had been hit by floods as well. All I can say is that with hindsight I’m glad they didn’t accept the offer because they’d still be waiting. It’s been more than eight months since the floods, and the help is nowhere. Yes, there has been some money released from the PM relief fund but nowhere near the amount required to reconstruct lives. It isn’t enough that the PM spent a few hours on Diwali in Srinagar at the Raj Bhavan meeting the usual suspects because none of that translated into action. I’d have rather the PM had stayed at home if it had meant money in the hands of those who needed it desperately.

The state was put through an untimely election, one that I had pleaded be delayed on account of the floods. The justification given then by the BJP (and their current allies) was that the state needed a new government to take the central help and rebuild people’s lives. More words that remain just that, words. Meanwhile, the tourist season has come and gone and it’s been a damp squib. There is hardly any money in the economy and people are disappointed.

I wish I could find something positive to write, something, anything at all to suggest that I wasn’t just playing politics here but as much as I try to find something, I can’t. It’s been a trail of disappointment, let-downs and, in the case of the flood victims, downright lies and broken promises. Well begun is half done, or so they say. If that be true then Prime Minister Modi hasn’t even started in Jammu and Kashmir.

(Omar Abdullah is a former Chief Minister of Jammu of Kashmir)