Successive Indian governments’ standard response to the Kashmir issue is that it can be resolved through ‘talks’ only.So far as New Delhi is concerned, ‘talks’ seem to be the ultimate solution for all issues related to Kashmir, including the devastation wrought by the flood. Indeed ‘talking’ about the flood aftermath is the only measure authorities, both at the centre and in the state, have been resorting to. So far, there have been no concrete steps towards rehabilitating people who have lost their homes as well as their businesses. The state government is just passing the buck, and that is understandable too. State coffers had been running empty even before the flood; the government has been in austerity mode for long, with even plan funds having been reduced. Even as such the corpus of funds normally available with the state is woefully inadequate to meet the requirements of rehabilitation given that almost the entire population has been hit by the flood directly or indirectly. Against this background, the helplessness of the state government can be very well understood.
Now the PM’s gesture to celebrate Diwali among the flood-ravaged people of Kashmir has turned out to be yet another of his much-hyped gimmicks, which did not go beyond tokenism. Of course, on the basis of past experience, the people of Kashmir were understandably cynical about the whole affair from the very beginning. At the same time, they could still have had some expectations that the PM might use the opportunity to distribute relief among flood-survivors and also announce a comprehensive rehabilitation program. But to the disappointment of all concerned, no significant announcements were made during this visit. In fact, the apex body of traders and businessmen spearheading the demand for proper relief and rehabilitation was not even allowed to meet the PM. Groups of flood-survivors too were turned back from the gate itself. The much hyped visit turned out to be what the rightly sceptical people of Kashmir had already expected it to be – a mere stunt aimed at making headlines and grabbing some prime time on TV networks, with nothing solid about it.
It is evident by now that Modi’s policy on Kashmir is to focus on the region in a manner to create an impression of giving it special emphasis, while the actual objective would be quite the reverse. Kashmir has featured prominently all along – from the President’s introductory speech outlining the policies of the new government, to the latter’s first financial budget. But it is a carefully – one might even say deviously – targeted focus. Half-truths can be more dangerous than the whole truth. Precisely the same can be said of focus that is selective, because while being focused on the need not to ignore rules, a selective focus on a part, or parts, can actually lead to the worst possible neglect of the whole. It is this selective focus that seems to be a deliberate strategy on part of the BJP which is only to be expected because this party is not a hereditary power-enterprise but an agenda-based one, with more or less a well thought-out and meticulously charted ideology and strategy. In Kashmir, this strategic focus has initially been on the migrant Kashmiri Pandits. The new government at the centre has been making attempts at redefining the ‘Kashmir problem’ in terms of the ‘problem’ of a displaced minority, thereby changing the discourse on Kashmir into an ‘oppressing majority’ verses an ‘oppressed minority.’ In fact, even in the aftermath of the floods, this issue has continued to be very much in focus. Now, during his latest visit, trumpeted as a gesture to celebrate Diwali among the flood-hit people of Kashmir, the PM actually seemed to focus more on Siachen than on the local population – to the extent of actually ignoring them. Once again, the focus on Kashmir was sought to be redefined by underscoring the army rather than the civilian population.
Even during the acute phase of the floods, when rescue should have been the priority, the centre seemed to be more intent on discrediting the state government. Not only was it wholly inappropriate, it was not required as well because the state government already stood discredited on all fronts. If anything, the centre missed an opportunity to win the hearts of the local people, poisoning even the few attempts that it did make towards rescuing the stranded. In any case, there are times when one needs to rise above petty political considerations. Being the Prime Minister of the world’s most populous democracy and enjoying unprecedented support of the electorate should have made Mr Modi magnanimous. Flood-devastated Kashmir presented a major opportunity to demonstrate this magnanimity. But instead of behaving like a statesman, as the occasion demanded, the Prime Minister has exposed himself as a mere stuntman.