The Prime Minister should be thanked for his kind visit to the Valley of Kashmir, which was preceded by a visit to the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, where both India and Pakistan spend billions from their (limited) resources to maintain strategic positions of no consequence to a vast majority of their people should a permanent peace prevail.
Perhaps, the PM did not see it appropriate to mention to the rest of India the need to continue the presence of thousands of troops at that altitude, which serves little purpose other than to pose a perpetual pollution threat to Pakistan’s water resources. He also made it a point to visit Siachen before coming to Srinagar to meet the people of the Valley grappling with the flood aftermath, a good 46 days after the floods hit, and many days after most of Srinagar had returned to badly damaged homes – thereby establishing the order of his priorities: the jawan before the awaam. Special thanks are due to him for that.
Many Kashmiris were greeted with words like ‘Modi has given a lot to Kashmir, you guys must be happy!’ or, ‘Modi has said it, he will do it.’
I do not share any such optimism. First, visiting Kashmir on Diwali, a festival which is of little relevance to Kashmiris, be they Muslim or Sikh, and of secondary importance to the Kashmiri Pandits, since their festivals are slightly different. The visit was timed to his convenience, not the convenience of the people. It was timed to demonstrate to the people of India, that the PM chose to spend his in Kashmir with jawans and the Kashmiri awaam, as opposed to the people of India, or his own family in Gujarat. May I argue that the TV time he got on Diwali was of major consequence? May I also argue that the PM decided to spend time in Srinagar because the soon-to-be-held elections of the State Legislative Assembly are on his mind? May I say that it would have been more sensitive and more appropriate to have spent this time on Eid? Or any other day, rather than a Hindu-festival? What if the Vice-President of India, a Muslim, would decide to spend his Eid with flood-sufferers in Assam? Or with those hit by landslides in Maharashtra? It would mean nothing to either, since they would not have been celebrating the festival in the first place, but I would not hesitate to say that the Vice-President would have been called ‘communal’ and ‘insensitive’ by the very people cheering the PM now.
Second, the symbolism: A Hindu PM decides to pay a visit to the Muslim-majority state on a Hindu festival. It would not matter much had it not been for the fact that the current PM is himself a product of the RSS school where people are taught to treat Muslims as second-rate, lapsed rulers of India who deserve to be crushed and segregated as historical revenge for the alleged suppression of Hinduism during Muslim rule in India. What was the PM proving? What was the PM proving by NOT visiting the people of flood-hit Assam? Why? Were they not a part of India?
Third, the simple lack of funds: The State has asked for Rs 44,000 crore, the PM had released Rs 1,000 crore initially, and now Rs 545 crore more with an additional Rs 175 crore for hospitals. Thanks. And the media played this up, again and again, as though the Indian PM had done Kashmiris an immense favour by ‘donating’ this money. It has rightly been criticised by all hues of politicians in Kashmir.
Fourth, bad-mouthing those asking for revoking AFSPA: The out-going Chief Minister of J&K had staked his entire tenure on trying to get the Act revoked. This has yielded no fruit at all. Countless times, this column has argued that a simple, reversible decision could go a long way in assuaging the fears of Kashmiris, and represent a genuine attempt at healing their wounds. No. Such appeals fall on deaf ears. Instead, the BJP leader in the Rajya Sabha went on to criticise the Chief Minister of J&K saying that he was ‘pandering to the separatists.’ This, in effect, makes asking for the revocation of AFSPA, by a democratically-elected CM of an Indian State, an anti-national move. What is the principle of democracy anyway, sir? Was it not meant to mean a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? Obviously, and the PM remains oblivious to this fact, the genuine demands of Kashmiris remain undemocratic. They evidently are not Indians.
Sad of the PM to play the game Kashmiris have been a victim of all over again. He is not as bold as he claims to be.