Every time a prime minister of India comes to Jammu and Kashmir for inaugurating an infrastructure project it’s always and variously described as a ‘path breaking’ development that is supposed to change the destiny of Kashmir. Right from the late 1950s when the Jawahar tunnel was built until the Chinani-Nashri tunnel, inaugurated Sunday by Narendra Modi, no infrastructure established in the state has neutralised the demand for political rights, most particularly the right to self-determination. In fact this demand and the struggle for it has only intensified over time, a certain kind of infrastructure ‘development’ notwithstanding.
A brutal 30-year-long ongoing counter-insurgency war and its accompanied rhetoric of economic development has not diminished a deep yearning for dignity and an independent political future. Yet New Delhi appears to be interested in undertaking more of the same while denying a reality that even its own army generals have urged to acknowledge.
On Sunday, when Prime Minister Modi delivered his speech at Udhampur, he could not talk about much beyond attempting to limit choices for the youth of Kashmir to tourism, imagining Kashmir only to be a landscape that every Indian has a dream to visit and every Kashmir must gratefully accept to serve. His speech may gain a certain territory of opinion among the Indian electorates but in Kashmir people read a blind denial of the ground reality. What does one make of the PM’s speech wherein a struggle for achieving universally accepted human and political rights is equated with ‘terrorism’?
The history of Kashmir is replete with a continuum of policy developments slowly taking away all peaceful means to ask for rights every citizen of the world inherently possesses. And when denial of those rights energises a movement for self-determination it is intellectually and politically rank dishonest to make it out to be ‘terrorism’ or ‘instigation’ by Pakistan.
The arsenal of rhetoric, employed with varying intensities at different times in the history of a political struggle in Kashmir, has almost emptied out and it may now ‘appeal’ only to a small section of politicians enjoying State patronage who in turn, when out of power, make ‘right noises’ calling for political initiatives and dialogue for engaging with what New Delhi calls terrorism. Such has been the disconnect between New Delhi and its representative governments in the state, let alone the people, that the two can’t even afford a common language for their rhetoric. Sunday was the latest and so far perhaps the clearest example of New Delhi talking to itself and the Indian electorate. The more the same happens the clearer the nature of conflict over in Kashmir becomes. Now that is change.