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#PMVisit: how Modi lost the meaning of Vajpayee's historic promise

Catch Team | Updated on: 8 November 2015, 2:07 IST

Grand visit

  • PM Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally in Srinagar
  • The city was nearly shut down; protests marked the day
  • Modi announced a Rs 80,000 crore economic package

Lost chance

  • The prime minister failed to offer a political initiative
  • He talked of Vajpayee\'s Insaniyat promise, but lost its meaning
  • Soon after Modi left, a 22-year-old was killed in a protest

When Narendra Modi announced, at last, the Rs 80,000 crore package at his much-hyped rally in Srinagar, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed must have breathed a deep sigh of relief.

For eight months after he went against the popular mood in Kashmir to form an alliance with the ideologically antithetical BJP, a promised generous development package had become the single most redeeming feature of his decision. More so after the September 2014 flood, which had sunk large swathes of the valley and crippled the economy.

And here Modi was fulfilling the coalition's promise, though after delaying it inordinately for the flood victims, whose tragedy is now a full 14 months old.

But Modi's loud announcement to a raucous gathering at Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium couldn't have more starkly contrasted with the silence outside.

Outside the bubble

modi kashmir 1

Photo: Shahid Tantray

Although no strike had been called, otherwise a customary separatist response to prime ministerial visits, the streets of Srinagar were deserted. The activity only picked up as one got closer to the venue of the rally.

Police and paramilitary personnel, on foot and in armoured vehicles, lined the roads. There were checkpoints everywhere, screening a steady, guided stream of people brought from across the valley to the cricket stadium, known more for prime ministerial rallies than for any sporting activity.

The only international cricket match played there in 1986 between India and West Indies witnessed shrill anti-India protests, booing of the Indian players and digging of the pitch. In many ways, the protest presaged the outbreak of militancy three years later.

The venue of Modi's rally was filled up with workers of ruling PDP, BJP and the People's Conference

Modi did refer to the match but eschewed its history, advocating that more international matches should be played in Srinagar, now that Kashmir had its own national cricketer in "our Parvez Rasool".

Today though, the stadium was filled to the standing room with PDP, BJP and People's Conference workers, sections of whom broke out in intermittent shouts of "Modi, Modi". But this frenetic stadium-size activity betrayed the eerie calm that had settled over Srinagar.

At Jawahar Nagar, a flood-ravaged upscale colony not far from the venue of the rally, black balloons and flags had gone up in the morning in a novel protest against the prime minister's arrival.

Crowdsourced event

modi kashmir 2

Photo: Shahid Tantray

A substantial part of the government's preparations for the visit involved gathering the crowd for the rally. The entire administration had been pressed into service to get the numbers. Such was its anxiety that the police rounded up a number of migrant labourers to make up the audience for Modi.

Ramesh Kumar from Bihar was one of them. He, however, left even before Modi arrived. Why he didn't stay? Kumar said he was allowed to leave by the police after "many Kashmiris came". "We were woken up early in the morning and asked to attend the rally. We lost a day of work," he complained.

In Kashmir, nobody seemed bothered about how the crowd was put together, they were more interested in Modi had to say. And he obliged by announcing the economic package, thereby living up to the tradition of his predecessors.

The prime minister, however, stopped well short of announcing a political initiative. Unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his historic 2003 visit, Modi did not extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan nor did he reach out to the separatists, something Mufti would have greatly wished him to do.

Labourer from Bihar: We were woken up early and told to attend Modi's rally. We lost a day of work

"I don't need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir. The three mantras of Atalji - Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat - will help in moving forward," Modi said.

"Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai (India is incomplete without Kashmiriyat). Sufi tradition emerged from this land, a tradition that has taught us oneness and the strength of unity," the prime minister continued, divesting the terms of their profound political import when understood in the context of Kashmir.

Empty rhetoric

He didn't mention Insaniyat in the sense of willingness to talk to separatists outside the ambit of the constitution, but interpreted it literally as 'humanity'. And Jamhooriyat, for him, was the large turnout in the assembly polls in the state.

While the economic package will be a big takeaway from the visit, especially for the ruling PDP, its gains will be temporary in the absence of a credible process geared to address the political causes that underpin the turmoil in the state.

Indeed, any doubt on this score was quickly dispelled by the death of Gowhar Nazir Dar, 22, in a protest at Zainakote on the outskirts of Srinagar. He was hit on the head by a teargas shell fired by the CRPF and succumbed to his injuries in hospital, soon after Modi left the state.

Now the JKLF and both Hurriyat factions led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have called a shutdown Sunday.

First published: 8 November 2015, 2:07 IST