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#PMVisit: Mufti desperately needs Modi to do a Vajpayee. Will he oblige?

Gowhar Geelani | Updated on: 7 November 2015, 10:50 IST

The visit

  • Narendra Modi will address a rally in Srinagar on 7 November
  • The Hurriyat has called for a Million March the same day
  • The state is out to make Mod\'s rally a success, foil Hurriyat\'s

The hope

  • Mufti Sayeed, under fire for allying with BJP, wants a \"politico-economic\" package
  • Many people would settle for an adequate flood rehabilitation package
  • The separatist leaders want nothing less than meaningful dialogue

Narendra Modi is coming to Kashmir on 7 November and the government is going out of its way to make the visit a success.

Mufti Sayeed is showering praise on the prime minister every chance he gets and has deployed the state apparatus to foil the Million March called by the Hurriyat the same day.

Worryingly for the chief minister, Modi will be a hard sell to Kashmiris.

Sayeed's PDP had allied with the BJP after last year's assembly election - despite seeking votes to "defeat the BJP's Mission 44+" - claiming it would help bring about "development", "good governance" and "reconciliation with Pakistan".

Read: One year after the floods, a deluge of despair in Kashmir

More important, the alliance was sold as necessary to ensure a generous relief and rehabilitation package for victims of last year's devastating flood.

Such a package never came, costing Sayeed and his party much personal and political capital with the public.

Now wonder, Sayeed has high expectations from Modi's latest visit, as, indeed, does a large section of valley's populations.

The people primarily want an adequate rehabilitation package for the flood victims. But the PDP is hoping for a comprehensive "politico-economic" package to address both the state's financial anxieties and political aspirations.

Carrying a burden of expectations

To this end, Sayeed has been reminding Modi of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's momentous move of extending "a hand of friendship" to Pakistan from Kashmir in 2003 and offering unconditional dialogue to the Hurriyat under "the ambit of humanism", a reference point in the state's recent political narrative.

"The good thing is that on Kashmir, the PM doesn't just rely on IB reports. He talks to the RSS, gets feedback from them. He sees that Mufti is serious, that my government is working hard," Sayeed said in an interview to The Times of India recently.

"That's why he's coming. Like Vajpayee came in 2003, gave a package and reached out to Pakistan. Coming to Kashmir is an opportunity for Modi."

Sayeed desperately needs Modi to come up to the expectations. He's facing sustained criticism from the both the mainstream National Conference and the Congress as well as the separatists for joining hands with the BJP. And the recent incidents of communal hatred in Kashmir and elsewhere in India hasn't helped his case.

In 2003, Vajpayee gave a package and reached out to Pakistan. This is an opportunity for Modi: Mufti

Perhaps, that's why the chief minister is taking pains to claim "Modi is not communal", that "he'll rein in the loose cannons", and that he's the right person to lead India.

"There's no alternative to Modi and I am convinced he too wants to come out of a narrow political position and move towards economic development and political reconciliation. He has to be inclusive and he has to reach out to Pakistan, he has no choice," Sayeed insists.

Sayeed himself had promised to allow space for dissent in Kashmir and initiate a dialogue with the Hurriyat, proudly reiterating that "democracy is a battle of ideas".

In an interview to this reporter early this year, the chief minister had claimed that the PDP's partnership with the BJP would be a "paradigm shift" in the state's history.

Cracking down on dissent

But the policies of his government, since March at least, have made a joke of the "battle of ideas".

It has cracked down on freedom of expression and freedom of movement with abandon, and even shut down internet several times, including for the three days of Eid-ul-Azha in late September. This was done, presumably, to prevent social unrest over the beef ban controversy.

And now, his government is out to foil the Million March. Most separatist leaders and political activists have either been detained or arrested. JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been locked up in Kothibagh jail; Asiya Andrabi was arrested in a late night raid Monday; Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani, who called for the march, have been placed under house arrest.

Also read- Space for protest has shrunk, so youth are picking up the gun: Yasin Malik

The venue of Modi's rally, the Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium, has been turned into a garrison.

Sources in the police confirmed to Catch that about "600 separatists" and "11 pages on Facebook" have been "listed". Internet-savvy Kashmiris have been promoting the march on Facebook - 'Srinagar Million March', 'Million March TRC Chalo', 'Million March to TRC Srinagar, Kashmir' -- and Twitter, urging people to attend.

But the police insists "it is not a crackdown on separatists or the internet". "The cyber police are only bringing down certain pages on Facebook, which are indulging in anti-national and anti-social activities, and we have to maintain law and order," says an officer.

What happened to 'battle of ideas'?

The hypocrisy hasn't gone unnoticed. "The name of democracy is often used by the state to justify its suppression of rights of individuals and the collective," says Dibyesh Anand, head, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster, UK.

"Democracy is used by people to hold the state accountable and to assert rights. Given the immense power the police have in Kashmir, it is odd to see the government being hyper-anxious in protecting Modi from the sight and news of counter-demonstrations," he adds.

Anand says banning the Million March only "illustrates the failure of the government to respect a basic tenet of democracy, the right to dissent without fear".

"The BJP is presiding over the creation of a majoritarian democracy in India, where minorities and dissenters get marginalised and bullied and the PDP is aiding the BJP in this through its alliance and public statements of support," he adds.

Syed Ali Geelani says the PDP-BJP regime has no "moral, constitutional and legal justification" to stop the the proposed march.

'Ban on Million March disrespects a basic tenet of democracy - the right to dissent without fear'

"If communal and non-state subjects like Narendra Modi can hold rallies in Kashmir, why are the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir barred from doing the same?" he asks. "Kashmiris do not want any economic packages from India. They are involved in a just political struggle for a 'political package' - the right to self-determination."

The crackdown has prompted the Kashmir High Court Bar Association as well as human rights activists to come out in support of the march.

"I will be one amongst the million in the 7th November TRC Srinagar €ŽMillionMarch. Will you be the one among million?" Khurram Parvez, coordinator of the the J&K Coalition of Civil Society, announced on Facebook.

Sajad Sheikh, who unsuccessfully contested last year's assembly election from Sopore, has signed a petition on Change.org asking the government to allow the 'Million March'.

"See, Mufti Sahib came to power and talked about democracy being a 'battle of ideas'. Now please tell me why Geelani Sahib shouldn't be allowed to organise a peaceful march to mobilise public opinion and express his legitimate political opinion?" Sheikh tells Catch.

"If Geelani Sahib is a free man, it is the state's responsibility to ensure that both rallies are allowed in a peaceful manner. The law and order should not be made an excuse to deny political and democratic rights."

Sheikh claims his petition has got over 600 signatures in less than 48 hours.

For the greater common good?

Defending the crackdown on the separatist leadership, PDP leader Waheed Ur Rehman Parra says the state "can't afford to have law and order problems" at a "critical juncture" when it's expecting a "big political and developmental package" from Modi.

"What is the point of having this Million March on the same day? Well, the PDP is not against freedom of Hurriyat leaders. Our main concern at the moment is rehabilitation of the flood victims and political reconciliation. Our alliance with the BJP needs moral assistance," he says.

"At a time when there is communal tension in the country, having a coalition government in the Muslim majority state of J&K is indeed a feather in Modi's cap."

Not everybody is buying it though. Suhail Masoodi, director of the Centre for Research and Policy Development, insists that "the PDP-BJP partnership poses a serious threat to Kashmiri identity."

"This government has not brought any development. The PDP-BJP partnership also raises serious questions about the state's political and economic stability. This scepticism is growing with each passing day," Masoodi says.

Will Modi prove the sceptics wrong and deliver on the expectations? Or is the visit to this Muslim majority state going to be just an advert for Modi's "secular credentials", as many fear. Let's see.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

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First published: 7 November 2015, 9:01 IST
Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist, commentator and political analyst from Srinagar. He was formerly with Deutsche Welle, Germany.