On 8 December, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi rose to speak at the Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar and the audience burst into a round of applause, it capped two years of his intense involvement with Jammu and Kashmir, which began with his anointment in June 2013 as the BJP’s chief election campaigner.
Soon, Modi held his first rally at Madhopur, on the J&K-Punjab border. Madhopur was the site of the fateful 11 May 1953 speech by Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee while he was on his way to violate the permit system that put hurdles on Indians entering the state. The then J&K prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah, arrested and put Mookerjee in jail, where he died on 23 June 1953.
Subsequently, Modi moved into the state with two rallies in Jammu province in the run-up to the General Election, a strategy that further burnished his nationalist credentials and also helped consolidate the non-Muslim vote in Jammu and Kashmir, which helped the BJP win an unprecedented three of the six Lok Sabha seats.
After he became the prime minister, Modi has paid monthly visits to the state, initially to Jammu and Ladakh as his major destinations and then to the Kashmir Valley, the heart of the lingering 25-year-long political turmoil.
He visited the Valley first during the flood, then Diwali and now to address a full-fledged election rally in Srinagar itself, an event steeped in political and symbolic significance. Not the least so for the venue, the Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, where it was held.
In 1983, it was here that spectators shouting pro-Pakistan slogans marred the inaugural one-day international match between India and West Indies, forcing the authorities to call off the match.
Though no international cricket match has since been played at the stadium, the ground has become a safe haven for high-profile political speeches by successive prime ministers, beginning with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. Vajpayee’s address is famous for his dramatic offer of the hand of friendship to Pakistan following the 1999 Kargil War.
This was followed by a speech by Manmohan Singh in 2005, which too was tinged with references to the political conflict over the state. Manmohan’s rally was held in the backdrop of the talks on Kashmir with the then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. Manmohan was in the Valley to flag off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.
But Modi, third in the line, delivered his speech in a qualitatively transformed context: in the wake of the drastically diminished militancy and the ongoing highest polling in the state since the rigged 1987 election, which had pushed the Valley towards a violent separatist movement.
While Vajpayee and Manmohan talked in terms of a solution to the political conflict in the state, Modi eschewed even a remote mention of this need. What is more, Modi did not even lash out at Pakistan, which he was otherwise expected to do in the wake of the Uri attack that killed 11 securitymen, including a Lieutenant Colonel. Modi also did not bring up Article 370, nor did he shout the otherwise template political rally slogans such as Bharat Mata Ki Jai or Jai Hind. He did not refer to separatists and the need to engage them either.
What he did talk about was “Vajpayee’s dream” for the state. And by this he meant the all-round development of J&K — his trump card from his campaign in the General Election and the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. “My dream is to bring development and prosperity to Kashmir,” Modi said. “If Kutch can become the fastest growing region of India, why not Kashmir, which is so richly endowed?”
But this is not how Vajpayee’s dream for J&K is understood in Kashmir. The people in the state see his term in office as synonymous with a determined effort to resolve the Kashmir issue. It was he who took the bus to Pakistan in 1998 to sign the Lahore declaration with his then counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The declaration reaffirmed the commitment of India and Pakistan to the resolution of the Kashmir issue. And it was Vajpayee who renewed the engagement with Musharraf after the Kargil War and a year-long border stand-off following the attack on Parliament.
Vajpayee had also started an institutionalised dialogue with the moderate separatists led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and allowed them to be a part of a triangular dialogue — India-Pakistan, New Delhi-Hurriyat and Islamabad-Hurriyat — to resolve the Kashmir issue. The dialogue with Hurriyat was held under the ambit of Insaniyat (humanity) to obviate the contested requirement of holding it within the framework of the Constitution. What is more, Vajpayee-led BJP never talked so aggressively about abrogating Article 370.
but modi, though always tracing the pedigree of his Kashmir policy to Vajpayee’s vision, has none of its political elements. He has consistently refused to acknowledge Kashmir as a political issue that requires resolution, a fact also underlined by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his recent interaction with the intelligentsia in Kashmir.
“One thing I will make clear is that all the people living in the country will have to accept that J&K is an integral part of this country,” he said. “Our thinking has changed. People who want to shun separatism and join the mainstream to strengthen this country are welcome.”
Modi has stressed economic development as the panacea for all the state’s ills. He has promised to harness the tourism and hydropower sectors to put J&K on the road to prosperity.
His idea of the main problem in J&K is the dynastic rule and rampant corruption, which he wants to address if his ambitious Mission 44 + bid to rule the state succeeds.
The only concession that he has offered so far is soft-pedalling his party’s long-standing agenda to revoke Article 370, the only barrier to the complete merger of Kashmir into India.
What Vajpayee Did
• Took a bus to Lahore in 1998 to hold talks with Nawaz Sharif to find a political common ground on a solution to the Kashmir issue
• Renewed engagement with Pervez Musharraf following the 1999 Kargil War and the 2001 attacks on the J&K Assembly and Parliament
• Devised the ambit of Insaniyat to obviate the contested requirement of holding talks with separatists within the framework of the Constitution
• Held talks with moderate Hurriyat leaders and allowed them to be a part of an institutionalised triangular dialogue — India-Pakistan, New Delhi-Hurriyat and Islamabad-Hurriyat — to resolve the Kashmir issue
• Never talked of abrogating Article 370
What Modi is doing
• Refuses to talk to Pakistan unless it gives up holding prior consultations with Hurriyat leaders
• Does not acknowledge, let alone talk to Hurriyat leaders
• Stresses economic development as a panacea for all ills in J&K
• Promises to harness tourism and hydropower to put J&K on the road to prosperity
• Says the problem in J&K is of dynastic rule and rampant corruption, which he wants to address through an aggressive Mission 44 + bid to come to power
• Soft-pedals abrogation of Article 370