e run-up to the Independence Day was as usual tense in Kashmir. As the day began drawing nearer, security restrictions increased. Besides highways, security checks were set up along the roads deep into the interiors of both urban and rural Kashmir, creating a deep sense of tension and foreboding in the air. But all this heaviness largely eased off as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked of embracing Kashmiris in his I-Day speech.
“Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagaane se (Kashmir’s problems can be solved only with embracing the people of Kashmir, not with bullets or abuses),” Modi said.
Few people in Kashmir expected the PM to reach out – least of all in emotional terms – after the iron-fisted, security-centred policy towards the state that has been followed by his government so far. It seemed to have even caught Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti unprepared. Mehbooba rushed to welcome it after a combative Independence Day speech in which she tried to assuage the anxieties in Kashmir about the apprehended repeal of the Article 35A and also cautioned the Centre about any change in the law.
“I have all along believed that dialogue and peaceful means only can help in resolving issues as the futility of violence has been established all around,” Mehbooba said in response to Modi’s message.
“The slogan ‘na bandook se na goli se, baat banay gi boli se’ coined by our party more than fifteen years ago is as relevant today as it was then,” she added.
Earlier, in her Independence Day speech Mehbooba had expressed a blend of optimism and apprehension about the future of the state subject law, hoping that the Supreme Court would dismiss the petition as it has done in the past. She also let it be known on the question of the J&K’s special status, that all Kashmiri parties would close their ranks forgetting their “power battles and ideological differences”.
Omar Abdullah who in recent weeks has set himself up as the most vocal defender of the Article 35A also welcomed the PM’s statement.
Similarly, separatists too welcomed Modi’s speech – albeit no such statement was issued in the name of the Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz. But Mirwaiz tweeted from his own handle –
Modi’s statement is also being debated by the civil society groups and the larger society on social media. Whatsapp groups have witnessed a vigorous discussion and analysis of the PM’s outreach. But all the discussion has more or less weighed Modi’s words in the light of the ongoing debate on Article 35A and what the PM’s message of love means about the continuation or otherwise of the law.
“PM’s message has certainly eased the growing concerns about New Delhi’s policies towards the state. But at the same time it is a cryptic message, more of a goodwill gesture than a substantive policy statement,” says Naseer Ahmad, a local journalist.
“The biggest issue Kashmir is facing at this time is the deep public anxiety about the Article 35A. Modi’s message hardly calms the frayed nerves. It says nothing about the Centre’s commitment to the continuation of J&K’s special status,” Ahmad added.
In a statement to the press following her recent meeting with the PM, Mehbooba had told the media that she had been assured of the central government’s commitment to J&K’s special position in the Indian Union.
“But so far neither the PMO nor any senior government functionary has publicly voiced support for Article 35A,” says political commentator Gowhar Geelani.
“And the PM’s message also doesn’t help make things clear. It is, in fact, addressed to the Indians outside the state rather than Kashmiris themselves. Kashmiris certainly need some warmth from people across the country but there are some pressing issues in the state that need resolving,” Geelani said.
For Kashmir observers, Modi’s statement is from the same block as New Delhi’s current policy on the state which, it is argued, is not invested in the resolution of the issue.
“Basically, PM said nothing. He has just made a feel-good statement. That is all. There is no commitment to the state’s special status, no commitment to dialogue and no signal that the centre wants a resolution of the festering issue,” said Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender.
“The immediate test of the PM’s intentions will be how the centre responds to the petitions against Article 35A in Supreme Court. This is what is currently keeping the Valley on edge,” Parvez added.