Modi’s Vajpayee Opportunity in Kashmir

As Kashmir prepares for the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 7 and address a rally at Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium, the media build up to it bears an uncanny resemblance to the visit to Valley of his towering predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee on April 17, 2003. In throes of militancy at the time, Kashmir looked forward to Vajpayee, not only for a development package but also for a credible political initiative to address Kashmir. And then as now, the Indo-Pak relations were in deep freeze. Vajpayee didn’t despair people. He did announce a package – albeit a substantial chunk of it comprised India’s defense-related expenditure in the state – he also extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. Addressing a massive gathering at Sher-i-Kashmir Park, the venue where Modi is also going to speak, Vajpayee also offered dialogue to separatist groups and “decisive” talks with Pakistan to settle Kashmir.

Waxing lyrical, Vajpayee promised “the flowers will bloom again and the nightingales will return, chirping,” quoting Mehjoor. Though Vajpayee didn’t last long in power thereafter, losing to Congress in the subsequent Lok Sabha polls, the initiatives unveiled by him didn’t die with him. His successor Dr Manmohan Singh seized on them to start sustained negotiations with Pakistan which almost culminated into a resolution of Kashmir.  The then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s untimely exit  from the scene, following lawyers’ agitation, ended what was one of the most promising talks process between the two countries.  The book Neither a Hawk, Nor a Dove penned  by the then Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri reveals in elaborate detail the contours of a pragmatic Kashmir solution that was envisaged. Post Musharraf, the talks between India and Pakistan have hobbled along, never achieving the seriousness and consistency of Musharraf-Manmohan era.  

Today as we look forward to the visit of PM Modi, Kashmir is experiencing both, a sense of de javu and that of hope. The situation that prevailed in the state in the run up to Vajpayee’s visit hasn’t changed much – albeit the Indo-Pak dialogue through 2003-07 had suffused the atmosphere with some optimism.  Modi’s visit is therefore an event pregnant with big possibilities. He can either chose to realize them or play safe and stick to the straitjacket of his Hindutva politics.  But until he actually arrives and reveals his plans, Kashmir will continue to hope for a positive departure from his policy on the state and Pakistan so far. The Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has fanned further the public expectations by heaping lavish praise on Modi, calling him inclusive and “toofan ka aadmi”. Mufti for a good measure has also invoked Vajpayee to enhance the significance of the Modi visit. Mufti certainly has his own reasons to say so. Eight months of his coalition with BJP have turned out contrary to public expectations.  Kashmir has witnessed both, an economic and political stalemate. The expected rehabilitation package, one of the single most redeeming feature of the coalition, has not materialized which has caused a drastic decline in PDP’s public support.   The growing intolerance in the country and attacks against minorities have only added to the party’s woes, with people increasingly questioning its decision to ally with a party whose ideology sanctions hate against Muslims. Mufti knows that only Modi can reverse this unhelpful state of affairs.  But will Modi live up to the enormous expectations pinned on his visit to the state?  His record so far hardly gives any cause for confidence. But here is hoping that he proves us all wrong.


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