The hope, hype and reality of Modi’s Kashmir visit

Prime Minister Modi is slated to visit Kashmir on the 7th of November, 2015.  On the eve of his visit, Srinagar city and its environs look like a garrison city-heavily barricaded and manned by security personnel, presumably with men in mufti too scouting the streets. The separatists who called for a million marches to protest against Modi’s visit have been imprisoned and the state has gone on an overdrive to make Modi’s visit successful and uneventful. Modi’s visit, it needs to be stated and even stressed upon comes almost after 13 months since devastating floods hit Kashmir. The November 7 visit is the sequel to a visit he made to Kashmir while campaigning in 2014.

There are a few interrelated themes that form the context and backdrop to Modi’s Kashmir visit.  All have a bearing on Kashmir. The first one is generic: Modi and the party he heads, the BJP, campaigned on and gained a massive mandate on the plank of development and good governance. Whether this plank constituted a fig leaf for a more insidious agenda or not need not detain us here. We will take this ostensible or stated agenda of the BJP at face value. Second, the electoral victory of the BJP constituted a watershed for India: the Congress party which had ruled India for decades in its post independent history was almost wiped out. The Congress stood for (whether its commitment was real or notional) for an Idea of India that was inclusive and secular. The BJP, au contraire, made no bones about its Idea of India-a Hindu nation that should reflect this ‘reality’. Third, a theme peculiar to Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP entered into a coalition with the PDP- a regional party that won the most number of seats in the state. While both parties-the BJP and the PDP- had different and differing agendas, the two came together and cobbled up an alliance under the rubric of what they called ,’ The Agenda for Alliance’.

Things have not worked too smoothly for the coalition partners since they assumed office. Disaffection in Kashmir with the coalition government has been mounting since the government was formed. The beef ban controversy, the killing of a Kashmiri trucker at Udhampur addled the government among other things. This was lent poignancy by the delaying of the much hyped post flood financial package for Kashmir. Amidst this churn comes the Modi visit: a visit where it is widely expected that the Prime Minister will announce the much needed financial package for Kashmir. Politically, this may or may not be the game changer for the PDP-BJP coalition government. The coalition may be able to cannibalize the financial package and reap political dividends-at least for and in the short term.

But, contra the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, it is the long term that matters. Ignoring for a moment the conflictual dynamic of Kashmir, will the anticipated financial package, ameliorate the economic condition of Kashmiris and lead to broad based and sustainable development in Kashmir? The answer is, it depends. That is, it is iffy. We do not as of now; know neither the contours of the anticipated package nor its components. Kashmir’s economy is a primitive economy with ingress of modern features. Our agricultural sector is dying and so is our handicrafts sector on account of structural reasons that may be beyond redemption. This leaves a few tertiary sectors like horticulture and tourism as perhaps the mainstays of our economy. The major economic problem for Kashmir contemporarily is unemployment. The horticulture sector can but absorb only a miniscule portion of Kashmir’s educated unemployed and tourism is a seasonal industry also prone to the vagaries of the conflict in and over Kashmir. This leaves infrastructural development as another sector that may be the focus of the package. But there is such a massive infrastructural deficit in Kashmir that anything other than a huge and massive fiscal and financial stimulus can only amount to tinkering. Moreover, there is also the aspect of capturing the pie, to use a metaphor by influential or politically connected people in Kashmir. The financial package may be captured by this section of society with minimum benefits percolating and trickling down to those who need it the most: the vulnerable sections of Kashmiri society. Or, the package could be politicized and used merely as patronage and pork barrel politics.  The dangers elaborated here are real. Can they be obviated?

Possibly but this would call for thinking beyond the short or even the medium term. And it would entail a wholesale and total revamp and rejigg of Kashmir’s economy and political economy and align it with contemporary realities. It is then that financial packages may work and redound to the benefit of all sections of Kashmiri society. All other measures would amount to interim relief and at best be ameliorative but not curative. Last but not the least, financial packages are well and good but what Kashmir really needs is a political package that, to use a cliché, grasps the nettles and put Kashmir on the pedestal of peace. Prosperity and peace go together. One cannot come at the expense of the other. Both peace and real prosperity can descend on Kashmir once a robust conflict resolution paradigm that involves , engages and takes into consideration the concerns of all stakeholders is instituted. Will this be part of the agenda of Modi’s Kashmir visit? We shall come to know soon.

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