Some Glad Tidings at Last

Past few days have witnessed two game-changing developments in Kashmir and the rest of the country, which has ushered in a new political discourse. First Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the economic package for J&K thereby fulfilling the PDP-BJP coalition’s much flaunted promise – albeit after an inordinate delay of eight months.  And second, the humiliating loss of BJP in Bihar to Lalu-Nitish Grand Alliance has once again rewritten India’s political landscape.

The economic package of Rs 80,000 crore with a small component of aid for the flood-hit  has come as a big boost for an otherwise flailing PDP-BJP coalition. In the absence of a generous development dole, which had emerged as the sole redeeming feature of the ideologically antagonistic alliance, the questions were beginning to be asked in Valley about the PDP’s decision to ally with BJP. More so, with Hindutva-inspired religious intolerance in India now spilling over into Kashmir, leading to lynching of a Kashmiri trucker at Udhampur by the right-wing Hindu elements. But the package has certainly made a difference – even if a part of it may be the repackaging of the old or existing development schemes for the state. And even if the package may not have come topped up with a political initiative to address Kashmir.

Modi refused to take Mufti’s advice to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan, nor did he offer talks to the separatists groups. But despite this the package has lost none of its sheen. Reason for this is that the discourse about the PDP-BJP coalition had become so package-centric that it had acquired a political dimension of its own. People in J&K, more so in Valley, hardly expected Modi to initiate a serious political dialogue on Kashmir. BJP’s policy towards Pakistan over the past year has left no one in doubt on this score. The cancellation of the scheduled talks twice and BJP’s reneging on the political commitments in its Agenda of Alliance with PDP had brought the expectations about a Kashmir-centric political initiative down to zero. This had persuaded the majority of people in J&K to look at a development package as the only realistic expectation from the alliance.

Now about Bihar election outcome: The loss of Modi in the state has been a cathartic experience for a large swathe of population in India. The stranglehold of Sangh Parivar over the country has drastically eased if not broken. And Modi, until Saturday, the all-powerful pan-India leader, has suddenly become politically vulnerable. The loss comes right after BJP’S defeat early this year to Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi and thus once again attests to the waning charisma of the Prime Minister. What the Bihar outcome has also proved and reassuringly so is that a predominant majority in India is not intolerant, nor essentially communal. And that it is just the lunatic fringe which with some state patronage had tried to usurp the mainstream.

The two developments – the economic package and the BJP’s Bihar loss – will certainly leave a profound impact on the situation in J&K. It could return some political confidence to PDP. It will open a little more manoeuvring space for the party to hold BJP up to its commitments in the Agenda of Alliance. Similarly Modi could be expected to do some course correction and veer away from the bellicose Hindutva discourse to his core campaign promise of the development. Here is hoping this constructive change does come through and spills over into J&K too.

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