More than a month after Kashmir erupted in violence, which has claimed more than 50 lives so far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence.Disappointingly, he did not break with the established script on Kashmir. Speaking at the inauguration of the "Azadi 70 Saal – Yaad Karo Qurbani" programme in Madhya Pradesh, he said the Centre would try to find a solution to the Kashmir issue "through development". He expressed pain that youth who should be armed with laptops and cricket bats had stones in their hands instead. He also name-tagged former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and said the Centre would follow his mantra of "insaniyat, jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat".
The Vajpayee years are now remembered as a golden era in the history of the Kashmir peace process, and it has become customary for governments to invoke the former prime minister when speaking of the conflict-ridden state. But few successive governments have gone the distance that Vajpayee did in his search for a solution to the Kashmir dispute. This government certainly falls short on at least three counts.
First, in the April 2003 address that went down in history as the "Good Friday" speech, Vajpayee spoke of a willingness to solve all problems, "domestic" and "external". In a speech addressed to Kashmiris, he even spoke of extending a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan, tacitly acknowledging the international nature of the problem. The current National Democratic Alliance government has spent its energies on batting Pakistan away, thundering that the Kashmir issue remained an "internal matter".
Second, under the Vajpayee regime, the Centre reached out to separatists, inviting them to the table for talks. It was a bold move, though it ended in tragedy as separatist leaders who talked to government were shot down and militant factions launched attacks in protest. Crucially, the Centre under Vajpayee looked willing to engage with all shades of public opinion in Kashmir. The Modi government, in contrast, has given separatists a wide berth, drawing red lines where none existed. It even called off talks with Pakistan because officials from Islamabad met separatist leaders on the eve of bilateral engagements. Only now, after a month of violence, does the government indicate that it might reach out to leaders of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
Finally, Vajpayee spoke of airports, railway lines and employment, markers of development that were sorely needed in the strife torn state. But he also recognised the Kashmir dispute as a political problem that needed a political solution. By reducing the protests in the streets of Kashmir to a hunger for economic development, Modi greatly misreads the situation. By refusing to acknowledge that there may be a problem with the political status quo on Kashmir, Modi shows he is yet to attain the political maturity of a Vajpayee on Kashmir.
The Article First Appeared HERE
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