OTHER OPINION: Kashmir needs more

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The words “inasaniyat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” uttered by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he was prime minister to promise that these would guide his government’s approach in dealing with the Kashmir issue, had such a magical effect on the people of Kashmir that the phrase is now known in the Valley as the “Vajpayee formula”. This is especially so since he also followed it up with political outreach in both Kashmir and Pakistan. Yet, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised from a public meeting in Madhya Pradesh that his government would follow the same formula, it sounded like a tired cliche. The reasons are not far to see: Modi’s words came a full month after Kashmir erupted in anger over the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, during which period 50 people have been killed and several maimed for life; the words were prised out of the PM by the pushing and prodding of opposition parties and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti; but most importantly because the PM seemed to have missed the point entirely.

Prime Minister Modi said he would like to see laptops, cricket balls and bats in the hands of Kashmiri children rather than stones, and asked Kashmiris to grow more apples because everyone in India waited for them; he congratulated the government for keeping the Amarnath yatra going and spoke about how it helped the local economy; and promised that even if there was no money in the rest of the country for roads, Kashmiris would not be allowed to feel it. But the rage in Kashmir today is not about the poor shape of its economy, nor is it about apples and roads or laptops and cricket. It is the cumulative anger of years over the absence of engagement with Kashmiris on the political questions. Alienation is what it is called. On Wednesday, the government said it was ready to initiate political dialogue with mainstream political parties, “moderates” and “other organisations” in J&K and it has convened an all-party meeting on Friday. It remains to be seen if this is only more crisis management or a signal that the government has a political plan.

For sure Kashmir’s economy is suffering. Markets have remained closed and tourists have stopped flocking since the unrest boiled over in the first week of July. The protests may yet to reach the end of their course from the sheer exhaustion of the people, and this may be just what the government is waiting for. But so long as the Centre does not address the underlying political issues, the summer of 2016 will replay again, just as what is happening now is a replay 2010, and that in turn was a replay of 2008.

The Article First Appeared in The Indian Express

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