Home minister Amit Shah’s two-day visit to Kashmir was mainly focussed on development and security, particularly the upcoming Amarnath Yatra which is due to begin on July 1. Shah’s choice of J&K as the destination for his first visit to a state as the home minister is significant. Incidentally the first bill introduced by him in parliament was also on Kashmir. On June 21, he tabled in parliament a bill to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004. Once passed the bill will pave way for the people living near the International Border in J&K to get benefits of reservation in jobs, promotion and educational institutions. The bill has become controversial in J&K, not because people are against such reservation but because of the mode of its implementation entailing amendment to Article 370.
However, during his visit to the state, the home minister strictly avoided the contentious issues and concentrated on development and security. He emphasised the security of the yatra and directed all security agencies to take all preventive steps to ensure violence free pilgrimage. At the same time, Shah called for strict enforcement of the SOPs and directed senior officers to personally supervise the arrangements. The second meeting that he chaired was about review of development schemes and various projects sponsored by the Government of India. He made it clear that he will constantly monitor the progress on development projects to be taken up or already underway in the state.
However, more than his engagements in the state, it is the context, circumstances and the Shah’s person himself that made the visit a conspicuous event. Shah is the most powerful man in the country after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, he is the defacto number two in the government and therefore has a strong say in how the government is run. And this was also reflected in in his reception at the Srinagar airport by the Governor Satya Pal Malik. Breaking protocol, Governor along with his advisors and the top administrative and security brass welcomed Shah at the airport.
This is why the home minister’s silence about the contentious subjects of Article 370 and 35A will be welcomed in Valley. Kashmir has been on edge ever since the BJP returned to power at the centre fearing the party will now take steps to withdraw the constitutional safeguards guaranteed to the state under Articles 370 and 35A as promised by the party during its election campaign. But that the home minister steered clear of them has reassured people. And that is one of the biggest CBMs of this visit.