Prime Minister’s weekend Kashmir visit is not an ordinary one. Excited over Leh polls victory, his arrival follows his parivaar using the cow issue to kill a driver and RSS having armed marches across Jammu. With state government accepting a package to rebuild flood-devastated homes, can Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed get the 2002 crowd and make Modi to follow Vajpayee, asks R S Gull
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November 7 visit is going to be extra-ordinary. Unlike past, the separatists have not called for a strike to make the security drill easy. Instead, they have called for a ‘million march’ in Srinagar, indicating the government will have to enforce some sort of restriction to make it incident free.
Modi has visited J&K seven times after becoming Prime Minister. The last one was in July when he flew to attend the centenary celebrations of Congressman Girdari Lal Dogra, his Finance Minister’s father-in-law. Apparently flying to formally inaugurate Baglihar-II, it is the timing of his visit that makes this weekend visit different.
After jumping from margins of politics to the governance of J&K, the right-wing parties in Jammu have started hitting targets using diverse systems around. The most crucial was using judicial system to impose ban on cow slaughter stringently. It did not happen because just a reference in the penal codes cannot change the food habits of a vast section of demography inhabiting the state.
But its repercussions triggered a sort of crisis. Engineer Rashid, an independent lawmaker, hosted a ‘beef party’ and hell broke loose. He was beaten in the assembly by BJP lawmakers and later on the highway right-wing elements started attacking Kashmiri trucks. Four truckers were set afire, two survived with injuries and reached home, two were grievously injured and flown to Delhi. Zahid Rasool Bhat, one of these two, died in a Delhi hospital.
Killing has always an impact and when the slain in innocent, it is a crisis. Somehow, Kashmir managed it without either an added casualty or triggering a cycle of violence that dictated the unrest of 2008 and 2010. But salvaging the crisis does not absolve J&K right-wingers from the mess they have created in a short span of time.
As the dastardly Udhampur murder was being mourned, RSS came with another surprise. Across Jammu region, its Gavnesh-attired (White shirt and khaki half-pants is the official RSS uniform and cadres know it as Gavnesh) cadres carried arms and marched on the streets. While most of the BJP ministers stayed away, J&K’s assembly speaker poet Kavinder Gupta, who holds a constitutional post, was seen part of one march. Brandishing swords and guns at several places during the march in Jammu city, this march was an unprecedented phenomenon. Named Vijay Dashmi, the march, according to RSS commemorated the 90th anniversary of RSS foundation. It started with Shastrappojan (weapon worship) and later the Pathsanchalam (procession) took off. Right-wingers said the march is a perennial event that was made different by the government primarily by some heavy-weights participating and then the cadres not being prevented from carrying their arms.
Jammu reported several such marches. These were also reported from Samba, Kathua, Udhampur, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah and many other places. It created panic in minority Muslim belts.
Even NC’s only leader who managed a rare victory in wake of massive polarization in late 2014 felt scared over “jingoistic new-found aggressive RSS activities” in the region. “Today’s march was an aggressive and arrogant display of blatant intoxication of power in a most crude manner—never-ever seen during annual marches in the past—unfolds nefarious RSS game plan which BJP cannot justify as a routine annual Dussehra activity,” said Devinder Rana, whose elder brother Dr Jintedra Singh is MoS in Delhi. “This is a considered bid to create communal polarization.”
Secular forces in J&K see the ‘aggressive march’ by RSS an effort to address its vote-bank that is feeling let-down by the coalition. There is clear dissatisfaction over the state of governance and the right-wing wants to stay aggressive to restore the lost ground. Feeling within the Parivaar is that if BJP failed to deliver as per the script this time, they may never get a chance to have such an opportunity.
Besides, the marches took place at a time when they had already wrested Leh from Congress. In the history of Leh’s Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), 2015 polls witnessed a historic slide of the Congress. Of the 26 elected members in the 30-berth house, BJP got 18 seats. While Congress was reduced to five, NC managed only two seats. Ruling PDP that was fighting against all got no seat at all.
Given the BJP has majority seats, it will not only be in a position to control the Council but will give it almost all the four members that government usually nominates to the council. Congressmen are insisting that BJP spent a lot of resources for unseating them from Ladakh. Keen watchers of Leh politics, however, insist that Parivaar used the existing hawkish sentiments in the desert to make their win.
In this situation, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed has been hard-selling the Vajpayee era. In his day long city tour last week, Mufti invoked Vajpayee at a number of places, apparently with an eye on impending Modi visit. He talked about his “big heart” in addressing Pakistan from Srinagar and also helping Kashmir government by offering a series of package to manage the critical infrastructure.
Right now, Mufti has three clear objectives in mind. Firstly, to seek Modi’s help in reducing tensions across regions, tensions which usually the right-wingers are triggering. Seemingly, that seems his idea of integrating the people of three regions so that the gap with Delhi could be bridged.
Secondly, he wants some shift in Delhi’s Pakistan policy. In his last meeting with the Prime Minister in Delhi, Mufti was clear on one thing that there is no alternative to talks with Pakistan. His assessment is clear: do what you want to do on developmental front in J&K, it will never have a positive impact unless Pakistan is on board. Mufti, according to sources close to him, is of the opinion that unless borders fall silent, the tensions will remain. He wants primarily positive engagement with Pakistan and at the same time some interaction at some level with Kashmiri separatists.
And finally, his immediate concern is a package that will help his government to manage a turnaround especially for the people who have suffered during floods. Public investment in the flood affected population has been slightly lesser than what the insurance agencies did. It has not changed anything in Kashmir and the government continues to be on the receiving end of criticism. The mess is becoming only a major issue when NC insists that PDP government failed in following up the Rs 44000 crore memorandums that they had submitted to Delhi.
While the state and the central government departments have negotiated almost for three months about the package that Modi is expected to announce in Srinagar, the government is still unsure about the quantum. Though at one stage, it was closed at around Rs 112 lakh crore, the subsequent figures coming from Delhi suggest the quantum of the package has gone down initially to Rs 92000 crore and then to around Rs 81000 crores.
Everybody in secretariat is aware that this package will not be different from the earlier packages because the central government has retained the tradition of bundling public expenditure on specific central government projects into a package. This will happen this time also. But the state expects that the quantum of cash transfers to the state government is at par with that of Dr Manmohan Singh’s PMRP. With that package, J&K government did many things including completing Baglihar phase-I. But this time the issue is managing the flood devastated Kashmir.
Government and the two coalition partners are expected to manage good audience for Modi in Srinagar. But neither of them is in a position to tell if at all they will get from PMO what they have suggested. That unpredictability adds another dimension to the extra-ordinary nature of Modi sojourn in Srinagar.