As Modi is elevated to the highest seat of power in India, Kashmir is keeping its fingers crossed. Safwat Zargar revisits history to trace Modi’s connection with Kashmir
India’s Republic Day in 1992 witnessed a strict curfew enforcing an eerie silence in Kashmir valley. The presence of hundreds of young rebels had made the security grid in the state panicky. Adding to their uneasiness was the announcement of Bharatiya Janta Party President’s march for “Unity.” The deserted streets of Lal Chowk were painting a mourning picture with paramilitary forces dotting the landscape.
During the intervening night, an AN-32 Indian Air Force has ferried Murli Manohar Joshi and his entourage to Kashmir valley for the culmination of Ekta Yatra. Fearing to become a target for rebels in the darkness, the group decided to spend the night in a Border Security Forces (BSF) mess near Airport in Srinagar outskirts.
Among the few who are accompanying Murli Manohar Joshi – president of Hindu Nationalist party BJP – is his close aide Lal Krishna Advani and a young BJP female activist Uma Bharti. The ‘Journey for unity’ has been organized by a 42-year old man, with unevenly black hair, and bushy moustaches – Narendra Damodardas Modi.
On the morning of 26 January, 1992, the group reached the deserted heart of Srinagar city. The 67 BJP men encircled by BSF men walked down the Residency Road toward Ghanta Ghar holding the tri-colour, chanting feeble slogans, “Vande Mataram (Hail Mother India).”
Near the clock tower – where Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in a historic speech in 1948 had promised a referendum to Kashmiri people to decide their political future – the experience of hoisting the Indian flag was short-lived as the flag carried by Joshi from Kanyakumari fell down on his head with its poles snapping into two – a bad omen in the political lexicon of Hindu nationalist party. Finally, Joshi had to comply with the flag of J&K state, reported Harinder Baweja in India Today in January 1992.
The event lasted exactly for 12 minutes. By evening, Advani, Joshi and Modi were back in their Jammu hotel. But the man behind the curtains who was responsible for organizing the 15000 Kilometer long yatra from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir, had already scored a point.
While it was the pre-poll fervor of 2014 Lok Sabha elections and his controversial ‘past’ which had rocketed up BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate and to be prime minister of India, Narendra Modi to the limelight, he is not a stranger when it comes to his relation with Jammu and Kashmir. Though being a resident of Gujarat, who used to wander in the mountains of Himalayas for years, didn’t stop him from overlooking the panoramic valley of Kashmir. Modi, an active member of Bharatiya Janta Party, was involved in many “measures” taken up by Hindu nationalist party as a mobilization drive for a larger Hindutva state in the violence torn region of Kashmir.
It was the earliest connection of Modi with Kashmir when he organized the controversial Ekta Yatra (Journey for Unity) led by former BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. The journey had culminated in a tide of Hindu nationalism sweeping almost whole India, which was finally manifested with the BJP’s coming in power – though not with full majority – at the centre in 1998.
In November 1995, Modi was elected National Secretary of BJP in-charge for Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. After the government formed by a coalition of regional parties at the centre in 1996 breathed its last in 1998, with the announcement of mid-term polls, Modi was promoted to the post of General Secretary in-charge J&K (Organization) of the BJP in May 1998, which he held till 2001. During his tenure as secretary, Modi’s politics revolved around Jammu and Pandit politics.
“Modi has been very active in J&K,” says Altaf Thakur, BJP spokesperson for Kashmir province. “He understands Kashmir very well and Kashmir is among his top priorities.”
Modi’s seriousness about Kashmir, according to Thakur, can be gauged from the fact that Modi has created a Kashmir Study Group at ‘national level’. “The group is working since last two years and has members from across India,” he says.
“Modi wants to develop J&K as a medicinal state, as the state has huge vegetation of medicinal plants and herbs,” says Thakur, “He wants to cater to the unemployment in Kashmir.”
“The party line is that J&K is an integral part of India but under the provisions of Insaaf, Insaaniyat aur Jamuriyat (Justice, Humanity and Democracy), BJP is ready to solve all the issues and problems of Kashmiri people,” he adds.
Modi was one of the main figures of BJP who had visited the Chittisinghpora area of South Kashmir in March 2000 after 36 Sikhs were gunned down by unidentified gunmen wearing army fatigues and who spoke in Hindi. Gyani Rajinder Singh, a member of the Gurduwara Prabhandak Committee Chittisinghpora, recalls Modi’s visit to the village as a ‘sympathizer.’ “Yes, Modi came here and addressed us for three-four minutes. He had come to pay his condolences and offer prayers for those killed in the massacre.”
However, the journalists who covered the event in 2000 remember Modi’s speech at Chittisinghpora as “aggressive.” “He was very aggressive and spoke against everything. He denounced militancy in Kashmir,” says a senior Kashmiri journalist, who has reported Kashmir for nearly three decades.
In 2000, when National Conference patron and then chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah passed a resolution on autonomy in J&K Legislative Assembly, Modi was one of the key figures with whom the resolution didn’t go well. “Since it was the NDA which was ruling at the centre, he played a key role in the rejection of NC’s autonomy resolution by Government of India,” says the senior journalist.
“For Modi, Kashmir is more important than it was for Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” says former BJP MLA from Jammu, Ashok Kumar Khajuria. “He has a full-fledged blue print for J&K and he has travelled to each and every corner of the state,” says Khajuria.
“Modi has a direct and clear policy about Kashmir and he will do what is feasible according to his understanding,” he says, “He is a man who talks and acts directly.”
Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) first came to Kashmir in 1995 with the establishment of its official headquarters in Srinagar. One of the two main founders of the BJP in Kashmir, Mohammad Ashraf Azad, says that Modi has done a lot of ground work in Kashmir. “In 2000, Narendra Modi held a conference at Grand Palace in Srinagar, where he pointed out towards the backwardness and need for development in J&K,” says Azad.
“He also said that the Article 370 and other laws have impeded the development of Jammu and Kashmir and these need to be revisited,” says Azad. “Modi believes that these laws have made the state more backward. He wants to create J&K as a super-state with thriving economy and large scale development.”
Modi is not strange to Kashmiri culture and hospitality. “Modi has been hosted at the house of Kashmiri Muslims and has even stayed at some places in Kashmir for many days,” says Azad. “For Modi, Muslims are his right hand.”