Newfound goodwill for Sonia in Kashmir Valley
16 May 2004
The Hindustan Times
Indo-Asian News Service
Srinagar: In the violence-hit Kashmir Valley, there is a sudden outpouring of love and affection for Sonia Gandhi as she prepares to become India's prime minister at the head of a Congress-led coalition. A good number of Kashmiris believe that having suffered personally - and enormously - because of the assassinations of her husband Rajiv Gandhi and her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi would address their problems with compassion. 'She has suffered immensely because of violence. She lost her husband to violence and her mother- in-law died in her lap. Her children had to lose their personal freedom because of security concerns. This is enough reason for me to believe she will understand the suffering of the Kashmiri people more intensely,' said Ali Muhammad, 58, a resident of downtown Srinagar city. Locals have another valid reason to identify with Sonia Gandhi. The Nehru-Gandhi household - including first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi - had traditionally strong Kashmir moorings. 'Pandit Nehru would wear his Kashmiri origin on his sleeve. He had a high sense of pride because he was a Kashmiri,' said Arshad Hussain, 37, a college teacher here. 'The late Indira Gandhi gelled so comfortably with the Kashmir ethos. She would always begin her public speeches in the Valley saying she was the daughter of Kashmir. Sonia is coming to revive that chord,' Hussain told IANS. There is a general belief in the Kashmir Valley, which has borne the brunt of the separatist campaign since 1989, that once she becomes the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi would not only carry forward the peace progress with Pakistan but also make it more Kashmir specific. 'She hardly needs to be reminded that Kashmir is central to the dispute between India and Pakistan. She also knows fully well that violence in any form complicates rather than resolves issues,' said Sajad Hussain, 49, a businessman. 'This is a background that would enable her to move beyond the rhetoric in both India-Pakistan relations and also bring in a modicum of normalcy in the lives of the local people,' he said. The average Kashmiri also believes that Sonia Gandhi's unimpeachable secular credentials would come handy in allying local doubts that India was silently but firmly moving towards some hidden Hindu agenda. 'You can be sure now that the history books for the Kashmiri children would not be re-written the way Murli Manohar Joshi wanted them to be,' said a prominent academician, referring to the human resource development minister who was defeated in the elections. There had been serious misgivings locally about the intended revision in school textbooks that would nullify some of the age-old concepts of history for the locals. Another reason Kashmiris are giving the thumbs up for Sonia Gandhi is because of the Gujarat violence of 2002 that they have not forgotten. 'We remember Gujarat. The defeat of Narendra Modi's ideology is a personal victory for every Muslim in the sub- continent,' said Abdul Salam, 79, a retired headmaster from south Kashmir. 'If Sonia has come to benefit from such a demolition, the Muslims must always welcome it,' he said. One state where the Congress unexpectedly did well was in Gujarat, where it won 12 of the state's 26 parliamentary seats. It must be recalled that hardline Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinay Katiyar had ruffled quite a bit of feathers in Kashmir some two years ago with a blasphemous statement about the Holy relic of the Prophet that is housed at Hazrtabal, the holiest Muslim shrine in Kashmir. 'Katiyar's defeat (in Uttar Pradesh) is a personal victory for every Kashmiri,' said Abdul Rashid, a Muezzin in a local mosque.