Kashmir Wants To Hear Modi's Economic Agenda

7 December 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Srinagar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming here tomorrow in vastly different circumstances than when his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee had come in 2003 and scripted a new chapter in the Indo-Pak relations. Eyes are fixed on his visit, which comes in an environment conditioned by the multiple terror attacks in Kashmir on Friday which left 21 persons, mostly security personnel, dead, and at the same time he has to push forward the BJP's electoral agenda of 44 plus in the ongoing elections. Vajpayee formula Peoples Democratic Party patron and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed insists that 'Modi should mould himself into the Vajpayee way of thinking and expression.' The reference is to the former Prime Minister's unique and surprise announcement of 'extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan' when the Indian and Pakistan forces were in an eyeball-to-eyeball condition on the borders. Mufti is fixated on Vajpayee because that announcement of friendship with Pakistan was made when he was the Chief Minister, but the context in which Vajpayee had made that offer was different. Vajpayee had pointed out to the American invasion of Iraq and said that the two countries needed to learn a lesson from that. Omar seeks answers Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who is aggressively campaigning against the BJP, picking up the issues of the abusive remarks of a Union minister, Article 370 and Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA), now wants to hear what the Prime Minister has to say on all these issues. 'I would like to know his stand on Article 370 and AFSPA and how would he ask for votes from Muslims of the Valley, when his minister has made castigating remarks against non-believers of Lord Rama'. The Prime Minister will have to come out with his own brand in these times. The Army, which suffered loss at the hands of militants in the Uri attack on Friday before neutralising them, will not expect him to talk of friendship with Pakistan, as Vajpayee had done in April 2003. And, at the same time, Modi will have to stand much taller than a leader who is going to campaign for his party in the Valley for the first time. 'We will like to listen to him, to find out whether he will bring the musings of Vajpayee along or establish his own brand in Kashmir,' said Nazir Ahmad Bhat, a retired government employee. 'Kashmiris want relief from violence, we will like to see how he brings that into his words and later translates it into action,' he added. Economic growth counts Politically, people of Kashmir don't expect much from him because Modi at this point of time cannot offer much. But, the people see in him 'economic' development. 'He has promised development and that's what we will like to hear from him, because political and economic issues cannot be linked forever.' This is the common refrain of people, especially those connected with tourism and business. Murtaza Ahamad, who runs a hotel, said: 'We will be interested in his economic agenda, and we also know that Kashmir can survive economically only if Delhi is interested in the same.' His speech will be watched and analysed not only within the nation but also across the world because the place he has chosen to deliver his address is the place wherefrom messages of 'friendship with Pakistan' were sent by his leader and predecessor Vajpayee. As the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world and the one on whose watch the 2014 Assembly elections' first two phases recorded unprecedented voter turnout, each and every word that he will speak during the rally at the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium will be listened to carefully. Kashmir, where the regional political groups be it the National Conference or the PDP are scared of toeing the Indian line and have clear streaks of separatism, is not enamoured of the language of bullet for bullet. That they have a soft corner for separatists and Pakistan is a well known fact. Modi will have to take all this into account. And, he will have to make a right choice of words to send out a message to the people of Kashmir, and also to the neighbouring country. What will be that message? That will have to be seen and heard on Monday afternoon when he delivers his speech from the stadium where the Indian cricket team in 1983 felt as if it was playing in a hostile country. Can he accommodate that 'hostile country' into his vision of an integrated and united India?