Is PM Modi signalling a shift on Kashmir?

Nevertheless, the observation that Kashmir will normalise “not with guns or invective but only if we embrace the people of Kashmir” is welcome.

Do Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Kashmir in his Independence Day address augur a change of gear in the government’s year-long build-up of violence, hatred and alienation, which have combined to produce India’s most stubborn internal security challenge that is discomfiting for this country’s self-image as a secular democracy? In light of the receding trust quotient of this government, not just in the Kashmir Valley but in the country as a whole, the answer is hard to ascertain. Nevertheless, the observation that Kashmir will normalise “not with guns or invective but only if we embrace the people of Kashmir” is welcome. It comes from the highest political authority in the country and on a day and from a forum which are held sacrosanct.

True, every promise made from this platform has remained just that. Indeed, the freedom-fighters of Balochistan are entitled to rue the favourable references made to them by Mr Modi just a year ago from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Nevertheless, the leaders of the two major mainstream parties of the Valley, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and J&K’s Leader of the Opposition Omar Abdullah, have cautiously welcomed the PM’s statement. So has Kashmir’s traditional chief priest, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a leading light of the separatist Huriyat Conference. Whether or not there is anything to Mr Modi’s only statement ever on Kashmir since he became PM — although its nebulousness is stark — will depend on how he perceives the idea of normality in the Valley. Does he just mean the quelling of the Pakistan-backed terror menace, which did assume endemic proportions in the past year but is being sought to be fought with vigour of late, with key peddlers of violence being hunted down and eliminated, and their supporters in the Huriyat fold being investigated and interrogated?

Or, does the Prime Minister also have in mind to initiate the process of constructing a positive politics for Kashmir? This is a long shot, of course. The RSS-BJP perspective on the Kashmir problem does not allow for it. It rejects the idea of autonomy for Kashmir, as envisaged in Article 370 of the Constitution and Article 35A, which flows from the former. When CM Mehbooba Mufti called on the PM shortly before Independence Day, she discussed with him the present context in relation to Article 35A, whose legal validity is now under challenge in the Supreme Court from an RSS outfit. Evidently, she received no political comfort on this count, although there is much agitation on the issue among all sections in the Valley. The CM, after the meeting, made her own remarks on Kashmir’s autonomy, and that was that. The best that can be said is that we are in the twilight zone.