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On his first post-2019 visit, Modi must address his government's disconnect with Kashmiris

By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
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publive-image Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Srinagar in February 2019 | Photo courtesy: @narendramodi | Instagram

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's forthcoming visit to Jammu and Kashmir, scheduled for 24 April, is historic for multiple reasons.

It is officially described as his commitment to celebrating the National Panchayati Raj Day among 36,000 members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in Jammu and Kashmir. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said at a curtain-raiser on Tuesday that the PM's visit would be 'historic and unprecedented' as he would not only be addressing the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also the Gram Sabhas across the country.

According to Sinha, Modi would also lead the ground-breaking ceremony of Rs 38,082 crore Industrial Development proposals in the presence of eminent industrialists from all over the country and abroad. This initiative would generate more than four lakh direct and indirect employment opportunities in the Union Territory.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the 850 MW Ratle Power Project and 540 MW Kwar Hydroelectric Project. He would also kickstart work on five Expressways and formally inaugurate the already functional 8.5 km long Banihal-Qazigund tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

publive-image Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir in June 2021 | Photo courtesy: @narendramodi

According to the government officials, the public meeting at Samba district's Palli Panchayat would be attended by one lakh people. The largest public gathering of the last 15 years, attended by around one lakh people, was Modi's Lalkar Rally at Jammu's Maulana Azad Stadium on 1 December, 2013.

Even as the authorities are still tight-lipped about Modi's Kashmir itinerary, knowledgeable sources insist that the Prime Minister would also address a massive gathering of PRIs and Urban Local Bodies members at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar.

Modi enjoys the distinction of being the only Indian leader after 1980 who has visited J&K as Prime Minister as many as 20 times. However, it would be his first civilian and political visit after the abrogation of Article 370 and J&K State's reorganisation into the two Union Territories in August 2019.

Unlike many politicians, Modi is known to have toured Kashmir in the thick of militancy in 1990-94. He visited all the valley's six districts in 1993 when most of the mainstream politicians had resigned under the fear and diktat of the gun. Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had escaped to London. Several of his ex-Ministers and MLAs had been killed by militants and others - with a few exception - had migrated and settled in Jammu.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who worked as the Union Home Minister for 11 months from 1989-1990, used to live in Delhi. Ghulam Nabi Azad, another former Union Minister from J&K, had reduced his visibility after his brother-in-law was kidnapped and then released. Farooq Abdullah couldn't even visit the funeral of his close relative Sheikh Sadiq when Al-Umar Mujahideen gunned him down.

A year after hoisting the Indian national flag along with the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi and other party colleagues at Lalchowk, Modi traversed the length and breadth of the militant-infested valley. His subsequent low-key visits lent him unmatched confidence. At his Lalkar Rally on 1 December, 2013, when he was Gujarat's Chief Minister and the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi made a mention of his long-time association with J&K.

publive-image Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Dal Lake, Srinagar in February 2019 | Photo courtesy: @narendramodi | Instagram

Touring border areas, addressing public rallies, inaugurating projects, laying foundation stones and presiding over high-level official meetings, Prime Minister Modi visited J&K 20 times from his first visit on 4 July, 2014 to his last on 4 November, 2021. In a single year, most of his J&K visits happened in the year 2014 - 4 July, 12 August, 7 September, 23 October, 22 November, 28 November, 8 December, 13 December and 16 December.

In 2015, Modi visited J&K three times - on 1 March, 17 July and 7 November. His one-odd visit in 2016 - on 19 April - covered the inauguration of a sports complex beside the convocation of Mata Vaishno Devi University and the inauguration of Mata Vaishno Devi Hospital at Katra in Jammu.

In 2017, Modi visited J&K twice, first on 2 April, to inaugurate the Syama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel between Nashri and Chenani on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. Later, on 19 October, he visited the Gurez valley on the Line of Control. On 19 May, 2018, he had an extensive visit to Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu.

On 3 February, 2019, Modi had another extensive visit to Srinagar, Leh and Jammu. His last civilian and political visit happened on 14 April, 2019, when he addressed the Lok Sabha election rallies at Kathua and Udhampur. Thereafter he visited J&K only twice - on 27 October, 2019 and 4 November, 2021, both times to celebrate Diwali with the troops in Jammu's Rajouri district.

This time around, Modi is visiting J&K when preparations are underway for the UT's first Assembly elections. The delimitation process, which began in March 2020, is likely to be completed within its current deadline of 6 May. Both PM and the Union Home Minister Amit Shah have maintained that the elections would be held immediately after the completion of the delimitation process. There has been no State/UT legislature or public representation since November 2018. Now everybody is wondering whether Modi and Shah would deliver on their commitments or defer the polls indefinitely.

From the Centre, there have been massive allegations of financial irregularities, corruption and nepotism against the valley's "traditional dynastic rulers" but nothing has been established against any one of them. Conversely, they are emerging as the incidental beneficiaries of the hateful communal polarisation across the country as 'Muslim Kashmir versus Hindu Delhi' could benefit only the establishment's "victims" in a UT with 68% Muslim population.

If the last District Development Council elections are an indication, BJP's experiment of creating a friendly alternative to Farooq Abdullah's National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti's PDP has failed. Attempts to break the NC, like the PDP have also failed. Political analysts believe that the BJP government would never hold an election which could be interpreted as J&K's referendum against the August 2019 interventions.

Holding the Assembly elections would, in fact, heavily depend on the security scenario. Even as around 600 militants have been neutralised in the last three years, an upswing in the incidents of terrorist violence since 19 March, 2022 is hardly encouraging for a democratic process. At least 9 fatal casualties of soft targets - resident Pandits and Hindus, non-local workers, Panches and Sarpanches - and the Police and security forces personnel have taken place in the last 30 days.

Modi and his government can duly claim credit for 'zero-violence' - an end to stone-pelting, mob clashes with security forces, funeral processions, and gun salutes to the militants killed in encounters - but the political vacuum and a glaring disconnect with the people have insidiously grown phenomenal in the last three years.

Unemployment and under-employment continue to be the biggest issues as multitudes of graduates, postgraduates, and PhDs coming out of colleges and universities every year end up as a frustrated lot. Even the under-paid contractual and 'need-based' staff have not been regularised into the government services. Return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Pandits, which was a key promise in PM's 'Naya Kashmir' slogan, is faced with the worst challenges of the last 25 years. During his historic visit, nobody is expecting Modi to restore Article 370, but he will have to address issues related to the economy, development and unemployment.


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is an independent journalist based out of Jammu & Kashmir. With 27 years of experience, Fayyaz is a policy analyst and a political commentator. He has extensively reported on conflict - after the 1990 Kashmir conflict - for the national and international media.