Political observers and local leaders complained that the PM had chosen to ignore the core issues that had ‘pushed hundreds of young men towards the militancy’.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to Kashmir Valley’s “misguided youth” to shun violence has largely evoked scepticism amid criticism that he had conveniently glossed over the troubled region’s real problems.
PM Modi was in the state Saturday for a whirlwind trip through Jammu, Kashmir as well as Ladakh to launch a slew of projects, including the construction of the 14.2-km Zojila tunnel and the inauguration of the 330-MW Kishanganga hydroelectric station in Srinagar.
His visit came days after the Centre announced a unilateral, conditional ceasefire in the state during Ramzan amid a particularly turbulent phase in the Valley that has, over the past few weeks, seen a professor join the militancy, a tourist die in stone-pelting, attacks on school students, and several civilian deaths in anti-militant operations.
Reacting to the PM’s statement, several prominent locals, including academicians and political observers, complained that he had chosen to ignore the core issues that had “pushed hundreds of young men towards the militancy”.
Although there was also much appreciation for his message, a unanimous question mark hung over the need to blame “foreign powers” without addressing the sense of alienation among local youth.
Kashmir watchers pointed out that despite statements by members of the BJP’s alliance partner PDP, including chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, about alienation among the young being at its peak, Modi wove his message around a promise of jobs, which they said was completely unrelated to the problem at hand.
Siddiq Wahid, the former vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Sciences and Technology, said the Prime Minister’s “speech was a bit of a stretch in many ways”.
“To tell a population that has been brutalised since the 2014 floods and unrest to come back to normal and behave like all is well is bit of a stretch,” he added, “The unilateral ceasefire is a conditional ceasefire that translates into a free hand to the security forces, which already enjoy AFSPA.”
He questioned how CM Mehbooba could compare the initiative to the ceasefire introduced under former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee in 2000. “The question is, can you compare the Vajpayee era and the hardline Hindutva era? This shows how little her political understanding of the issue is. We are heading for a stalemate,” he added.
Gul Mohammad Wani, a political Analyst who teaches at the University of Kashmir, said Modi seemed to lack sincerity.
“While Mehbooba Mufti referred to the (PDP-BJP) Agenda of Alliance, which touched on various political initiatives, Modi was uninterested. With the 2019 general elections nearing, they will not take any course correction in Kashmir unless Mehbooba makes it more clear that the PDP will part ways if there is no political initiation,” he added.
‘No road map’
The main opposition party in the state, the National Conference (NC), said “Modi’s offer in the state is without a clear road map”.
NC general secretary Ali Mohhamad Sagar told ThePrint, “It was crystal clear that he was here to give assurance to the state government that the development promise has been delivered. However, he did not address the main problem… Youth will only shun violence…when peace is achieved.”
“He did not talk about dialogue and good relations with the Hurriyat and Pakistan. He addressed the development aspect, not the political aspect,” he added.
“Pakistan cannot be ignored. Unless they are on board, how can anyone expect the ceasefire to bear fruit on the ground? Vajpayee took Pakistan on board and that is why the ceasefire was implemented in letter and spirit,” he said.
‘10 steps for two steps’
Separatists, on the other hand, have called the ceasefire a “cruel joke”. Speaking to ThePrint, the chairman of the Hurriyat’s moderate faction, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said Modi’s speech had nothing new to offer.
“On the ground, we have the worst kind of situation. We have always been saying trains and tunnels are projects that all the states need but to construe it as peace is wrong. It seems the government of India is not ready to understand and address the Kashmir issue,” he added.
He said confidence-building measures like the ceasefire “were fine but it was only a pause in killings and not a stop”.
“A stop to killings will happen only when there is a political solution,” he added. “It is to be seen how the government of India translates the ceasefire into a Vajpayee-model policy. Let’s see what they have in mind… If they come forward two steps, we will come forward 10 steps,” he said.
An appeal to the youth
Speaking in Srinagar Saturday, the PM has appealed to “misguided youth” is “to return to the national mainstream, which is their own family, and participate in the development of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“Every stone or weapon picked up by the youth of this state is only meant to destabilise their own state. We have to take the state out of instability for our future generations,” he added.
He also said there were “foreign powers” at play that did not want development in Jammu & Kashmir. Though he didn’t name any country, the reference to Pakistan was apparent.
The PM also cited the ceasefire as a “significant signal” that his government “stood for peace in the state”, but the speech offered no succour to those awaiting an announcement to take the process forward, experts said.
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