After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kashmir coup on 5 August, those who expected mega pronouncements, economic packages, and a slew of morale-boosting measures would have been disappointed by his speech Thursday evening. Modi offered neither apologies nor compensatory sops to the people of the Valley. Indeed, he did not even single them out for special treatment.
Instead, though he dwelled most on Jammu & Kashmir, mentioning the latter 69 times, he also paid attention to Ladakh. He spoke of, or rather to, the youth of the region promising them equal opportunities with the rest of India.
Appealing to aspirational Kashmiri youth
Prime Minister Modi emphasised how Article 370 had been an obstacle not just to the integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of India, but also to development of the state and fulfillment of the aspirations of its people. The argument that economic and social indicators of J&K were already higher than several major Indian states, especially in the Hindi belt, would not take anything away from Modi’s appeal. Why would Kashmiris compare themselves with UPites or Biharis? Their aspirations are much higher.
With a favourable investment climate, better educational institutions, and the revival of the tourism industry, it is precisely to such aspirational Kashmiri youth that Modi would make sense. Modi’s masterly messaging was both persuasive and plausible, without hyped-up promises or blandishments.
He also spoke with both affection and familiarity about Ladakh, including its fabled and rejuvenating “Leh berry” or seabuckthorn. The eco-tourist potential of the new UT, one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the world, though apparently almost barren and beyond the tree line, was not to be overlooked or forgotten either.
The statesman Modi
On the other hand, Modi did not overplay the Pakistan card. Its antics in trying to destabilise India or internationalise J&K were none of India’s concern. What was India’s internal matter ought to remain so, he seemed to suggest.
Similarly, not once did he speak of the opposition, especially the Congress, which stood exposed, shaken, bewildered, and utterly divided over his government’s sudden and swift move against Article 370. Let naysayers fend for themselves was his position.
But Modi, like a statesman, did admit that the drastic change in Article 370 that ended both its special status as well as the statehood of J&K was indeed contentious. It had divided public opinion in India despite receiving overwhelming support across the world. He wanted to assure not only the scare-mongers but also genuinely concerned citizens of his government’s good intentions or nek iraade. Most notably, his commitment to the future of democracy, emphasising that J&K’s UT status would not be permanent and free and fair elections would be conducted in the future.
He also emphasised how Panchayati Raj, in the meanwhile, would be strengthened and supported, with direct injections of cash and resources at the local levels. This is how the big shift would be effected, ending the monopoly of power and pelf of few families who ran the state like a private fiefdom for decades.
No to separatism & appeasement
What the Prime Minister did not spell out, but those reading between the lines would have guessed, was that the government’s take-over would also end the Islamisation and separatism of the Valley. By cutting off the pipelines of largesse from across the border and sidelining Valley politicians, Modi implied that his government was actually saving J&K and its people from Pakistani domination and control through its local political brokers.
The most important take-away from the Prime Minister’s speech was that there would be no more appeasement in the Valley but the promise of equal treatment with the rest of India. This did not mean that Modi was insensitive to the cultural difference of the Muslim-dominated Valley from the rest of India. He announced that all measures would be taken for a peaceful tidying over of Eid during which many Kashmiris return home to be with their families.
Straight talk, straight action
Modi’s speech also exposed the hypocrisy of those crying that their rights were trampled upon when they themselves denied the rights of several of their own fellow-Kashmiris, whether these were Kashmiri pandits or other residents still disenfranchised. He referred to those who could vote for the Lok Sabha election but remained without voting rights in state elections despite living in Kashmir since the formation of the state.
Modi’s strong, sober as well as becalming message was meant to reassure the nation that the unnecessary hype and threats of violence in the Valley would be counteracted by the government’s resolve to maintain peace and order. Modi, without being dramatic or sentimental, seemed to reiterate the resolve that in addition to sabka saath sabka vikas, his government also wanted to win sabka vishwas, in this case, the trust of the people of Kashmir.
After decades of lying, hypocrisy and betrayals, Kashmiris, Jammuits, and Ladakhis could now look forward to straight talk, followed by straight action. No wonder, across the troubled territory, every Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri eagerly awaited the PM’s address, listened to it with rapt attention, and must have been reasonably reassured by it.
The USP of the Modi brand – good governance and responsible leadership – was so evident, once again, in Thursday’s epoch-marking speech.
The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His views are personal. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe.