As the Kashmir Valley marks two months of its lockdown, with journalists protesting at the Srinagar press club and political leaders still under detention, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus now is on how to best govern the soon-to-be Union Territory.
In his cabinet meetings, sources say, Modi talked about dredging the Dal Lake in Srinagar and returning it to its pristine shape and size. Remember the photo of the PM sailing away into the blue waters of Dal Lake when he visited Kashmir earlier this year?
Well, none other than former Jammu and Kashmir governor N.N. Vohra had sent out an SOS to the Indian Navy in 2018 to help with the Dal Lake, whose size has come down from 22 sq km to 10 sq km because of untreated sewage and pollution.
Modi seems to be deeply concerned with improving the lives of Kashmiris. He has the support of a vast majority of Kashmiris who are quite fed up with the dynastic rule of the Abdullahs and the Muftis – problem is, that it’s difficult to build political leadership when you have incarcerated everyone, even if reports now state that leaders in the Valley will soon be released on a “case-by-case” basis.
This is the remarkable thing about Modi. On the one hand, he has tweeted fulsome praise for the Vande Bharat Express, a “Navratri gift for my brothers and sisters in Jammu as well as devotees of Maa Vaishno Devi,” because the people of J&K must benefit from governance largesse.
On the other hand, he has delegated political control of lockdown J&K to Home minister Amit Shah, while security issues are managed by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
Enter Sheikh Hasina
But something else has been happening in Delhi this week, and briefly on Thursday evening, as the wind, rain and storm lashed Delhi, a curtain briefly parted at the Bangladesh High Commission. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in town and in the sanctum sanctorum of her dining room there were a few very special guests over for dinner.
There was Ram Madhav, the powerful BJP general secretary in charge of the northeast; Tathagata Roy, the outspoken governor of Tripura; Biplab Deb, the chief minister of Tripura; Ghulam Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader; Hasina’s powerful international affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi; Bangladesh’s high commissioner to India Muazzem Ali. And at the head of the table, Hasina herself.
Hasina had a very congenial meeting with Modi in New York last week at the margins of the UN General Assembly and is meeting him in Delhi too. Modi has told Hasina that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an “internal matter” and that she needn’t worry too much about it.
Bangladeshis also don’t seem that concerned over Amit Shah’s remarks in the run-up to the elections that all Bangladeshi infiltrators will be thrown into the Bay of Bengal like “deemak” (termites). The Bangladeshis, comfortable in the widespread acknowledgement that their growth rates are the highest in Asia, are putting Shah’s comments down to election rhetoric. Moreover, most on the NRC Assam list, ironically, are Hindus not Muslims.
But what happens when Shah repeats his inflammatory statements across the country, especially in West Bengal? It worries not just the Bengal BJP, as this article in ThePrint shows, but it may also begin to concern the prime minister.
Rise of Rajnath
Enter Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, also a former president of the BJP. Over the last week, Rajnath has been playing his protector-of-the-nation role to the hilt. He will fly a Rafale sortie in Paris in the coming week – on Dussehra, no less – where he is going to receive the first batch of Rafales, he has fired a medium machine gun onboard INS Vikramaditya and flown the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.
Is Rajnath Singh being propped up as a counter to Amit Shah? BJP sources pooh-pooh the very thought, but in any Delhi Durbar, signals are everything. The mild-mannered Rajnath Singh was very quiet during the first Modi tenure, but in recent weeks has acquired a much more active social media handle. (He’s still not as good as the PM, though.)
Modi knows and Hasina knows that there’s no question of throwing even one Bangladeshi out of the country – in any case, Hasina believes there are none. Can Amit Shah seriously carry a campaign of vilifying Bangladeshis across the country when his own Prime Minister wants a better relationship with Bangladesh?