Modi must reach out to Kashmir

Ayushman Jamwal

Narendra Modi has held many rallies across the country since he became the BJP’s PM candidate, trying to revitalize the party and its cadres for the upcoming general elections. Modi has given rousing speeches to crowds in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Rewari, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, calling for an end to Congress rule in the country. But I am waiting for him to visit Jammu and Kashmir to broach a new political opportunity for the BJP. I believe he must go to the state to re-energise the BJP in Jammu and be the first BJP leader to reach out to the people of Kashmir.    

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has for decades faced the apathy and mis-governance of the Abdullah family. The family has played a delicate game of balancing the Kashmir and pro-India sentiment from time to time, garnering votes from both the right and the left of the political spectrum, and also becoming a suitable political party for coalition governments in the state. The political return of such a stance however has done nothing for the people of J&K, even the Kashmiris. The people of Kashmir have been served doles and subsidies for a very long time by the Indian state. With the imposition of Article 370, the state has been cut off from investment and enterprise from other parts of the country, denying the people the benefits of a pan India development drive. This inturn has created business monopolies in the state which then feed the political machinery to perpetuate the status quo. The people of Kashmir have also been under the constant threat of cross border infiltration and firing from across the Pakistan border, along with regular threats issued by militants to sarpanches to boycott the Indian state. This peril has not been adequately addressed by successive J&K and Congress central governments.

The mandate of the National Conference is Kashmiri pride, but what good is that when the economic state of the people remains stagnant, when terrorism remains an everyday threat, and the politics perpetuates an identity war that fuels the communal discord in the state. Moreover, the people of the Jammu region continue to feel neglected by successive J&K governments who have focussed primarily on Kashmir in various civic and economic fields.

For too long Jammu and Kashmir has dragged its feet due to fear, apathy and insecurity.    Even as the people of Jammu vote for the BJP, the party has a silent political presence in the state. Modi must boost his BJP cadre to pitch for greater presence in J&K and appeal to his local leaders to reach out to the Kashmiri community to bury the communal hatchet. He must give his pitch for improved governance, a stronger stance against Pakistan and militancy, and share the vision of both Jammu and Kashmir growing hand in hand with the rest of India. He can drive the point home that the BJP can give the whole state prosperity and safety, which the Kashmiri politicians have only debated and deliberated over but never delivered.

The National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress will all hit out with sharp reactions. They will launch the same narratives of Hindu extremism and ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death), yet those notions have become as stale as the politics of the state. The BJP is not an immediate solution to the problems of J&K, but Modi’s pitch can offer a fresh narrative to connect the state’s polity and economy to the rest of country, and break the isolationist hold of the state born parties. It can be a calling card for change for many young and politically aware voters in the state, who now see politics beyond the identity of contenders, focussing on their performance for a decision on their future. A future which can be an empowered and united Jammu and Kashmir, with its land and people as much a part of the prosperity of India as was imagined at the time of independence.

Modi should broach this opportunity soon and keep up the momentum of the BJP’s evolving image across the country.