NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under pressure from parliament to act on a bloody ferment in Jammu and Kashmir and possibly eyeing a visit to Pakistan later this year, promised equality to Kashmiris on Tuesday, akin, in his view, to the “azaadi” enjoyed by other Indians.
In his first comments on the crisis that has wracked the disputed state for over a month, Mr Modi said: “Every Indian loves Kashmir… The azaadi that every Indian feels, Kashmir can feel too.”
Opposition parties and his own ally in the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir have faulted Mr Modi for not speaking on the violence that has torn through the Kashmir Valley since security forces shot dead Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old militant.
PM speaks of a humane policy
Since his killing on July 8, thousands of Kashmiris, many of them still in their teens, have flooded the streets, defying a curfew that has stretched over 31 days in the valley. Armed with stones, they have attacked security forces in daily clashes, who have retaliated with pellet guns, rendering nearly 100 people blind and leaving many others injured.
Some 56 people have died in the relentless violence; 3,000 of the 5,000 injured are security personnel, police have said, fudging the fact that the protesters were armed with stones, if anything, and they with pellet guns.
Mr Modi’s comments were made at a rally in Madhya Pradesh, far away from the Kashmir Valley, where, the government alleges, Pakistan has incited and facilitated the burning of police stations and attacks on security bases.
The PM invoked the famous commitment of former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee to a Kashmir policy with humanity as its essence, coupling “insaaniyat” with “jamhooriyat” (democracy).
Mr Modi referred to the distress of a country at “young men clutching stones instead of books and computers”; the majority of the protesters in Kashmir are between 16 and 18; for years, as the unrest has spread, stones have instigated disproportionate retaliation.
Kashmir is to be discussed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, where the government is in a minority and has been rebuked for not consulting opposition leaders about how to resolve the crisis.
According to NDTV, Mr Modi thanked the main opposition party, the Congress, for standing with the government as it firmly warned Pakistan not to interfere in Kashmir. During a controversial trip to Pakistan last week, Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke of the perils of eulogising terrorists as martyrs, taking on Islamabad for the tributes its leaders have offered to Wani after he was killed.
Indian analysts say Mr Singh’s visit had prepared the grounds for Mr Modi’s visit to Islamabad in November to attend the Saarc summit. They say India could have sent a junior minister to the recent home minister’s meeting but decided on Mr Singh to keep hopes alive for an improvement in their troubled ties.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2016