All eyes were on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to Kashmir to announce the much-awaited economic package that many political pundits believed would change the fortunes of the conflict-ridden State. Even though Modi did what he had promised, announcing the much-touted Rs 80,000-crore package, yet his deliberate silence on the Indian Governments’ political engagement with separatists or with Pakistan, left the majority of Kashmiri people disappointed.
Before the PM’s visit, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed left no stone unturned in the run up to a much-hyped visit. Making all the right noises, Mufti lavishly praised Modi as “tolerant and exclusive” while terming his visit a “turning point” in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, apart from a handsome financial package, Mufti failed to convince Modi to recreate former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s mantra of 'insaniyat ke dayere mein' (in the ambit of humanity)’ to engage in a political dialogue with neighbouring Pakistan to find an amicable resolution to the Kashmir issue.
Hoping against hope, just before taking the centre stage to address the gathering in Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar, Mufti even made a last-ditch attempt to offer some advice to the Prime Minister about embarking on a big-brotherly friendship and dialogue with Pakistan.
However, Modi in his own style, was quick to snub Mufti during his 45-minute-long speech.
“I don’t need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir,” Modi indirectly replied to Mufti’s advice, if you read between the lines.
Even though Modi attempted to follow Vajpayee’s symbolism of "Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat," (Democracy, Kashmiri ethos and Humanity) but he didn’t give any takeaways that could be seen as a salutation to Kashmiri political aspirations.
A Kashmiri based political analyst, Gowhar Geelani, said that “despite the flowery language employed by the PDP to hail the Rs 80,000 crore package, the harsh reality is that even the PDP will be thoroughly disappointed because Modi failed to deliver according to PDP's raised expectations.”
After Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over at the centre registering a thumping victory, the relationship between India and Pakistan has worsened. Both the countries have failed to initiate a dialogue, while on the other hand, cross-border shelling at the Line of Control (LoC) has witnessed an abrupt increase in the past seven months or so.
The visit was also anticipated to be a shot in the arm for the coalition Government that has been at loggerheads since forming an alliance after results threw up a hung assembly in the 2014 elections.
Since Mufti allied with Modi’s BJP, the Chief Minister has been constantly rebuked by opposition parties for giving the saffron party a free hand to play the “politics of polarisation” in the State.
The abrogation of Article 370, granting permanent citizenship to West Pakistan refugees, building a composite township for displaced Kashmiri Pandits and imposing a ban on the slaughtering of bovines, have been some of the major controversies that PDP-BJP had to grapple with through their short stint in the Government.
Former Chief Minister and opposition National Conference working president, Omar Abdullah, described Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Kashmir visit far behind the expectations raised by the PDP-BJP coalition Government.
“A lot was being said about the PM’s visit. We were being prepared for something historic. But what we saw today was totally disappointing. Money cannot solve the Kashmir issue, only political initiative can,” Omar said.
In fact, the BJP-PDP ‘Agenda of Alliance’, as part of the common minimum programme agreement that promised to engage with even those Kashmiris who don’t recognise the Indian Constitution, has been totally scuttled.
In that sense, Modi’s visit has not lived up to expectations of any section of the people, and it could turn out to be yet another chapter in Kashmir’s history of missed opportunities.
Why GoI’s packages fail
If we go by the Kashmir’s political history, economic packages have never substituted for the political rights of its people.
From Rajiv Gandhi’s proposed Rs 10,000 crore package in 1987, to H D Deve Gowda’s Rs 301 crore package in 1996, to Manmohan Singh’s Rs 24,000 crore package in 2004, the Government of India (GoI) has been pumping money into Jammu Kashmir, but failed to get the results it desired.
Noted Kashmiri economist, Professor Dost Mohammad, is of the opinion that the main reason these packages have been unsuccessful is that the amount has been largely pumped into GoI’s own projects, like constructing railway links, power projects, laying out roads and developing other infrastructure meant for defence purposes.
To substantiate his point, Dost gave an example that in the total amount of Rs 24,000 crore announced by Manmohan Singh in 2004, Rs 18,000 crore had been granted to National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) while Rs 45,00 crore was the plan grants meant for the State.
In the past, GoI had even framed two high-powered committees to suggest measures for making the State economically efficient.
The committee included Prime Minister’s Task Force on development of Jammu and Kashmir headed by former RBI Governor, C Rangarajan, on March 29, 2005, and the report of PM’s interlocutors on the reconstruction plan for Jammu and Kashmir.
However, GoI never implemented the recommendations of any of these committees.
Interestingly, out of Rs 80, 000 crore announced by Modi, only Rs 7,854 crore have been earmarked for flood relief , reconstruction and flood management against the requirement of Rs 44,000 crores demanded by the previous State Government (National Conference-Congress) exclusively for the losses suffered due to floods.
According to a report prepared by the Annual Disaster Statistical Review, Kashmir has been listed as world’s worst economical disaster in 2014 incurring losses of $16 billion (Rs 104000 crore).
Former professor of political science at the University of Jammu, Rekha Chowdhary, said that even though Modi announced an economic package yet there is a general feeling of disappointment in the Valley about the restoration of the peace process.
“Apart from the economic package the State needs political intervention. It is these political initiatives that endeared Vajpayee to the people of Kashmir and infused hope among them. But Modi couldn’t emulate Vajpayee,” said Chowdhary.
The Kashmir dispute has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan that has resulted in three wars and a severely confrontational diplomacy.
After the 1947 partition, people of Jammu and Kashmir were caught amid fierce wrangling between India and Pakistan and this continues to this day. So, for the most part, Mufti would have to pacify Kashmiris caught in this crossfire between the two countries with the latest package of Rs 80,000 crore given by the Centre. This is more so since the Chief Minister had promised for a long-term resolution during his election campaign through the last year.