Kashmir Back in New Delhi’s Radar
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 Jul 2014
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, made his maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir on 4 July 2014. While inaugurating the rail link from Jammu to Katra, the prime minister said, “Today Jammu and Kashmir will get both speed and energy. I am inaugurating this and a power project later today.” The prime minister’s emphasis on speed and energy is significant for peace and development in Kashmir.
The train from Jammu to Katra may symbolize speed but the deliberate choice of this term implies more. Modi is perhaps the first prime minister of India who visited the conflict-torn state even before completing two months in office. This is an indication of seriousness of the new government to prioritize Kashmir. Known for his pro-development initiatives and his passion for speedy implementation of development policies, Modi’s visit to Kashmir and emphasis on peace and prosperity in the region needs to be viewed in a new light. While the root causes of the conflict demands a deeper reflection and matching actions – understandably which will take more time and energy, the recent visit conveys the message that the development process needs to be expedited in the region. It should not be made hostage to rivalries between stakeholders to the conflict. The visit will add sinew to the scattered peace efforts initiated a decade earlier.
Modi appears determined to add energy to the peace process. At 63, he is younger than his predecessor. His pro-business policies may encourage the private business to invest in Kashmir, particularly in infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, and power. For sustainable development of the region, the participation of private players is an imperative. Violence has affected the prospects of development in the region, thereby discouraging private investment and creating obstacles against effective implementation of the developmental policies. Though people-centric development is not a sure shot for peace, it can help foster peace in a violence prone, and underdeveloped, region. It is indubitable that the protracted conflict needs more than development initiatives. But, undeniably, lack of development in the region has contributed to discontent and alienation in the region. This can not, and should not, be ignored.
Modi’s policies have demonstrated that he believes in speedy execution of even tough policies. The recent hike in rail fares by his government is such an example. His visit to J&K reflects the sense of urgency to address the complex issues the region has been seized with. Though his visit to the region was protested by the separatists groups in the region and his party’s demand for a debate on Article 370 (guaranteeing special status to the region) has drawn flak from many quarters, his government’s proactive nature in Kashmir is undeniable. Reports suggest his government is planning to evolve a framework to address the hitherto neglected issue of the return and rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmir Pandits. The displaced Pandits in the Kashmir valley left their native place in late 1980s with the onset of militancy. The extremist elements may not welcome the move as it will hurt their agenda of an exclusivist Kashmir (particularly the valley) though the majority of Kashmiri people including the separatists have welcomed the initiative.
It is no surprise that on the occasion of Modi’s visit, an umbrella group of radical organizations in Kashmir, Majlis Itihad-e-Milat, threatened to sabotage his government’s plan to rehabilitate the displaced Pandits. The issue is sensitive and it needs a proper assessment since any hasty resettlement may worsen the already fragile situation, particularly in the Kashmir valley. Akin to a speeding vehicle, Modi’s speed in Kashmir may go way ward if it does not follow the rules of road, i.e. overlooking the concerns of the local people and the issues that are deeply embedded in the conflict. The Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, in a veiled reference to India’s policies, argued, Kashmir cannot be won by money or muscle power. Abdullah’s utterance has a value as it reflects sentiments of sections of the people in the valley.
Modi’s attempts at simultaneously taking forward peace process and development programs in Kashmir will not be smooth. India has not only to address the concerns of the alienated sections within Kashmir but also to negotiate effectively with Pakistan. However, Modi’s peace and development initiatives have won him many supporters in and outside the region. Any sincere attempt, howsoever miniscule, to address the grievances of alienated people needs to be applauded. But, how far Modi led government in New Delhi will be able to sustain speed and energy and address the concerns of the people of Kashmir remain to be seen.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. He is a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Jul 2014.
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