Tactically unconventional, to an almost intriguing degree, was Mr. Narendra Modi's first prime ministerial visit to two of the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir. There were no high-profile meetings with the fractured “local” leadership, no talk of settling the vexatious “larger issue,” no promises -- not even those which might have been expected with Assembly elections due a few months ahead. Yet it would be inaccurate and over-simplistic to write off the trip as non-political. There was subtle reiteration of his “development agenda,” manifest not just in the opening of a rail link and hydel power unit.
More than subtle, crafty perhaps, for he ignored the “mainstream” and “separatist” political elements and indicated he would endeavour to go above their heads in reaching out to the people, youth in particular. The strategy being to use development as the means to take over the space that 'traditional' entities have long occupied -- sending out a message that it is the common man who has ever been left out in the cold. Mr. Modi raised no hopes, hence charges of broken promises cannot be levelled. And he steered clear of both the AFSPA and abrogating Article 370 controversies.
There was no belligerence when he expressed gratitude to the troops heavily deployed there: his stress that security was critical to development could have been intended to enlighten the folk -- in the Valley in particular -- that they were the real beneficiaries of the military mission to rid the state of jihadi terrorism and keep the border inviolate. That the National Conference, People's Democratic Party and the multi-faction Hurriyat had little to say actually “spoke” a lot. Were they getting caught up in their own knots, would the Modi-line unravel their self-serving intentions?
With the political situation in J&K fluid and no indications of pre-poll alignments the prime minister did not get bogged down in election-related posturing. Yet he did expose Omar Abdullah as immature and confused, the approach of the chief minister being influenced by diminishing prospects of re-election. It is ridiculous that Omar, and to an extent his immediate rivals, assert that Kashmir cannot be “bought,” yet lament that New Delhi did not provide the funds the state required.
A case of beggars wanting to be choosers? Omar's bid to empathise with the trading community in Jammu who fear the impact of the Udhampur-Katra rail link was a brazen attempt to find favour in the traditionally BJP-backing region. Obviously, Mr. Modi's attempt to re-nuance the Kashmir conundrum will not produce immediate results: the point at issue is whether it will force the NC-PDP-APHC, and the Congress too, abandon the old “cards” and play new “tricks”?
© The Statesman (India). All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Asia News Network.