Rajnath Visit Reassures Coalition, Boosts ‘Embrace Kashmir’ Policy
Rajnath Singh’s assurance on Article 35-A lends credence to the coalition that was under pressure from BJP’s stand.
Four weeks after the Prime Minister called on the nation to ‘embrace Kashmiris’ Home Minister Rajnath Singh fleshed out that message on the ground. His most vital message during a three-day visit to the state was that, with regard to matters such as Article 35-A of the Constitution, the Centre would keep the sentiments of the people foremost in mind.
Key leaders of the PDP have got the impression that the Centre will try and ensure that the matter does not come to a head for the moment.
The Article guarantees exclusive domiciliary rights to the state’s citizens to own property in the state, and to get government jobs and education. Such domiciliary rights could be legislated by the assembly, but the constitutional provision has become a psychological and political shibboleth among Kashmiris – a guarantor of the state’s special status within India.
Politically, the visit appears to have stabilised the coalition partnership of the BJP with the PDP. Their relations have been strained since the violence that killed eight persons during a byelection in April, and later amid investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the PDP’s fears over Article 35-A.
Several of the points the Home Minister made to the media might as well have been scripted by his coalition partner. Asserting that the situation on the ground has improved, he said he had instructed the forces to use restraint, particularly with teenagers.
This is striking in view of the three encounters on Saturday, the day he arrived in Kashmir. Security personnel were killed in two of those.
Sounding the Call for Tourists
Despite this, the Home Minister responded to the state government’s desire that he not only ensure restraint but also urge tourists to visit Kashmir. He strongly urged that people tour Kashmir.
Various economic and political groups, including the PDP, are upset about this year’s extremely poor tourist season. Several such groups called on Rajnath Singh and made the point.
Bumped Up Grants
Even sweeter to the state government’s ears was the Home Minister’s announcement that the Centre has upped the package for the state’s development to more than Rs one lakh crore – and that Delhi would take care of cost overruns.
The Prime Minister had announced a package of Rs 80,000 crore at a public meeting in November 2015. The PDP had been upset over what it perceived as tardiness in the release of those funds. It was one of her chief concerns when chief minister Mehbooba Mufti delayed taking charge for three months after her father and predecessor, Mufti Sayeed, died at the beginning of 2016.
Unease over the possibility that the BJP might switch its backing to another leader of the PDP had lingered since then, but appears recently to have abated.
The Velvet Glove
Rajnath Singh’s visit eased the image, common for the past five months, that an iron fist is the lietmotif of the Centre’s policy towards Kashmir. He listened empathetically to a range of Kashmiris, asking for ideas on how best to maintain peace.
He met some of those who have been under the NIA’s scanner, indicating openness to hear even them.
Some citizens told him they were pleased that action was being taken against the black economy. Some also urged that such laws and rules should be strictly applied even to those in ‘mainstream’ politics and in other walks of life.
From Srinagar, Rajnath Singh went to Jammu, where he focused on cross-border firing. He said Indian forces have been instructed that they must not fire first but must respond strongly if there is a single bullet from the Pakistani side.
There is a strong sentiment in Jammu, particularly among BJP backers, that the Centre ought to act strongly against Pakistan, and use an iron hand to put down revolts in the Valley. However, some of his visitors in Srinagar got the impression that the Home Minister was conscious of the dual external threat.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author of ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’ and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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