Outreach good, but actions speak louder

Let Kashmiris voice opinion freely

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Thursday night was a useful outreach to Indians in general and the people of Kashmir and Ladakh in particular. In his first speech since Parliament endorsed his government’s decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and to split the state into two Union Territories (UT), Modi sought to justify the decision. The special status of J&K, he said, had brought it no benefit, stood in the way of its development and had fomented separatism, terrorism, dynastic politics and corruption. He drew the attention of Kashmiris to the benefits that would accrue to them now. Progressive legislation that has benefited people in other parts of India, such as the right to education, laws dealing with women, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, Minimum Wages Act, etc., are now applicable to J&K and Ladakh. Government employees there would get health and social security benefits like government staff elsewhere in India. Modi said that his government would ensure good governance and development in J&K. Investment would increase, he said, promising Kashmir industrial development and jobs. He also reassured Kashmiris that, as in the past, they would have their own elected representatives.

The prime minister’s speech was rich in promises. He did well to reach out to the people of J&K. He hit the right notes. However, he was silent on the current plight of the people of J&K. Under curfew and with all forms of communication shut off, Kashmiris have been silenced like never before. All that he said was that “the situation” in J&K would “slowly return to normal.” How slowly will that be? At a time when democracy is in a comatose condition in J&K and people’s insecurity has touched an all-time high, Modi’s grand promises of democracy, development and a better life for Kashmiris seem just empty rhetoric. But he can make them meaningful by immediately lifting restrictions on Kashmiris and allowing them to voice their opinion freely.

All of India’s neighbours—with the exception of Pakistan—have supported India by describing the decision as an internal matter. Several big powers have remained silent or seem neutral on the matter. Modi’s speech was an outreach to the international community as well. However, it won’t be enough. New Delhi must follow it up by dispatching envoys to reassure the world of India’s intentions. Ultimately, it is the situation in Kashmir, not words emanating from Delhi, that will convince the world. It is imperative that the government sets in motion immediately a process of dialogue with Kashmiris. Their rights as Indians must be restored.

Comments (+)