Months after taking over as the prime minister two years ago, Narendra Modi, sporting a woollen cape-like Kashmiri garment called a pheran, addressed a huge rally in Srinagar promising “to give justice” to the people caught in one of the longest standing conflicts in the world for decades now.
Nearly 18 months since the December 2014 rally and after the two years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Delhi, challenges remain abound in Kashmir despite the issue finding a special mention in Modi’s agenda of governance.
The rally ahead of the 2015 state assembly elections came months after the Indian Army, for the first time in nearly three decades of fighting the separatist conflict, had convicted at least six soldiers for their alleged involvement in a staged 2010 gunfight in which three civilians were killed and passed off as foreign militants.
The conviction was “proof of my intentions.I have come to give you justice,” Modi said at the public meeting that was followed by frequent visits, more rallies, and, ultimately, the formation of a coalition government in the state along with the regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The prime minister visited Srinagar again in November 2015 with a financial package of Rs.80,000 crore ($12 billion) and vowed to continue former BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s principle of “jamhooriyat”, “insaniyat” and “Kashmiriyat”.
However, little has changed on the ground — both politically and developmentally — in Jammu and Kashmir that lies at the tipping point of the nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan.
Vajpayee, famously hailed for his peaceful initiatives with Pakistan to solve the Kashmir dispute, had approached the problem from multiple dimensions. While engaging with Pakistan’s then military dictator Pervez Musharraf, he also held negotiations with Kashmiri separatists.
Modi’s tactic has been in contrast to his predecessor. When it came to Kashmir he made it clear that he needed “no advice or analysis from anywhere in the world”.
The prime minister not only chose to keep Kashmiri separatists at bay but also disengaged Pakistan as an external dimension to what he says is an internal problem to be solved with jobs and inclusive development.
“This is an inward-looking exercise. Vajpayee understood the issue. Modi gives jingoistic postures. He ignores the basic reality. It is a dispute (between India and Pakistan) that not only previous central governments have accepted but is also recognized by the Indian constitution,” says Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a professor at Central University, Kashmir.
Hussian said jobs and development could not be substitute for resolving larger Kashmir problem and bringing lasting peace in the region.
Recent spells of unrest – like violent stir in a Srinagar college, and deadly protests in Handwara that left five people dead in firing by security forces in March – have proved that peace in Kashmir has always been too fragile that gets disturbed even by a whiff of a scandal or a true or false report of human rights violations by security forces.
On the development front, Jammu and Kashmir has not seen many changes. Officials in the state finance ministry say that only a portion of Rs.80,000-crore financial package has been released and most of it has been spent on the partial rehabilitation of the survivors of the 2014 floods.
Joblessness remains a primary concern for policymakers. The state, according to official figures, has an upward of a million jobless men and women and the problem can’t find a solution in mere financial packages unless backed by concrete initiatives that guarantee employment.
“Nothing has happened (on job front) so far,” said a state finance ministry official, requesting anonymity.
He said the problem is not of joblessness only but the larger issue is of skill shortage. “The government has recently constituted a skill development mission. It is a starter. But if you ask how many new jobs were created I will say none,” said the official.