How Modi killed Mufti’s Vajpayee dream in Srinagar
Neither did the PM deliver on the India-Pakistan equation, nor speak about growing intolerance.
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Ever since its formation in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which runs a coalition government with the BJP in J&K, has talked about the supremacy of the state’s 87-member Assembly, arguing it has a major say in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
In 2003, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the chief minister of the PDP-Congress coalition government in the state when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed the people of Srinagar and announced a dialogue with separatists, within the ambit of “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat”.
He also extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. Ahead of the prime minister’s November 7 visit, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his ministers left no stone unturned to create a Vajpayee-like moment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Srinagar. The ruling party presumed that a huge crowd in Srinagar would convince the prime minister that India and Pakistan should start dialogue and the Centre should initiate talks with separatists to find a political solution to the Kashmir issue as the party believed that massive crowd in 2003 changed the opinion of Vajpayee.
They believed the same would happen this time.
PDP, which is an ally of the BJP, even went on to justify how their alliance with BJP is proof of Modi being a secular leader. Some of its leaders argued in spite of being votary of self-rule, a regional Muslim party, having certain ideas about Kashmir, Modi allied with the PDP in the state.
This way the PDP prepared ground for Modi in Srinagar hoping he would announce Vajpayee-like political initiatives and talk about the intolerance debate. The state government squeezed separatists and ensured that they do not come out to take a parallel march on November 7 as announced by senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani.
Across Kashmir, hundreds of separatist leaders, their activists were taken into custody. Some netizens, who posted pro-march links and statements on Facebook, were called to police stations. And on November 7, thousands of PDP workers were brought to the venue of the rally at the Sheri Kashmir Cricket Stadium.
Seeing large numbers of people, PDP leaders were elated, with Mehbooba Mufti waving to audience she had gathered for Modi. Mehbooba, who was the first speaker, told the prime minister that Kashmiris have sealed their fate with India. She pleaded to the prime minister that these people have hopes from you and you surely might have thoughts for them.
Then came chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He began with praise and described the prime minister as the man destined to make India a world power. Sayeed said his alliance with BJP reflected the wishes of the people, as 1.2 billion people of the country reposed their faith in Modi's leadership. Then he invoked Vajpayee, his favourite subject and dream, and asked the prime minister to take the lead in engaging Islamabad in a sustained and meaningful dialogue.
“Bade Bhai ko Chote Bhai se Milna hi hoga,” Sayeed said. On “intolerance”, Sayeed drew Modi's attention towards the legislative Assembly resolution and said the House had set a perfect example by passing a peace resolution that sent a message of tolerance and inclusiveness to the rest of the country, thus subtly conveying his belief that the Assembly of the only Muslim majority state of India wanted that the prime minister talk about growing intolerance.
In his response, for around 30 minutes of his 40-minute speech, Modi talked about how beautiful Kashmir is and how much he is in love with Kashmiris, and that it is this love that brings him again and again to this paradise on earth. He talked about how he skipped celebrating Diwali last year with his family and preferred to spent it with flood-affected Kashmiris. He added that even the Chinese prime minister wanted to celebrate his birthday last year, but he gave preference to Kashmiris.
Modi said he went to his mother to seek blessings and she donated Rs 5,000 towards rehabilitating Kashmiris. Earlier, she would give Rs 11. Then he talked about how in 17 months he made India the fastest growing economy in the world, so much so that now the world is comparing India with China.
Even as Modi told the crowd that he didn’t need any advice from anyone on Kashmir, Mufti was visibly disappointed that his dream that the crowd in Srinagar could convince Modi to take political initiative had drowned in Modi’s China speech.
The prime minister of India then announced Rs 80,000 crore financial assistance to the state providing much relief to finance minister Haseeb Drabu, who was anxiously waiting for the declaration for past one year, which had put his reputation at stake in the party. While Drabu got respite, Mufti failed to score any political package, even as his PDP had beaten its arch rival National Conference on its political slogans of self-rule, friendship with Pakistan, dialogue with separatists and didn’t hesitate to project itself as soft separatist.
On this Diwali, Modi killed PDP’s delusion that Srinagar could determine the India-Pakistan equation and a resolution of state Assembly of the only Muslim majority state on intolerance can force him to make a statement. It's got an economic package, but lost its slogan.