Security has been beefed up in the state ahead of the visit that includes a scheduled public rally in Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium. Separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and others, including a number of young workers have already been detained by the police. Supported by several other groups, Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference has called for a "Million March" on the same day.
The People's Democratic Party-Bharaitya Janata Party coalition government is eagerly waiting for the widely expected announcement of a development package of Rs one lakh crore for the state, including the much-delayed relief package for the devastating September 2014 floods. Last week, the local newspapers in Kashmir reported that the flood relief package would be only Rs 5,000 crore despite the then state government’s request of Rs 44,000 crore.
A political mistake
The state government has grand hopes from Modi’s visit. Chief minister Mufti Sayeed has been praising him in advance. “The Prime Minister is a visionary leader and has his eyes fixed on overall development of Jammu and Kashmir," Sayeed said. "I see this visit as an opportunity for history to repeat itself. I have met Narendra Modi a couple of times and realised that he genuinely wants to win the hearts and minds of people of the state.”
The economic package is meant to showcase the advantages of being in alliance with the government at the Centre. While Sayeed might want to project that he and his party negotiated a massive package from Delhi for people's welfare, it is not going to cut much ice with those of his critics in the valley for whom the state's unaddressed problems are not economic but political in nature.
To hope or to believe that fixing the economy of the state will help remove the anti-India sentiments will be a political mistake, the kind that has been repeatedly committed by Sayeed's predecessors as well.
In an interview to Times of India, Sayeed also acknowledged that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is also a party to Modi’s plans about Kashmir. Sayeed said that the good thing is that on Kashmir, Modi doesn't just rely on intelligence reports but he "talks to the RSS, gets feedback from them". That RSS is meddling in Kashmir affairs is considered a good thing by Sayeed has already resulted in adverse comments from his critics.
The ‘million march’ protest
This, however, is not the first time that the people are protesting against a Prime Minister’s visit. It has been a ritual to observe shutdown on such occasions but this time the separatists have called for a "million march" at the TRC grounds in Srinagar, leading to action against them much in advance.
“If the communal and non-state people can hold rallies in Kashmir, then why are the citizens of this state not allowed to do the same?” asked Geelani. “We had assured that the proposed million march will be peaceful and disciplined in every way and that event will not create any law and order problem. But the government forces displayed the worst face of state terrorism and started a massive arrest spree,” he charged.
Dozens of young activists were arrested during night raids in different parts of Kashmir. The police claim those arrested are known stone-throwers and the action against them is to ensure peace. It is a claim that does not stand scrutiny, as many of those thus picked up for "preventive detention" have gone on to pick up guns against the state in the past. Any police heavy-handedness could prove to be provocative and trigger off a cycle of violence and protests, as past experience shows.
Controversial lawmaker Er Rasheed plans to welcome Modi with protests and black flags. “Is Modi going to announce India’s willingness to implement UN resolutions on Kashmir, restoration of autonomy, implementation of so-called self-rule formulae or make an unconditional talk offer to Syed Salahuddin?” he asked.
Shabir Shah, a member of Geelani’s party, said that Kashmiris didn't offer the sacrifices of five lakh people for economic packages but for that right to self-determination.
The police, meanwhile, are monitoring social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to block pages or profiles that are promoting the "million march".
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