Before Narendra Modi announced the much-touted Rs 80,000-crore package for Kashmir at a rally in Srinagar on Saturday, the People's Democratic Party leader attempted to offer some advice to the prime minister about embarking on a big-brotherly friendship and dialogue with Pakistan. But Modi was quick to snub Sayeed and his circle, whose brand of soft separatism for electoral gains has already hit its sell-by date.
“I don’t need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir,” Modi told the carefully arranged crowd in Srinagar. No other single event has perhaps ever revealed what commentators in Kashmir refer to as a "client-master relationship" between Srinagar and New Delhi than Modi’s telling Mufti off about the political dispute over the ever-restive state.
Ever since Mufti allied with Modi’s BJP against the wishes of some members of his own People’s Democratic Party and voters in Kashmir, the chief minister has not repeated his self-rule mantra. Sensing little resonance of that approach, Mufti has instead calibrated his rhetoric to appear in synch with Modi’s "vision of development" alone. But Kashmir’s political history is replete with instances showing that promises of economic prosperity alone have changed little in a place ruled by the bitter memory of consistently eroding dignity, human and political rights for its people.
If Mufti’s alliance with the BJP has riled the people of Kashmir, further compounded by a growing climate of Hindutva intolerance across India, Modi’s apolitical vision for the disputed Muslim-majority state, as he revealed it in Srinagar, has shown that he sees Kashmir as nothing more than a peaceful pleasure ground for tourists.
Modi deployed Vajpayee’s symbolism of "Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat" (Democracy, Kashmiri ethos and Humanity) but this does not include the all-encompassing idea of justice, the principle concern and the core of the Kashmiri political aspiration. Modi said he wanted to see Kashmir again as that destination for average Indian travelers who always dreamed of enjoying “service and hospitality” by its people.
The gap between what Kashmiris need, or struggle for, and what a patronising Modi or New Delhi has to offer has always manifested as the engine of violence that has cost Kashmir dear.
This gap was the reason that the protest and dissent that resulted in the “Million March” called by the separatists found such resonance among ordinary Kashmiris that the government had to silence it to welcome the prime minister amid an enforced desolation.
But protests proceeded nonetheless; the so-called non-lethal weapons and tear smoke canisters were still fired. And, the prime minister, the chief minister and his waiting-in-the-wings daughter, Mehbooba Mufti praised the few thousand people bussed into the rally venue, conveniently ignoring the caged citizens.
Some may have genuinely come to listen to what Modi what to say in order to figure out for themselves.
Among them was an elderly man from the highly militarised frontier district of Kupwara. A story he narrated to me in response to my asking him how he understood what Modi said is revealing of how little ice a Modi and a Mufti cut in Kashmir today. "Listen son, I've no love for these cartoons," he said. "But I was checking on these political jokers for one more, perhaps last time, if they've any sense of duty or affection left in them."
As I was trying to frame another question, he said to me: "I got the final-final confirmation from none other than India's prime minister today."
Then he narrated a story from the border area in which he lives.
"I knew an army colonel and would once in a while be invited to visit him in his camp," he said. "One day I spotted a few Kashmiri men with unkempt beards and fearsome looks taking a nap in the camp lawns. I asked the colonel who the men were, thinking they were arrested militants.”
The officer, he said, replied that they were counterinsurgents, Ikhwanis, who had outlived their utility for the army.
“What is going to happen to them now,” the man had asked the colonel. “The officer quickly replied: 'These men betrayed their own people. How can they be trustworthy for us? They will go to hell!'
I asked him what the lesson was. “Didn’t you hear Modi saying he doesn’t need anyone’s advice on Kashmir,” he replied, adding, “India will do what it wants here, India will never ask us.”
For those Kashmiris who do not accept this state of affairs the financial package also brought with it a coffin to fit another young Kashmiri engineering student who was killed during a protest hours after Modi left for New Delhi.