Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose his fourth Independence Day speech to unveil a new rhetorical prescription for dealing with Kashmir: “Na gaali se, na goli se, lekin galey lagane se.” Not through insults or bullets, but by embracing them.
The Kashmir referemce comes even as the valley continues to be rocked by unrest as well as political headwinds that seem to be moving it further away from Delhi. On Monday, four security personnel were injured in a militant attack, while rival politicians in the valley were working to find common ground over a perceived threat to the state’s special status.
“Stone pelters and separatists in Jammu and Kashmir have been trying to harm the country, but we are fighting against them,” Modi said in his speech. “We are committed to restoring Kashmir’s status of ‘Heaven on Earth.’”
The gaali-goli-galey lagane line is not the first time Modi has pulled out a characteristic one-liner as a solution to the Kashmir problem. In April, speaking at Udhampur in Jammu, the prime minister gave a choice to the youth of Kashmir: Choose between “tourism and terrorism”. In August 2016, Modi said it was sad to see youngsters carrying stones instead of laptops.
The lines might be catchy, but they bear almost no resemblance to Modi and his government’s behaviour on the ground. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is, after all, in power in Jammu and Kashmir in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party. Yet, despite this unusual partnership that came together after elections in 2014, the situation in Kashmir has only deteriorated, with the political space for moderate voices seeming to shrink. Public response to the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in 2016, which led to protests, stone-pelting and a months-long shutdown, and the trajectory of the state ever since has only exposed this disparity even further.
Indeed, Modi’s hugs, not bullets or abuses line is particularly audacious in the aftermath of his government’s treatment of the human shield incident. On April 9, an Army jeep was driven through several villages near Srinagar with a Kashmiri man tied to the bonnet along with a note that said “this would be the fate of the stone pelters”. Despite the use of human shields being considered war crimes in many parts of the world, the government chose to defend the move and the Army even honoured the officer involved.
Meanwhile, online and on TV debates, the discourse about Kashmiris – with BJP spokespersons and leaders fanning the flames – turned vicious. TV anchors have indeed been unapologetic about offering insults and calling for bullets to be used against Kashmiris. Whether they will now take up the prime minister’s call for embrace remains to be seen.
In the call for a tighter embrace of Kashmir, others saw a different message. A 63-year-old law barring citizens from other parts of the country from acquiring immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir has become the latest flashpoint in the state. This came after the Union Attorney General refused to respond to a Public Interest Litigation against Article 35A, the law in question, saying the Centre wants a “larger debate” on it.
Removing Article 35A would fulfill a longstanding demand of the Hindu Right, which sees a demographic change in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley as the only way of solving the ‘Kashmir problem.’ But the Centre’s move has inspired politicians like Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to make common cause with her rivals in the National Conference, with both promising that any change to the law would leave “no one to shoulder the Indian flag in the Valley.”
Modi’s call for a tighter embrace of Kashmir was, for some, a reference to how the BJP government wants to handle that part of the country: Not through bullets or insults, but fully bringing it into the Centre’s embrace.