Reaching out to J&K

PM’s speech sets tone, now to match words with deeds

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his much-anticipated ‘address to the nation’, sought to reach out to the people of Jammu, Ladakh and especially Kashmir three days after his government’s far-reaching decision to scrap provisions of Article 370 and bifurcate the troubled state into UTs. The 40-minute televised speech was peppered with messages of hope and assurances of all-round development, jobs, early and transparent elections and an end to terrorism. The Eid greetings by the PM came with the promise that his government will ensure that there are no difficulties in celebrating the festival next Monday. Therein lies the first test, given that the Valley has been reeling under a security clampdown since last Monday.

If there were misgivings about the people of Jammu and Kashmir not being consulted before deciding their fate, there have been mounting concerns over the continuing communication cut-off. Something the PM did allude to, as he termed Article 370 a thing of the past and imagined an optimistic future. For a region in the firm grip of a perceived sense of injustice, words hold little meaning. The distrust is generational. Constitutional changes have been effected, J&K now needs a fresh social-emotional construct — a re-engagement matched with deeds on the ground, without vindictiveness or chest-thumping, and constant messaging to win back the trust, however incremental.

To the PM’s call, India Inc has not lost much time in pledging large-scale investment in the state, but this too requires a cautious, calibrated approach. The idea of land sharks suddenly landing in droves in J&K in the garb of development, the possible negative environmental impact, the imminent loss of identity, tampering with culture — the anxieties are not Kashmir-centric; there are strong opinions even in Jammu and Ladakh. If the abrogation of Article 370 is a fait accompli, no process of a gradual healing can happen by deciding not to listen to sane voices of caution and wisdom.

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