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Kashmir Anxiously Awaits ‘Modi Ki Guarantee’ On Assembly Elections, Statehood Restoration 

The regional political parties in Jammu and Kashmir expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take inspiration from former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who invoked ‘Insaniyaat, Jhamhooriyaat, and Kashmiriyat’ in his outreach to Kashmiris, and work towards the promises of the restoration of statehood and the holding of assembly elections.

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A hoarding welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Jammu and Kashmir Photo: Getty Images
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Kashmir is still in the grip of a winter chill. Though spring is yet to arrive, a ‘lotus bloom’ has been set in alongside the Jhelum’s banks, en route to a spot where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to address his first-ever rally in Kashmir during his second term. 

Modi has not visited Kashmir during his second term as PM. The last time he visited Kashmir was in February 2019 — the time when J&K was still a state, though there was no elected government in place. Much has changed in Kashmir during these years. It is no more a state now while its special status has also been scrapped. Kashmir’s administration is being run by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

The government says these years in Kashmir have been peaceful with no stone-pelting incidents, militant numbers are minuscule, and people have been provided with a transparent system. However, the political parties in Kashmir counter these claims of the administration and demand the holding of the assembly elections.  

This time, Modi will address Kashmir from Srinagar’s Bakshi Stadium, the venue of his ‘Viksit Bharat Viksit Jammu Kashmir’ program. It is significant considering the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have raised their pitch to conduct assembly elections alongside upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Besides, they are also demanding restoration of the statehood.

The last time assembly elections were held in J&K was in 2014. Post August 5, 2019, the Panchayat and DDC elections have been held, however, assembly elections have not been held.

Modi is also scheduled to inaugurate the integrated development project of the Hazratbal shrine along the banks of Dal Lake virtually from Bakshi Stadium.

The stringent security measures have been made for Modi’s visit in Srinagar on Thursday. Srinagar, particularly Lal Chowk and adjacent areas to Bakshi Stadium, have been donned with PM’s and BJP flags. At places, hoardings and banners of Modi have been set. 

The local BJP unit is upbeat about the PM’s visit. For J&K BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur, Modi’s Srinagar visit is going to be both “historic” and “huge”.

“Two lakh people are expected to attend PM Modi rally,” Thakur told Outlook.

For him, it will reflect a “change” as he says Kashmir has moved on the path of development.

“This will show the change. Abrogation of Article 370 is no issue now. It was in fact milked by three dynastic political parties. It was their propaganda,” says Thakur. 

The spokesperson of the region’s grand old party National Conference, Imran Nabi Dar, takes a dig at the BJP’s Kashmir unit saying the government employees have been asked to attend the rally.

“They (BJP) have already asked help from the government departments…there have been reports which state that government employees have been asked to attend the function. So they (BJP) are themselves not sure whether ordinary people would turn up for the rally. Now they have resorted to bring in government employees. It shows the confidence level of BJP functionaries here. Because they might know that common people will not attend their functions which is why government servants have been asked,” says Dar.

National Conference leader and former J&K CM Omar Abdullah also criticised the move to forcibly make government employees attend the Prime Minister's rally in Srinagar. He tweeted:

NC hopes that PM announces confidence-building measures (CBMs) for the people of Kashmir.

“The thing is if the PM comes to Kashmir, like there has been the precedence in the past, some popular CBMs have been announced, new projects were announced, new things have been announced,” says Dar.

Dar says for now there have been only “problems” in Kashmir. 

“There are no assembly elections happening, statehood has not been restored, and there are some issues like inflation. Unemployment is a big issue,” says Dar, adding that there are many things like this that need to be addressed.

Dar further says, “As he is the head of the country, we are looking forward if something substantial comes towards people of J&K.”

Dar says he hopes Modi will make some announcement about the thing the people of J&K have been eagerly waiting for. 

“On the top of it are assembly elections because we have been kept away from the elections for the past four and half years. Things like statehood are pending which they had promised in Parliament. Time has now come for head of the country to announce CBMs for the good of the people of J&K,” says Dar.

However, BJP’s Thakur says Modi will announce a big development package which is “need of the hour”.

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“There is going to be an announcement about a big package. At this stage, I don’t think it is right to talk about the return of statehood. The Home Minister has already made that commitment. This whole program will rally around development,” he says.

Besides, Thakur says Modi will also meet the families of martyrs and entrepreneurs at the spot.

The BJP has made elaborate arrangements to welcome its leader in the city with banners and hoardings of PM furling in the city.

Thakur also says it is for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to look into the matter of conducting simultaneously Parliamentary and Assembly elections in J&K.

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The region’s other political party, PDP, who ran the coalition government with BJP from 2014 to 2018 in J&K, wants Modi to be like his predecessor late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. PDP wants Modi to be Vajpayee — who spoke about ‘Insaniyaat, Jamhooriyaat, and Kashmiriyat’ during his rally in 2003.

“When Vajpayeejee held rally in Kashmir…people opened their hearts for him and left the rally with their heads high,” says PDP spokesperson Najmu Saqib.

Saqib says Modi should rise to the occasion and try to heal the “wounds” of Kashmiris. He says it is time to take a cue from the Vajpayee era when he spoke about healing and furthering ties with the neighbors at a time when acrimony was at its peak at the time of the Kargil War and the Parliament attack. “That was statesmanship,” says Saqib.

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Saqib says the people have got expectations. 

“So what we are expecting right now is some sort of concrete thing for the people of Kashmir as PM himself said that ‘dil and Dilli ki duri khatam karna chahta hu’. So we hope that there is a concrete step in that direction and that a concrete positive message is sent to the people because Kashmiris are wounded,” he says.

Saqib says a “healing process of reconciliation and not a process of retribution” is started.

“There are families that have been affected by this conflict. Within the larger ambit of Constitution whatever was promised, we hope the PM rises to the occasion and hope he sees to it that people of J&K get a better deal,” he adds. 

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