Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally responded to the situation in Kashmir which can only be described as the worst since protests first began two decades ago. He was at his rhetorical best when he said that the people of Kashmir could enjoy azadi (freedom) as much as the rest of the country. He reiterated that his government followed the principles of insaniyat (humanity) and jamooriyat (democracy) that former Prime Minister Vajpayee enunciated during his regime. Home Minister Rajnath Singh complemented him when he said that no force on earth could separate Kashmir from India. However confidence-inspiring these statements are, they do not hide the fact that the situation in the Valley remains grim.
It has been a month since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani’s killing at the hands of the security forces triggered violence in the Valley. For all practical purposes, curfew prevails in the area and people quietly obey the protest calls of Hurriyat leaders. The state government has ceased to have any say in the running of the day-to-day affairs of the state. The Centre is able to prevent the situation from going out of its hands mainly on account of the strong and growing presence of the Army. Needless to say, all this does not inspire confidence. While nobody doubts the fact that Kashmir will always remain an integral part of India, a lot needs to be done to keep the Kashmiri hearts with India. Parroting platitudes is not sufficient.
India may or may not talk to Pakistan. However, it cannot fight shy of talking to the people of Kashmir. They need to be convinced that in a democracy there are no issues which cannot be settled through talks. There was a Prime Minister who said that the sky was the limit for granting autonomy to the state. In other words, there are no limits for any engagement with the people. This message needs to percolate down to the people of Kashmir.