With the landmark verdict on the polarising Ayodhya title suit out of the way, there was a collective sigh of relief as people showed maturity in accepting it gracefully. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly read in the sober national reaction a reflection of the strength and vibrancy of our democracy. Well done India, clap, clap. Ayodhya was seen as a possible flashpoint in Kashmir but the Valley didn’t seem to mind.
It was anyway too tied up with its self-imposed shutdown over Article 370 to pay attention to what was happening elsewhere. Can we now at least commence full restoration of civil liberties in Kashmir and start the healing process? Basic facilities like the internet and pre-paid mobile services have not been available ever since Article 370 was read down on August 5. And a clutch of influential political leaders have been under house arrest since then. While separatist leaders have been put out of business and their funds choked, there are no alternative icons right now to fill the vacuum. Advertisements conveying how children of separatists are sent to exotic lands to study while the locals are instigated to push their wards to stone-pelting have at best-limited appeal. The law-and-order machinery is easing its grip by and by, but the presence of armed security personnel in every nook and cranny is simply overwhelming. Sure, terror attacks overall have gone down, but the cost paid is way too heavy.
On the flip side, Nature has just started working in India’s favour, as Kashmir witnessed its first snowfall last week. With winter setting in, it will plug the gaps in the porous Indo-Pak border along the LoC and make terrorist infiltration extremely difficult, allowing the Centre to work on restoring complete normalcy. Till such time it happens, India will have to hear lectures from friends and foes on the values of a free society. Winning over the hearts and minds of people fed on a diet of Pakistani propaganda and exposed to radicalisation may not be as easy as Delhi seems to imagine. Kashmir could be the biggest test for Modi’s charm offensive.