By undertaking the visit to the Valley, Amit Shah served India’s national interest well for the state, besides enumerating the broader vision for its future and its people.
“The Jana Sangh’s and BJP’s approach towards Kashmir, from Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee to Narendra Modi, has been consistent. Perhaps someday you could do a study of this, through the resolutions and parliamentary debates,” Amit Shah once told us while chairing ameeting of the party’s library department. That was about four summers ago, when as BJP national president he was in the midst of restructuring the various wings of the party.
As Union home minister, in June 2019, Shah firmly demonstrated that consistency. His reminding everyone that Article 370 of the Constitution was a “temporary” provision was something which no leader had done in the recent past. Instead of welcoming a debate on the provision, and encouraging a free and mature exchange of views on the subject, there have been repeated attempts to discourage or suppress any meaningful debate. Privileged activists, Valley junket organisers and editorial composers dismissed such efforts as pandering to majoritarianism and communalism.
In the past five years there has also been an accelerated process of integration, the Modi government’s development agenda has been seen making inroads in the Valley and part of Shah’s interventions during the debate on the Jammu & Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill highlighted that. It was clear to the discerning that when he spoke in both Houses, Shah was also talking directly to the people of the Valley.
That 80% of the Rs 80,000 crore sanctioned for the state had already been disbursed, that a number of central schemes were already being successfully implemented, that the universal affordable healthcare scheme, Ayushman Bharat, has seen the highest beneficiaries from the state, where inputs that Shah shared with the House, but beyond his simply enumerating these, the deeper significance emerged when he pointed out that this was true ‘insaniyaat’ (humanity).
The change on the ground in the state was visible with officials working on the ground, monitoring implementation of schemes and projects. This had been absent in the past many decades.
Shah also presented the state as a model. He had done this earlier too, when West Bengal had emerged as the epicentre of political violence during the general elections of 2019. Shah had argued then, and he argued in Parliament later, that in contrast the Panchayat and Lok Sabha elections in Jammu & Kashmir were completely devoid of any violence. He challenged the entrenched false narrative of a state in the throes of perpetual clash and instability.
The state’s cultural fundamentals would truly be preserved and perpetuated when Kashmiri Pandits would be able to worship at the sacred Kshir Bhawani and the Sufis too would be seen to be present there. To this Shah reiterated he was committed. Rhetoric, polemic, hollow sloganeering was completely absent from Shah’s replies. In fact, it has never been his style. His interventions, both legislative and political, have always stemmed from a deep and sweeping study of the various dimensions of history and of politics.
Far from deepening the unease in the Valley, Shah’s visit to the Valley and his masterly steering of the Bill was a reiteration of Modi’s vision and approach to the region – for those who have decided to go with the Union of India the agenda, the pledge and the commitment were that of more development, more opportunities and greater possibilities. The Bill was passed unanimously by the Upper House with the leader of the Congress party in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad grudgingly acceding that for the first time after a long hiatus, there were no calls for blackouts and hartals during the Union home minister’s visit to the Valley.
An atmosphere of hope and apprehension surrounded Shah’s visit to the Valley. Hope, for those who wished to connect their aspirations to wider India, for those who yearned for possibilities, for avenues, for fulfilment, and apprehension for those who promoted separatism and terrorism. The crackdown on foreign funded conglomerations in the Valley, the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JKLF, the arrest of separatists and foreign funded elements, the seizure of property and asset worth Rs 1,457 crore that was being funnelled into terrorist activities had naturally instilled apprehension in the destabilisers. This apprehension led to the creation of a false narrative down the line which was being amplified and projected as if there was fear among the people of the Valley.
By undertaking the visit to the Valley, by steering the Bill and his historic speeches in both Houses on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, Shah, in fact, served India’s national interest well for the state, besides enumerating the broader vision for its future and its people.
(The author is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi)