Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation, in the wake of his government’s landmark decision to repeal Article 370, was high on symbolism and hope for a better tomorrow. However, the irony of the occasion is too stark to ignore. The Valley is in a lockdown state, virtually cut off from the rest of the world and in the grip of fear and uncertainty following a dramatic turn of events that resulted in ending the seven-decade long special status and splitting the border State into two Union Territories. While Modi’s outreach promised a great future marked by ever-lasting peace, genuine grassroots democracy and development, the ground reality presents a grim picture where people are unable to come out of their homes due to severe restrictions and security clampdown. There is no doubt that Jammu & Kashmir is now on the cusp of a new beginning, following the historic move to integrate it with the rest of country by scrapping the discriminatory constitutional provision. However, the need of the hour is to provide a healing touch to the tormented citizens of the Valley. The message of development, assimilation, good governance and new leadership must reach them in an atmosphere free from tension and political curbs. The first step is to ease the restrictions, restore communication lines and lift curfew so that the people can celebrate Eid normally. The violence-hit Valley needs a balm to heal its wounds.
Modi’s speech had a fairy tale touch to it, promising transformation through big-ticket investments, jobs to the youth and application of all laws of the country that were hitherto out of bounds for the State. However, it must be pointed out that this fairy tale can have a happy ending only when the youth, who form 60% of Kashmir’s population, are convinced about the futility of pursuing the path of separatism and are made active partners in the growth story being scripted for the border State. From IITs and IIMs to food processing industries; from roads, power projects and Army jobs to property rights for women and reservations for weaker sections, there was no development plank that was left uncovered in Modi’s speech. He made a strong pitch for development of J&K on a par with the rest of the country. The moderate elements in the State must seize this opportunity, embrace the democratic route and participate in the efforts to transform the region. Though there is a growing realisation that Article 370 and Article 35A had done immense harm to the State by encouraging separatism, nepotism and massive corruption, the lack of opportunities for growth had kept the youth entrapped in a dangerous political narrative that harped on hatred for India.