Kashmir furiously debates Modi's rise and rise

By Sheikh Qayoom 
Srinagar, May 15 (IANS): BJP leader Narendra Modi's probable rise to the top job in India invokes both hope and uncertainty among people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Whichever way the locals view Modi, nobody doubts that once in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party's icon will face an uphill task carrying the minorities along -- in view of his 2002 Gujarat baggage.

"His biggest challenge will be to convince the minorities, especially the Muslims, that development and progress will be an all-inclusive agenda and not specific to this or that religion," said Bashir Ahmad, 60, a retired senior government officer.

"Given the memories of the Gujarat riots, proving his secular credentials will be the toughest call he will have to take," Ahmad told IANS.

Initially, moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was reported to have said that Modi, like former BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, would help push forward a possible resolution of the Kashmir problem.

Later, the Mirwaiz denied making such a statement.

In the Kashmir Valley, the ruling National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) swore during Lok Sabha election rallies that they would have no truck with Modi if he came to power.

The National Conference remained at the forefront of invoking Modi's fear while seeking votes.

Interestingly, the fear psychosis the National Conference tried to create by invoking his name seems to have found few takers.

Farooq Abdullah said Kashmir had to be "saved" from Modi since he would abrogate article 370 of the constitution that gives special status to the country's only Muslim-majority state.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah went a step ahead saying if article 370 was axed, Kashmir won't remain a part of India.

"The NC leaders also said his (Modi's) becoming the prime minister will affect the eclectic culture of Kashmir. These are slogans nobody takes seriously in the valley," said Muzaffar Ahmad, a college teacher.

The man on the street does not believe anybody can dilute the special status of the state.

"How can a constitutional guarantee be diluted unless you choose to re-open the entire issue of the state's accession to India?" asked Suhail Ahmad, 34, a lawyer here.

There are some locals who believe that Modi can never do anything to annoy the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir and in the rest of the country.

"He will have to prove he is not anti-Muslim as his political adversaries claim. How can anyone expect to rule India and be seen as anti-Muslim?" asked Abdul Majid, a retired government employee.

"There are 18 crore (180 million) Muslims in India. It is not the question of just Jammu and Kashmir," Majid, 62, told IANS.

For those living in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, Modi represents a change for the better. People in Jammu speak of him as somebody who has no great legacy to defend, unless he creates one or leaves it behind.

"He will definitely ensure that corruption, mis-governance and nepotism are checked," said a Jammu government official who did not want to be quoted by name.

"He will have to bring down the prices of essentials of life because that has been the main plank of his election campaign," added the official.

Jammu city receives hundreds of pilgrims daily who come to visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. Each year millions of devotees reach Jammu en route to the shrine.

"We expect more pilgrims to visit Jammu and Katra if peace prevails in the state. We somehow feel Modi would be a strong prime minister who would not handle separatism with kid gloves," said Harpreet Singh, 28, a vocal Modi supporter in Jammu.


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