Home Minister gets glass security shield removed from podium reflecting his trust on Kashmiris.
NEW DELHI: The past week has been dominated by political headlines of different hues—Sonia Gandhi joining Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka; KCR announcing his national outreach through Bharat Rashtra Samiti; RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s annual Dussehra discourse, accompanied by RSS for the first time inviting a woman to be its chief guest; Arvind Kejriwal’s continued attempt to foray into Gujarat; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Gujarat and to Himachal Pradesh to set the ball rolling for the BJP’s campaign for the forthcoming elections in these states. The other major headline was about Home Minister Amit Shah’s outreach in Jammu & Kashmir. His rallies in Rajouri in Jammu region and Baramulla in Kashmir were well attended. Wednesday last at a largely attended rally at Baramulla’s Shaukat Ali Stadium, to the visible chagrin of security officers, Shah insisted that the glass security shield on the podium be removed before he began his address. This, he said, was necessary to reflect the improved security scenario. It also was a gesture aimed at showing that the Home Minister trusts the common man in Kashmir. While he was speaking, azaan from a nearby mosque could be heard. He paused in respect to the call to the faithful by a moulavi and resumed speaking after the azaan ended. This was for the first time in the past 35 years that a top Central leader was speaking at Baramulla.
He started his speech with a glowing tribute to a son of the soil, Maqbool Sherwani, who was martyred fighting the invasion by Pakistani tribals in 1947—in one stroke he invoked the contribution of the common man in J&K to the integration of the state with the Union of India—a process which was augmented with the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019. Rejecting the opinion of parties like National Conference (NC) and PDP, who advocate a dialogue with Pakistan on J&K, Shah said he prefers to talk to the people of J&K instead. “42,000 people died in militancy related incidents in J&K, but no son of any leader died—it was always the poor man who had to carry the heaviest weight in the world—the dead body of his son,” Shah said and attacked the rule by “three families” (Abdullah, Mufti, and the Nehru-Gandhis). Referring to the rise in number of tourists visiting the valley in recent months (tourism is key to employment in the valley) he said that “Mufti & Co. and Abdullah & Sons made Kashmir a terrorist spot while Modiji has made Kashmir a tourist hotspot”.
Before travelling to Baramulla, the Home Minister reviewed the security situation in Srinagar—his talisman to the police was “Begunah ko chhedna nahi aur gunehgar ko chhodna nahin” (don’t touch the innocent and don’t let the guilty get away). His visit, coming five months after the PM’s visit to Samba where Narendra Modi promised that the youth of J&K would not face the kind of suffering that their parents and grandparents faced, has ignited hopes for elections being held next summer. While announcing reservations for the Pahari community, Shah pointed out that this was not possible as long as Article 370 was in force. The announcement came after Shah had met stakeholders from the Pahari, Bakerwal and Gujjar communities and allayed their apprehensions. (Paharis are a linguistic group mainly residing in the Pir Panjal valley: Poonch-Rajouri area, Mirpur, and some parts of Kashmir—Baramulla, Kupwara and Uri. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs belong to the Pahari community; they make up around 10% of the population.) A leader of NC, Mushtaq Ahmed Shah Bukhari quit Abdullah’s party to join Shah’s Baramulla rally and so did a three-term NC MLA, Kafeel ur Rehman. The BJP’s preparations for elections in the Union Territory, slated perhaps in April 2023, seemed to have received a fillip by the Shah visit. Apart from the traditional contestants, NC, PDP, Congress, the BJP has to now also face the Democratic Azad Party formed by Ghulam Nabi Azad. The party has ruled out an alliance with DAP as of now—but post poll scenarios can be multifarious.
Signs of normalcy trudging back were available a fortnight before Shah’s visit. In the third week of September, cinema returned to Kashmir 32 years after militants shut down movie halls. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated two cinema halls in Pulwama and Shopian and then came the big ticket inauguration, the Inox multiplex in Srinagar—Myoun—owned by a Kashmiri Pandit family headed by Vijay Dhar, son of the illustrious D.P. Dhar, who headed India’s Policy Planning Committee during the 1971 Bangladesh operation. An avowed supporter of “Kashmiriyat”, Vijay Dhar told media that he had not built the multiplex to make money. “My dream is to see that the Valley regains its touch of paradise. I remember the day, when my theatre closed down in 1990. Sunny Deol’s movie ‘Yateem’ was being screened. Terrorism made Kashmir a ‘yateem’ (orphan). Our aim is to bring back the shine to Kashmir Valley and repay the debt to our land of birth.” Vijay Dhar and his family have stayed on in Srinagar even after 1990—a franchise of Delhi Public School set up by them provides quality education in the valley. There is need for more Kashmiri entrepreneurs to emulate what the Dhars have done.
With cinemas shut, Kashmiris had to go to Jammu to watch “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” or Shah Rukh’s movie, “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”. Salman Khan’s 1989 superhit film, “Maine Pyar Kiya” was never screened in the cinema theatres of the valley. In 2014, when Salman Khan had gone to the Valley for shooting “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, there were throngs of youths watching him doing the shooting scenes, but they could not watch his movie in the Valley. With movie halls back, that scenario changes.
Kashmir has been part of Bollywood fantasy ever since the 1961 Subodh Mukherjee film “Junglee” starring Shammi Kapoor and debutant Saira Bano was shot in its picturesque locales. As normalcy trudges back it may be worthwhile to recall the lines of a song of this movie, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and penned by Hasrat Jaipuri: “Kashmir ki kali hoon, mujhse n rootho babuji, murjha gayi to kabhi n khiloongi… Rangat meri baharon mein, dil ki aag Chinaron mein, kuchh to hamse baat karo in bahki gulzaaron mein…” By addressing the people of Kashmir sans a security shield Amit Shah fathomed the sentiments of this song.