Of promises new and old

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to his right, at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on April 18. -

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to his right, at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on April 18. -

The economic package Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee promised Jammu and Kashmir during his visit to the State may prove illusory, though his speech in Srinagar has laid the foundation for the restoration of diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

"MAGIC," said P.C. Sorcar, "evolves in the minds of the spectators. When they fail to build a cognisable explanation of the secrets of magic, they submit themselves to the world of fantasy and sorcery."

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's performance at his first-ever rally in the Kashmir Valley would have impressed even the most accomplished illusionists. Standing in front of an estimated 30,000 people at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on April 18, Vajpayee conjured up a series of spectacular policy initiatives, seemingly out of thin air. He dramatically offered engagement with Pakistan, dialogue with secessionist groups, jobs, reconstruction and peace. "Spring will return to the beautiful Valley soon," Vajpayee promised, quoting a somewhat trite passage from the Kashmiri poet Ghulam Ahmed Mehjoor, "the flowers will bloom again and the nightingales will return, chirping." But the awe-struck audience, which applauded the Prime Minister, might do well to remember what he conjured up was not any more real than Sorcar's vanishing trains and Taj Mahals.

For a start, the hype surrounding Vajpayee's visit has far exceeded its actual significance. He is not, as proclaimed by a section of the media, the first Indian Prime Minister to address a public meeting in the Kashmir Valley since Rajiv Gandhi in 1987; nor the first, as Doordarshan fondly imagined, since Jawaharlal Nehru. Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had addressed a rally at Uri. While it might be argued that Uri is considerably safer than Srinagar, the fact is that the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium, ensconced in a high-security zone, is no hotbed of terrorism either. Soon after Deve Gowda's visit, his successor I.K. Gujral addressed a public meeting in Rajouri. Although not in the Kashmir Valley, the town and the region that surrounds it have witnessed some of the most appalling terrorist violence of the last decade. Both Gujral and Gowda made many of the same promises as Vajpayee did - more development, new jobs, and, of course, serious dialogue.

Nonetheless, Vajpayee's remarks, coupled with his glowing support for the People's Democratic Party (PDP)-led coalition government in the State, generated euphoria. "For the first time," Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said on April 21, "a Prime Minister has not only made an attempt to address the issue from the soil of the Valley itself, but also extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan." Vajpayee had lavished praise on Sayeed two days earlier, during an address to the students of Kashmir University. "The elections and their aftermath," he said, "have given us a great opportunity to build upon the positive elements in the current situation. The newly elected government has taken several good initiatives and measures. The Central government is committed to working sincerely with the State government." During the rally, the Prime Minister delicately attacked the previous National Conference (N.C.) government in Srinagar, suggesting that the N.C.'s victory in 1996 was not the result of a wholly free election. Sayeed, besieged by critics in the Bharatiya Janata Party, was understandably delighted.

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