Frosty reception for Indian PM Modi in Kashmir | Asia Pacific

Frosty reception for Indian PM Modi in Kashmir

Frosty reception for Indian PM Modi in Kashmir

Updated 10 July 2014, 11:27 AEST

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced a hostile welcome during his maiden visit to India's Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

The trip was conducted against the backdrop of demands by members of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to revoke the region's special status.

Reporter: Murali Krishnan

Speakers: Wajahat Habibullah, former divisional commissioner Kashmir, Uday Bhaskar, strategic analyst and Majeed Rasool, Kashmiri student leader

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KRISHNAN: Sharp shooters at vantage points and near empty streets greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi who inaugurated a hydro-power project in the border town of Uri and a rail link in his whirlwind trip to the state that has been the focus of controversy and dispute.

Shops and commercial establishments remained closed in the main city of Srinagar as separatists enforced a strike to demand political dialogue about the future of the divided region. Prime Minister Modi said his government's intention was not to play politics but to win the hearts of the people of strife-torn Kashmir by improving development.

But Modi's development rhetoric was met with a lukewarm response. Many felt only a meaningful political dialogue with all relevant stakeholders can end the political deadlock in the Himalayan region which both India and Pakistan claim in full, but administer separate partial areas.

Wajahat Habibullah is a former bureaucrat from Kashmir who was in the state during the height of militancy.

HABIBULLAH: It is primarily a political issue. I have said that the battle of minds has to be fought in the minds of the Kashmiris. Mr Modi's visit did not raise any of those issues or other controversial issues. He just simply adhered to the basic thing of the development of Jammu and Kashmir and looked into the security considerations.

KRISHNAN: Separatist groups in Kashmir have diverse agendas: some would like merger with Pakistan while others wish to have an independent state.

Modi's attempts to reach out to the population in the state, which has been wracked by an insurgency since 1989, acquire further significance as the state is scheduled to hold assembly elections in October this year, which have in the past been boycotted by the separatists. Mr Habibullah again.

HABIBULLAH: Well primarily it is the Kashmiris. I don't think it is a problem that is difficult to resolve. If the issue of the Kashmiris is addressed, their sense of not being free… they talk of azadi (freedom) and that has been their slogan for a long time. And all I feel that is necessary is that they must be given the feeling that they are free citizens of a free country. On that basis of course that would mean that India and Pakistan should agree to work with the Kashmiris. It does not require any restructuring of the borders and things like that.

KRISHNAN: A sense of alienation continues to affect vast swathes of the state's population that has witnessed frequent outbursts of violence and cross-firing along the Line of Control

Majeed Rasool is a student leader from the northern district of Anantnag.

RASOOL: We have been victimized in every possible way, psychologically emotionally and physically. Now is the time to change. I think till we get freedom we will continue to fight. We will shed our blood for this. Look at our eyes, our expressions are changing on our faces. And it is only for this. We want freedom.

KRISHNAN: By inviting Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration ceremony and following it up with a visit to Kashmir, Prime Minister Modi may have made the right moves. But given the unpredictability of the Kashmir region, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Uday Bhaskar is a strategic analyst

BHASKAR: Whenever Pakistan has had intense turbulence as we have seen for instance after the creation of Bangladesh in the 1971 war or for any other moment that you can call national crisis, there have been developments that have the potential to adversely affect India. So given Jammu and Kasmir, given the sensitivities, I think the Prime Minister's meeting was really in keeping with the security compulsions of the day.

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KRISHNAN: Restoring peace in Kashmir has been a giant problem for several governments in the past. Winning the hearts and minds of the people may be the first confidence building measure to arrive at a political consensus for a peace that is still elusive.

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