Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally at Sheri Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar Monday. Photo: Nissar Ahmad
The Prime Minister has promised to take the State to new heights of development.
The “agonies, sorrows and hardships” of the people of the Kashmir valley would be overcome by “development and development alone,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, addressing his first election rally in the Kashmir valley on Monday.
At the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium — the same venue where Mr. Vajpayee offered a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan, and talks with separatists in 2003 — Mr. Modi declared that it was his “responsibility to fulfil the dreams” of the former premier. “Insaaniyat [humanism], Jamhooriyat [democracy] andKashmiriyat [Kashmir’s age-old legacy of amity] were the three pillars of Vajpayeeji’s policy. I am committed to taking forward his dreams,” Mr. Modi said.
Without directly referring to the separatist stream in Kashmir politics, Mr. Modi said, “There has been a lot of suffering. You have taken many roads in the past; look back and see whether they have benefitted you. If you realise that they have not, let us take the path of development that will help you out of all troubles.”
Mr. Modi walked the tightrope between his strong nationalist image and the requirement to reach out to the people of Kashmir, where the BJP is making its first serious bid to emerge as a significant political player. Mr. Modi said he understood the “pain of the mothers who lost their dear and innocent children,” as much as he understood the “sacrifice of the policemen and soldiers who died, protecting the country. While I salute the sacrifice of India’s security forces, I have made it clear that the wrong will be punished. For the first time, the Army regretted shooting innocent people,” he said.
“I as Pradhan Sevak have come to share your pain and anguish. I have not come to take anything. ”
Mr. Modi indicated that he did not intend to discuss Pakistan while discussing Kashmir’s development. He recalled his experiences as Gujarat Chief Minister dealing with the border district of Kutch.
“As Chief Minister of Gujarat I went to the earthquake-affected Kutch [in 2001] on the border with Pakistan. My Muslim brethren told me that leaders who came there discussed Pakistan though they wanted to discuss local politics and development. I listened to them and never invoked Pakistan. Kutch is today the fastest-growing district in the country. If Kutch can do it, Kashmir also can do it,” he said.
Mr. Modi recalled his participation in the SAARC meeting recently in Nepal: “All our neighbours were present. I asked them all what are our fights for. Let all of us fight together, against poverty, unemployment and corruption.”
Asking people to reject the PDP, NC and the Congress, and give a clear mandate to the BJP to develop the State, he emphasised the tourism and hydropower potential of the region. “What better than Kashmir valley does India have to show to the world? Indians who go to Badrinath and Kedarnath are equally desirous of seeing the Valley,” he said, recalling that even during the volatile days of early 1990s, people from Gujarat visited the valley as tourists.