One day after the Supreme Court’s directive to ensure the protection of Kashmiris, Prime Minister Modi said that the country’s fight was for Kashmir and not against Kashmiris.
Modi’s statement comes after cases of targeted attacks on Kashmiris, some of which have been filmed and shared widely, were reported across the country since the February 14 Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF men lost their lives.
The Prime Minister was earlier attacked by Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday for continuing to pose and smile for the cameras when an attack was reported in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah had slammed the country's leadership, asking why was he silent on the attacks on Kashmiri's reported in various states of India.
Speaking at a rally in Tonk, a day after collecting Seoul Peace Prize, Modi said, “What happened to Kashmiri youths in the last few days…It does not matter whether the incident was small or big, such things should not happen. Kashmiri youths are victims of terror. Every child of Kashmir is with India in our fight against terror.”
The Pulwama attack has positioned Kashmiris at the receiving end of hate-violence through incendiary social media messages, xenophobic signboards and reactionary pamphlets.
The public statement by the Prime Minister, who has also publicly talked about the need for the nation to embrace Kashmiris, should return some sense of security to Kashmiris, who have, in hordes, been slipping away from their workplaces and universities back to the safety of their homes in the valley.
In a sense, Modi's statements at Tonk can be seen as a counterattack to the criticism he faced from the Opposition. His public appeal to embrace Kashmiris also appears as a counterattack to the Pakistani propaganda of Kashmiris being maltreated in India. The public display of concern will work towards restoring faith between Srinagar and New Delhi because lack of local inputs is said to have been the reason why Pulwama was carried out.
This fiery speech at Tonk could be seen as an initiation of goodwill.
This is not the first time Modi has had to speak publicly against bigotry or religious intolerance in order to stem flagrant attacks against vulnerable groups.
1. In February 2015 after the then US President Barack Obama made some stinging remarks in backdrop of increasing attacks on Indian Christians, Modi in a public event meant to honour Indian Catholic saints had said, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.
2. Modi reiterated his commitment to protect religious freedom in view of unabated attacks by saffron groups against Christians and hate speech directed and Christians and other religious minorities by right-wing leaders. “Some unfortunate comments have been made, which were totally uncalled for. Our Constitution guarantees religious freedom to every citizen.” He added, “Religious freedom is a Constitutional right and it is "non-negotiable.”
3. One year after the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq on suspicion of cow slaughter, and a few weeks after the brutal attack on Dalit youths in Una, Modi condemned “anti-social” elements who “are engaged in anti-social activities for the whole night wear the mask of gau rakshaks in the day” in August ‘16.
These people, he said, were running shops in the name of cow protection.” Modi promised to ask the state governments to prepare dossiers on such people because he knew that “70-80 per cent of them will be found to be involved in anti-social activities which no society approves of.”
4. He had to reiterate his public stand against cow vigilantes a year later in July ‘17 on the centenary of the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad. Expressing “pain and unhappiness” over the “current atmosphere of violence,” Modi said, “killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve.”
One week previously a Muslim youth had been killed on a Mathura bound train in an act of hate crime, that had sparked ‘Not in my name’ protests across the country. On the day Modi delivered this speech, itself, a man in Jharkhand was beaten to death by a crowd on suspicion of him carrying beef.
5. In April 2018 following weeks of sustained protests against the inhuman rape and murders in Kathua and Unnao, Modi spoke out.
“I want to assure the country that no culprit will be spared, complete justice will be done. Our daughters will definitely get justice,” Modi said in an event in Delhi.
His comments came right after the Supreme Court took serious note of the attempt by a group of lawyers in Jammu to prevent Jammu & Kashmir Police from filing a charge sheet at a local court in the Kathua case. The day before former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that Modi should follow “his own advice to me and speak more often.”
Modi’s repeated attempts at reining in mob violence against weaker groups is arguably late and has mixed results.
In the latest case Modi has again appealed for peace. His statements has assured that BJP has by no means given up on the 3 Lok Sabha seats in valley. They have a good network of ground workers in valley and this statement will help their workers connect with angry crowds back in valley. But with tensions between the two nations currently rising and a frenzy seizing entire Kashmir valley, it may be too early to predict whether, and how soon Kashmiris will be able to return to their routine lives.