Two years after he visited Srinagar on Diwali, Modi has stopped talking to Kashmir

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Narendra Modi
Image: Twitter/ Narendra Modi
It has become custom now for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spend his Diwali at the border, meeting soldiers. This year he jetted down to Sumdo, along the Sino-Indian border in Himachal Pradesh, to meet Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police staff. Dressed in military green, he pointedly spoke of uniting against separatist forces and told soldiers that the nation slept peacefully because of them. Kashmir and the recent ceasefire violations at the Line of Control were clearly on his mind. But while appeals to support the army have grown louder, Kashmir has slipped from the prime minister's public agenda.

This weekend brought back memories of Modi's first Diwali visit as prime minister, in 2014. Then, he had donned fatigues to meet soldiers at Siachen but the highlight was his outreach to Srinagar, reeling from floods that year. The prime minister had landed with promises of relief and bumper economic packages, assuring audiences in Srinagar that "the whole country is with Kashmir". It had been Modi's fourth visit to the state in five months of being prime minister. This assiduous attention, coupled with the symbolic weight of the Diwali visit, led to the impression that Kashmir had acquired a new salience in Delhi's imagination, that old rifts would be joined with new ties of empathy. Doubts that these may be tactics to win over the state ahead of the assembly elections in December 2014 were brushed aside. Two years later, the state has received little in terms of flood relief and the visits have petered out, though the Bharatiya Janata Party is now part of a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.

As the Valley raged for three months after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, the streets erupted with anti-India slogans and over 90 protestors were killed, the prime minister kept his counsel. His only attempt to directly address Kashmir, saying the youth needed laptops in their hand, not stones, and that development was the answer to the unrest, fuelled fresh anger in the Valley. The Centre still seems to be casting about for a language in which to speak to Kashmir. But if Modi stops trying now, it will confirm the most uncharitable suspicions about his early warmth for Kashmir – that it was not prime ministerial, it was merely the gimmick of a star campaigner determined to win his party a new state.

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