Kashmir participated with never-seen before enthusiasm in the grand celebrations of nation’s 75th Republic-Day on Friday. It was a great moment for the Valley and the nation as it showcased unity in the celebrations, but there was a far greater and profound message that the people in the Valley sent to the rest of the country- trust us.
In fact, they were inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of giving them a better and peaceful life alongside a future of opportunities visiting them in a fearless and corruption free atmosphere. They demonstrated their faith by showing up in largest ever numbers at the R-Day celebrations where they wanted to stand up and be counted as Indians in purest form
This message that emerged out of the grand Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2024, is the culmination of increasing desire for peace and normalcy in the Union Territory after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. The people have conveyed a message to themselves and also to Delhi. To themselves, they have shown and reiterated that they were Indians and are as mush part of the national festivals as their countrymen elsewhere in other states and the union territories, and that the illusion that staying away from such celebrations can deliver anything to them should be given up. And to Delhi, the message is even clearer that the Government needs to view them differently, not only as hosts of tens of thousands of tourists, embracing the optics of normalcy and peace but the people who can be trusted for bigger things.
The participation of the Kashmiri people of all ages and genders at the official celebrations as also at Lal Chowk is a big statement than mere sitting through the celebratory parade and watching the cultural programmes. This is telling the countrymen that they are at the celebrations of the national festival, defying all odds of freezing weather and notice that militants might take of their presence. They have come out of the shadows of the past. They have made this statement out of their volition.
This fact can be appreciated only those knowing Kashmir since 1989 until recent years. The stadium where parade used to be held on Independence days on August 15, and Republic Days on January 26, would witness empty stands, with only few officials who also used to hide their faces from cameras or turn away when the cameras tried to capture their presence. The civilians were not present at all. That was the time when they would respond to “observe black day” call by separatist groups. That was a statement of their sympathies or surrender to the dictates of the militant groups. This generated a narrative that the people refused to be part of the Indian national festivals. That there was a fear that made them to do so got lost in the overall narration that Kashmir was in resistance mode. And this was projected before the international community and media as the overall will of the people. The Indian narrative of Kashmir as an integral part of the country and that the people were hostage to the Pakistan - sponsored terrorists was taken with a pinch of salt. The argument of the dissenters was that with so many troops in Kashmir how could the diktat of the terrorists, who were in few hundreds, could prevail? This question held its legitimacy as there were very few voices that dared to speak in favour of India.
Post-abrogation of Article 370, the greatest change is in the atmospherics. The elements of fear – terrorists’ guns, their diktats for shutdowns, observance of black days and encouraging stone throwers – have retreated in the face of the intensified counter-terrorism operations, which also helped in brining lakhs of tourists to the valley. This created an atmosphere that made the people realize that their captivity to the terrorists and their calls was a blunder that they were committing. At the same time, their complaint that there was no hand-holding by the governments is also legitimate. As the governments engaged with the separatist leadership and even attempted to hold dialogue with the deadly militant outfits like Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. That gave an impression that the separatists and militants had the real power.
It is not only that the power has shifted to a strongman Prime Minister Narendra Modi who gave zero tolerance of terrorism in the country and in Jammu and Kashmir, in particular, that has made a huge difference, also the message that Modi and home Minister Amit Shah sent to them that, as Indians they were rightful claimants to all the opportunities that the nation offered, which made them to have hope and look toward future of promise. It was this hope that they manifested by their participation in unprecedented numbers on R-Day in Kashmir, and now they expect from Delhi that they should be given their trust quotient in choosing their elected representatives in the Assembly. That is how, they want Delhi look at them with trust.
The Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha’s administration has filled many gaps and the people are now looking up to him for establishing permanent bridges between them and the rest of the country with all the trust.