Srinagar, Aug. 16: Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, one of the sharpest critics of the iron fist in Kashmir, has minced no words in hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech that hinted at a rethink on the bullet policy.
" Na gaali se samasya sulajhne waali hai, na goli se samasya sulajhne waali hai; samasya suljhegee har Kashmiri ko gale lagaa kar ke (The Kashmir problem cannot be solved either with abuse or bullets, but by embracing every Kashmiri)," the Prime Minister had said yesterday at the Red Fort.
Almost word for word, Modi echoed former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's 2002 formula of " na bandook se, na goli se; baat banegi boli se (not the gun, nor bullets, a solution will be reached through dialogue".
Omar feels that the Prime Minister's statement is a marked departure. "When the Prime Minister said bullets and abuses are not an answer, that is a marked departure. He is conveying a message to the country that all Kashmiris are not terrorists. He said terrorism will be dealt with a firm hand, but he is drawing a distinction between peace-loving Kashmiris and terrorism," Omar told The Telegraph.
"This is an important message to go out to the country because you have these television channels that do nothing but demonise all Kashmiris, as if all Kashmiris are terrorists.... It is a message to the wider country that bullets and abuse will not resolve the Kashmir issue," the former chief minister added.
Omar cautioned that the Prime Minister's words should be viewed as a beginning and not an end in itself. "At least we have the words, we will now wait to see what action will follow," he added.
The Prime Minister's remarks have come at a particularly fraught time. Tensions are flaring up in the Valley and in the Muslim-majority districts in Jammu and Ladakh over purported attempts to abrogate Article 35A, which bars outsiders from buying land and settling in the state.
The situation was already volatile in the Valley following last year's unrest. Security forces have not only launched an all-out operation against militants but have increasingly targeted civilians who try to disrupt the operations and give militants an opportunity to escape.
Over two dozen people have died in firing by security forces this year near encounter sites. Army chief Bipin Rawat had warned early this year that people disrupting operations against militants would be treated as over-ground workers of militancy, which was seen as a green signal to the forces to shoot civilians if they disrupted the operations.
Omar said tangible steps needed to be taken to reduce the level of alienation. "Every day you hear reports of youngsters joining the ranks of militants. Obviously there is no easy and quick solution to this problem but concrete steps are necessary," he said.
Omar had earlier tweeted that the Prime Minister's pledge to embrace Kashmiris must include "respect for the unique status J&K enjoys within the Constitution of India that sets it apart from all other states".
"We look forward to being embraced in the warm grip of understanding, acceptance and respect," he said.
On the long list of people who have hailed the Prime Minister's remarks is moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
"Welcome Narendra Modi also believes 'Goli & Gaali' will not help resolve Kashmir. If insaniyat (humanity) and insaaf (justice) replace them, Resolution can become a Reality," Mirwaiz tweeted.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said dialogue and peaceful means alone could help in resolving the issues as the futility of violence had been established all around.
"The slogan, Bandook say na goli say... baat banay gi boli say --coined by our party some 15 years ago, is as relevant today as it was then," Mehbooba said.
Sources in her party, the PDP, said the "pro-India" parties in Valley were facing an existential threat following the purported attempts to abrogate Article 35A.
"There will be unprecedented violence if that article goes, which will endanger the entire mainstream. The first thing the Prime Minister can do is to embrace pro-India parties by ensuring Kashmir's special status is protected," a source said.