The headline from the home ministry was that it was a Ramzan gift that New Delhi proffered to the Kashmir Valley when ordering the security forces “not to launch operations” during the holy month (with the possibility of extending it to the Amarnath Yatra), but it would be naive not to proceed to read between the lines. And that would suggest that the government also took into calculation the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister to the state a few days hence.
For the move ~ call it a ceasefire, NICO or the new semantic formulation ~ will certainly provide Mr Narendra Modi a high from which he could project his government from the rostrum in Bandipore when he actuates the Kishanganga hydro-electric plant.
Fair enough, it is legitimate to sell oneself to the people. Yet the sale does not end here for there are suspicions of much stage-managing of the initial negative response to the call for a ceasefire from chief minister Mehbooba Mufti ~ from the home ministry, the defence minister, and a minister of state at the Centre going as far as slamming her as anti-national and militant-favouring. Not to mention the about-face taken by the state unit of the BJP.
All that would suggest that Mr Modi was emulating the large-heartedness Atal Behari Vajpayee had displayed 18 years ago. But did it take a week for North Block to discern merit in the call from Mehbooba and other parties, and to now wax eloquent about the nobility of the gesture?
Critics would see the move as a bid to regain the space the party has surrendered by the involvement of top leaders of its Jammu unit in the “land grab scam” near the ammunition depot at Nagrota.
This was accentuated by those leaders casting aspersions on the Corps Commander and the Army which the BJP portrays as the saviour of the state against Pakistani machinations.
The gesture also comes at a time of other small setbacks including the failure to secure an absolute majority in Karnataka and a flyover collapse in the Prime Minister’s constituency.
Combative politics apart, Wednesday’s announcement provides both opportunity and challenge. An opportunity for “peaceniks” on both sides of the border to promote conditions in which folk in the Valley may restore a degree of normality to their tension-plagued lives. Many are yearning for relief.
It also offers the Centre’s special representative a chance to impart some traction to his onerous essay. The challenge will be for the security forces ~ the Army in particular ~ to prove that the territorial integrity of the nation and its people can be protected without adhering to the theory that attack is the best form of defence.