Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh: In his first comments on the crisis that has wrecked Kashmir over the last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said, "Every Indian loves Kashmir" and promised "the azaadi (freedom) that every Indian feels, Kashmir can feel too."
The PM has been faulted in parliament by the opposition for not speaking on the violence that has torn through the Kashmir Valley since security forces shot dead Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old terrorist who had turned into a local youth icon partly through his agile use of social media.
Since his killing on July 8, thousands of Kashmiris, many of them still in their teens, have flooded the streets, defying a curfew that has stretched over 31 days in the Valley. Armed with stones, they have attacked security forces in daily clashes, who have retaliated with pellet guns, rendering nearly 100 people blind and leaving many others injured.
56 people have died in the relentless violence; 3,000 of the 5,000 injured are security personnel, the police has said.
Mr Modi's comments were made at a rally in Madhya Pradesh far away from the Kashmir Valley, where, the government says, Pakistan has incited and facilitated the burning of police stations and attacks on security bases.
The PM invoked the famous commitment of former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee to a Kashmir policy with humanity as its essence, coupling "insaniyat" with "jamooriyat" (democracy).
On an emergency visit to Delhi yesterday which included sessions with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urged the centre to remember the Vajpayee offer. The PM's remarks suggest a synchronicity between the centre and Ms Mufti that is often missing, with many pinning the gap on the fundamental ideological differences and uneasy alliance between the Chief Minister's party and the BJP.
The PM referred to the distress of a country at "young men clutching stones instead of books and computers"; the majority of the protestors in Kashmir are between 16 and 18; for years, as the unrest has spread, stones have been hurled at security forces by large mobs to instigate retaliation.
Tomorrow, Kashmir is to be discussed by the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority and has been rebuked for not consulting opposition leaders about how to resolve the crisis. The PM today thanked the main opposition party, the Congress, for standing with the government as it firmly warned Pakistan not to interfere in Kashmir. During a controversial trip to Pakistan last week, Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke of the perils of eulogising terrorists as martyrs, taking on Islamabad for the tributes its leaders have offered to Wani after he was killed.