A robust “nation first” paradigm laid down by Prime Minister Narendra Modi transformed the country’s response to terror attacks and propelled India into the company of countries such as the United States and Israel that treat national borders as inviolate, home minister Amit Shah said on Saturday.
Delivering the inaugural keynote address at the 19th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Shah hailed Modi for ending the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and integrating it with the country, and said that the now-nullified Article 370 had no link to peace in the Valley.
Commenting on the coming round of assembly elections, Shah said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections; that it is in talks with Amarinder Singh and former Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa for an alliance in Punjab; and that after the repeal of farm laws, there was no lingering resentment among cultivators.
The minister contrasted the response to terror attacks by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to earlier administrations, saying that previously, terrorists used to illegally infiltrate into the country and hit security and army targets – without any retaliation from India.
“For the first time, PM Modi decided that breaching our borders was not a simple matter. The whole world was astounded when we entered Pakistan’s home to counter their terror in the form of surgical strike and air strike. Earlier, only two countries, US and Israel, were known for this, but now, a third name has been added to this list: India,” he said in an address in Hindi.
Shah was referring to the targeted attacks on terror launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 2016, and the air strike on terror camps in Balakot in 2019.
He said Modi’s decision to de-link the security doctrine from foreign policy brought new prestige to India on the world stage. “A loud message was sent to the world that we want peace with everyone, but border security is our priority. If you want a peaceful atmosphere, then you have to respect this,” he said.
Kashmir was peaceful after Article 370 was effectively revoked on August 5, 2019, and was on its way towards normalcy with booming tourism and rising investment, the home minister said.
He rejected statements by Opposition leaders that peace will return to Kashmir only after Article 370 is restored. “Article 370 was there for 75 years. Why was there no peace in Kashmir? If there is a relationship between Article 370 and peace, then why was there no peace in the 90s?” he asked, referring to a decade often seen as the bloodiest period of militancy in the Valley.
In her introductory remarks, HT Media chairperson and editorial director Shobhana Bhartia commended the strides made by India in controlling the pandemic, administering 1.2 billion vaccine doses and rapidly advancing towards fully vaccinating all adults.
“Covid management was an unprecedented challenge for India, more so than any other country, given its population, size, diversity and limited resources. It a matter of happiness that the government accepted this challenge; home minister Amit Shah gave purposeful leadership to teams tackling this impossible task. This is the reason our system was able to find responses and solutions,” she said.
“I am happy to note that despite the pandemic not being over, India looks successful in having controlled it. This is no ordinary achievement. A large share of the credit goes to the scientific community that took the lead in vaccine innovation and production. They were able to do this because the government stood by them, encouraged them and gave them necessary solutions.”
“We have done what the world thought impossible even a few days ago…the efforts of the government and the survival instincts of ordinary Indians made it possible to turn adversities into opportunities.”
She said Covid-19 also imparted several lessons, including how to augment health infrastructure and improve migrant welfare schemes, to make ourselves ready for future challenges.
Shah, who piloted the bill in Parliament that nullified Article 370, addressed criticism about the curfew-like restrictions and months-long suspension of internet services and communication lines in the Valley. He said the curbs, which came into effect days before the region’s special status was revoked, were necessary to save lives.
“When I went there, I asked the youth, if we had removed the curfew, who would have died? They said us. When I asked, who did Modi ji save by imposing curfew? They said us. So the people of the country have to decide what the people opposing the curfew wanted,” he told Hindustan’s editor-in-chief Shashi Shekhar.
He referred to the string of targeted killings in Kashmir – at least 11 people, many of them non-local residents and from Hindu and Sikh communities, were killed in the region in the past couple of months – and said that despite the recent murders, it was not even 10% of the violence seen earlier. “This means that peace has returned to the Valley.”
Shah praised Modi, whose government revoked the region’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories – Jammu & Kashmir with an elected legislature, and Ladakh without one.
“No one ever believed that Article 370 and 35A would ever be removed. I am happy to note that Modi ji ended Article 370. Kashmir is peaceful today and on the way to fully integrating with the rest of India,” he said.
He also reiterated the central government’s position – which was first spelt out at a historic all-party meeting of Kashmiri leaders chaired by Modi in June – that statehood will be restored to Jammu & Kashmir after elections are held. Parties in Kashmir have demanded that statehood be restored before delimitation – the process of redrawing poll constituencies – is completed and elections are held.
“First there will be delimitation, then election, then the process to restore statehood will begin. I have said it many times before, but because they (opposition parties) know this, they’re trying to create a political dispute by demanding statehood first,” he said.
The minister said development and welfare schemes were improving the lives of ordinary people in Kashmir, and that tourists were returning in great numbers. “Earlier, Jammu & Kashmir was between the 30th or 35th position in implementing schemes. Today, it is in the top five in every welfare scheme, be it health card, building toilets or homes, disbursing pensions or clean water,” he said.
“I have seen this development and change closely. I hope the people of Kashmir welcome this change and appeal to all parties to participate in the political and democratic process.”
Speaking about the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Shah said the BJP will hold on to power in India’s most populous state with a huge majority and alliances being forged by opposition parties will have little impact.
“When two parties come together, their votes don’t add up. Politics is not physics, it is chemistry. The people are aware and vote-bank arithmetic cannot guide the electorate,” he said, noting that both the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine in the 2017 state polls, and the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in the 2019 general election failed to trounce the BJP.
The Prime Minister had shown great empathy and heart in repealing three controversial farm laws, Shah said. “I don’t believe it is a big issue anymore,” he said.