Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Jammu on Friday for a whistle-stop visit to attend the centenary celebrations of former Congress stalwart and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s father-in-law, the late Girdhari Lal Dogra.
The visit was also seen as a strong signal from the government after indiscriminate shelling and firing by Pakistan Rangers killed a woman, two soldiers and two villagers along the border.
He went through a photo exhibition on the life of Dogra, who was Jammu and Kashmir’s finance minister for a record 27 years, at Zorawar Singh auditorium of Jammu University.
Speaking during the centenary celebrations, Modi said "there is never a question of political untouchability. Everyone who has worked for the nation is to be respected."
“I’m very sure that Girdhari Lalji’s judgement of character was very sharp, it shows in his choice of son-in-law,” the Prime Minister said. “There was no similarity in the political line of thought of Dograsahab and Arun Jaitleyji and neither are known due to each other.”
For his part, the finance minister said the presence of the political leadership from across the board spoke about the life of Dogra.
“Dogra Sahab had cordial relations with people such as Sheikh Saheb (the late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah) to Pandit Prem Nath Dogra (the leader of Praja Parashid). This is the way he led his life,” Jaitley said.
Prem Nath Dogra was a fiery opponent of Sheikh Abdullah, who opposed the Dogra rule in Kashmir. With Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruler of Kashmir, he started Praja Parishad to press for the formation of modern-day Jammu and Kashmir.
The invite list for the function mirrored Girdhari Lal Dogra’s all-encompassing political vision.
Former chief minister and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, who is Sheik Abdullah’s son, was invited, but could not make it because of his ill health. He had a kidney transplant in London a few months ago.
Junior minister at the PMO Jitendra Singh, governor NN Vohra, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Karan Singh attended the programme organised by the Gridhari Lal Dogra Trust.
It was reported earlier that Modi could announce a special financial package to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore to boost development in trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir, which has been battered by years of militancy and devastating floods last autumn.
But there was no official confirmation if would announce the package, the biggest-ever for Jammu and Kashmir currently ruled an ideologically-divergent alliance of People’s Democratic Party and the BJP —another first for the state.
There was speculation that he might also announce an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for Jammu following a hint from the deputy chief minister in June that such an announcement could be made by July 20.
Modi’s visit came amid exchange of barbs and bullets between India and Pakistan, with New Delhi warning of strong retaliatory action if the neighbouring nation continued to violate the 2003 ceasefire along border.
The escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations came less than a week after a meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Modi and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, which raised hopes of a thaw in relations.
Firing from the Pakistani side purportedly to push militants was not uncommon during important visits to the state. In November 2014, on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s election rally in Jammu, 12 people had died in a terrorist attack near the RS Pura sector amid heavy cover fire from Pakistan.