Prayer for Peace : Women praying on the occassion
of Eid-ul-Zuha in the Kashmir Valley
Reputed to be a Paradise on Earth, Kashmir is now poised for dramatic transformation in tourism and economic development of Jammu & Kashmir along with Ladakh and Leh, of course
For the people of India, especially for the poor and the oppressed community in J&K, the revocation of decades old discriminatory Articles 370 and 35A was like dream come true; most of us did not doubt the intention of the ruling dispensation in this regard as it had always included the abrogation of the discriminatory articles in its successive poll manifestos. But, no one was sure when it was likely to be done. Now the first part, which required passage of the bill in both the houses of parliament, is over, due to the meticulous planning by the BJP government. The second part, which involves unfolding of agenda of development in the UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, is the most important and difficult to implement owing to several external factors.
Following are the factors which require short term as well as long term initiatives from the Central Government. Needless to say, participation of people of both the UTs is indispensable to it.
Law & Order
At present, law and order in the ten districts of the Kashmir Valley seems very unpredictable. As restrictions are set to be relaxed, Kashmiri militants, who are actively supported by Pakistan, will soon be out on the streets and in all probability, violent protests will test the patience of the security forces. Pakistan has no love and affection whatsoever for the people of J&K; it only wants maximum number of Kashmiris turned into terrorists so that when they are eliminated in encounters with the security forces so that Pakistan can launch international propaganda of human rights violation. As may be expected, Pakistan will use all its militants in the valley to stoke separatist violence and create trouble.
Mainstream political parties of the valley like PDP and NC have all along opposed abrogation of Article 370. When their leaders come out in the open in the next few days, they too are expected to pander to their respective constituencies and will indulge in theatrics to rouse sentiments. No doubt, the security forces have an unenviable task on their hands.
The key to peace and harmony lies in the steps the Centre may take to convince the people of Kashmir that Article 370 and 35A were the biggest impediments in the development of the State. Some measures which may instill confidence in the population should be taken post haste. Security forces will have to show utmost restraint and handle the situations very tactfully. Abdullahs and Mehboobas can play a useful role if they abandoned their opposition to the abrogation of Articles and reconcile themselves to the present status of the state.
As sinister statements from Pakistan leadership are emerging, it is clear that they are not going to sit idle and watch silently over as the integration of of J&K takes shape in India in the coming months. There are likely to be Pulwama-like incidents as already hinted by Pak PM Imran Khan during his address to the joint session of parliament of that country. In that scenario, our retaliation should be appropriately strong to deter any Pakistani misadventure.
There are marginalised groups within the Kashmir valley whose voices have been suppressed by separatist elements as well as political parties. These groups comprising Gujjars, Bakarwals and Pahadis have been systematically discriminated for so many decades against all benefits of the Central Government’s financial aid provided to the state. These groups should be immediately taken into confidence and they will very happily carry the goodwill, which rest of India holds for people of J&K and Ladakh, into the masses.
Most of the funds provided by the Central Government to the erstwhile state of J&K were siphoned off by the powerful and corrupt politicians of the Valley. Now, if communication lines are stablished with the Sarpanches of the villages and direct fund transfer mechanism is put in place, a confidence building exercise will be initiated. These measures will help a lot in normalising the situation especially in the Kashmir Valley.
The Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir will have its own legislature. Before elections for the UT could be held, delimitation process of the electoral constituencies should be initiated. At present, the Jammu division has a larger area and bigger population than that of the Kashmir division. However, in the State Assembly, Kashmir division holds more seats which has resulted in imbalance in the electoral representation. Once delimitation process by the Election Commission of India is done, the Jammu division will have more representation in the J&K Assembly. Until now, politicians from Kashmir valley had monopolised the office of the Chief Ministership. After Delimitation, the post of Chief Minister can be held by anybody from the Kashmir region or Jammu region.
Travel & Tourism
Because of deteriorating law and order situation, tourism in the Valley suffered a huge setback. Even Amarnath Yatra had to be aborted midway. Short term as well as long term measures have to be devised to strengthen and revive the tourism in the State. The message that people from the rest of India love Kashmir and its people and even during the height of militancy kept on visiting in hordes, should be delivered to the people in the Valley. Tour operators, Shikara and House Boat owners, hoteliers, taxi drivers, restaurateurs and dealers in dry fruits and handicrafts, all should be taken on board to create a harmonious atmosphere in the Valley so that tourism can be revived.
In the long term, the full potential of tourism is the State could not be achieved due to the political environment in the Kashmir Valley and apathetic approach of Kashmiri politicians in the Ladakh and Jammu divisions.
As far as the Kashmir Valley is concerned, no doubt, it is one of the best tourist destinations in the world. Hitherto, few places like Gulmarg, Pehalgam and Sonmarg are popular with tourists; other scenic destinations like Uri, Wular lake, Manasbal lake, Airabal, Aishmukam, Kokarnag, Daksum,Verinag and other such areas if added onto the tourist map, can bring economic developments to the residents of these areas also. Because the reins of power had remained in the hands of a few politicians in the valley, areas falling in Jammu division and Ladakh had been grossly neglected. Old Mughal road which encompasses areas like Poonch, Rajauri and Surankot in Jammu division has unexplored treasures of natural beauty; Patnitop and areas in Doda district too can be developed as attractive tourist destinations.
Ladakh too apart from Leh, Nubra Valley and Pangong lake, has unaccounted natural wealth which can be developed as tourist hubs. Kargil has become a pilgrimage centre in its own right in nationalist terms. The only thing which is lacking, when we compare our natural wealth with similar kinds of foreign destinations, is adequate infrastructure.
This is another area that can be promoted in both Union Territories. Till now, the most popular pilgrimage destinations have been the Amarnath cave in Kashmir valley and Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in the Jammu division. In Kashmir, scores of other historically important religious places are there which include Detha temple in Uri, Shankar Gaurishwar temple in Patan, Sindhu-Jhelum sangam in Naranbagh, Kheer Bhawani temple; Shankaracharya, Jyeshtha Devi, Ganpatyar, Sharika Devi and Durganag temples in Srinagar: Avantipora, Anantnag, Martand and Mattan Temples which should be put on the map of spiritual tourism.
There are numerous Buddhist shrines too in both Kashmir valley and Ladakh, which if properly developed, can attract great deal of tourists, especially from abroad. Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar is highly revered while Dargah of Baba Reshi who is known as a symbol of syncretic traditions near Gulmarg and Charar-e-Sharif in Budgam district will be visited by millions once normalcy returns. In the Jammu division too, there is unlimited potential to develop spiritual tourism. Since the area has been neglected for the past so many years, there is every possibility that people will spare no effort to reclaim their rightful recognition. Sikh pilgrimage centres like Gurdwara Chhevi Patshahi in downtown Srinagar, which has historical importance, and Gurdwara Patthar Sahib in Leh where Guru Nanak Dev had visited during his Udasi of northern India, will also attract more number of devotees once things get back to normal.
The bottom line is they should ensure a peaceful atmosphere to build the best tourist hill destination in the world. The people of Kashmir should have confidence in their brethren from the rest of India that there will be no dearth of investment when it comes to creating comprehensive infrastructure to attract local as well as international tourists.
Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits
One of the most tedious jobs at hands with the central government is to rehabilitate displaced Kashmiri Hindus at places from where they were unceremoniously kicked out in the 1990s. The second generation of Kashmiri Pandits, owing to their exceptional talent and support rendered by Indian Universities, has found decent occupations not only in India but abroad too. Obviously, the second generation of KPs is not willing to go back, leaving its promising careers. Secondly, theatrics notwithstanding, the separatist elements in the valley are not going to welcome back those Hindu families.
There should be a concerted plan to rehabilitate those Pandits in the land of its ancestors. Following measures and initiatives are imperative. Firstly, those Kashmiri Hindus who are still living in camps in Jammu should be settled in their homes back in the valley. Their security over there is the job of the administration which must be taken care of. Secondly, all those houses/pieces of properties of Hindus, which were either forcibly snatched away or bought by the separatists’ stooges, must be restored to their original owners. Thirdly, some areas must be earmarked in the Kashmir valley where safe colonies for the displaced Pandits should be created. Government should allot residential quarters to even those people who at present are not in a position to return. Fourthly, addresses of Aadhar and voting cards of those Hindus, who migrated from the valley under threats, should be of those houses and localities where they were residing before being expelled. Kashmiri Hindus are the original inhabitants of the valley of Kashmir and their ancestors created a cultural stream which is an inseparable part of the overall cultural ethos of India.
The Jihadists in the Kashmir Valley had attempted to ethnically cleanse the land by forcibly pushing Hindus out of the valley. The nefarious designs of these forces cannot be allowed to succeed. The idea of India is incomplete without Kashmiri Hindus being resettled in the land of their origin. In this endeavour, the biggest initiative has to be taken by the evicted families themselves; they might have found accommodations and occupations in rest of India but recovering their old properties should also be prioritized by them.
Enough has been written that due to Articles 370 and 35A the development process of the state of Jammu and Kashmir could never gain momentum. With revocation of the said article, now is the time to initiate the process and the roadmap should be shared with the people at every possible forum. Now with the bifurcation of the state in two Union territories, plans for both the areas have to be envisaged separately. Kashmir Valley can be developed as the best tourist destination of the world; how in the short and long term government plans to do that must be made public. The initiative will act as a confidence building measure among the masses and act as a potent antidote to the Pakistani propaganda. Environment friendly industries too have a lot of scope to be started there; many leading Indian industrialists, including the Reliance group, have already expressed their intentions to invest there. Both the Union Territories of the J&K and Ladakh are mountainous regions and conservation of their ecology is an important factor. All the development plans must be chalked out keeping the said factor in view.
Countering Pakistani Propaganda
The key to bring normalcy and development in the Union Territory of J&K in general and the Kashmir Valley in particular, lies in how we counter the Pakistani propaganda. The terrorist country indulges in a two pronged strategy : it infuses jihadism among the masses and keeps on sending trained terrorists from its land into Kashmir on one hand and plays the victimhood card on the international forums on another.
To counter the sinister designs of Pakistan, we have to take the following steps. The world has to be told that the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh with the Union of India is as legal and irrevocable as the other instruments of accession signed by 560 odd princely states with India. The constituent assembly of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir had ratified full integration of the state in the Union of India. Article 370 and 35-A were temporary constitutional provisions and they have been revoked by both Houses of Parliament in the best of democratic traditions.
The separatist movement instigated on behalf of Pakistan in the Kashmir Valley is nothing but an arm of global Jihadism propagated by Al Qaida and ISIS. The world community has to be warned about it and to be told in no uncertain terms that the if Jihadist philosophy is not countered effectively, it will not leave the world as a happy and peaceful place to live in. Actual victims of the Islamist tirade in Kashmir valley are Kashmiri Hindus. To defeat Pakistani propaganda, representations of the Kashmiri Hindu delegations should be taken to the world capitals in general and to members of the Security Council in particular. Let the world know how much our nation has suffered at the hands of the Jihadists.
Internally, Kashmiri youth should be made a party to the development story of India. At school and college levels, interactive sessions should be organised and both the scenarios, India’s success story and Pakistan’s fate of a failed state, should be juxtaposed in front of the youth. They should be asked whether they want to become part of the ISRO team which sends spacecrafts to the Moon and Mars or they want to become members of Fidayeen squads created, indoctrinated by Pakistan to foment trouble everywhere in the world. The exercise, one can surmise confidently, will have a positive effect among the cross sections of the Kashmiri society and will minimise Pakistani influence amongst it.
Revocation of Articles 370 and 35A indeed is a historic moment. Let us all come together and embark on our noble cause of nation building; Union territories of J&K and Ladakh are an integral part of Bharat Mata; waters of Indus and Jhelum will stand testimony to the fact that the message of peace of sage Kashyap is delivered to the world.
(The writer is a Mombai-based columnist & documentary maker)