PM and Sonia's Kashmir visit to focus on development, not politics

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi begin their two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday, it is generally believed here that development and not politics would be the focus.

The prime minister and the UPA chairperson have a busy schedule ahead in Kashmir, but there is no indication that any earthshaking political announcement would be made, apart for meeting some delegations in summer capital Srinagar on Tuesday and addressing a public meeting in south Kashmir's Anantnag district the next day.

The prime minister will lay the foundation stone of the 850 MW Rattle hydro power project in Kishtwar district in  the Jammu region, co-chair a meeting of the state council of ministers to review the implementation of the ambitious Rs.37,000 crore reconstruction package and also release a stamp on Kashmiri revolutionary poet Mehjoor in Srinagar.

Before departing for New Delhi on Wednesday, the prime minister will inaugurate the 11-km-long railway tunnel across the Pir Panjal range that will connect the Valley with the Jammu region, cutting short the surface distance by 17 km. The tunnel will also provide all-weather access across the Pir Panjal range.

The Srinagar-Jammu highway often gets closed due to heavy snowfall during the winter months.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has already indicated that an invitation for talks to the separatist leaders during the visit was unlikely since the Lok Sabha elections are due next year.

"The doors of the prime minister are always open for anyone who wants to engage in dialogue for peace and development in Jammu and Kashmir," highly placed sources here said.

The separatists, on their part, are also not hopeful of getting any invitation for a dialogue during this visit.

"Saying that the doors are always open indicates the centre is no longer serious in engaging in a meaningful, result-oriented dialogue with the Kashmiri leadership", senior separatist leader Muhammad Nayeem Khan told IANS.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who visited the Valley last week, said the UPA government had succeeded in changing sentiments in the area where people were now looking forward to peace and development. The statement bore a clear message that the "change of sentiment" had been achieved without engaging the separatist leadership in a dialogue or taking Pakistan on board for the peace process.

Given the number of tourists arriving here last year and this year and the economic well-being of the people associated directly or indirectly with the tourism industry, it appears those who said some years back that tourism and development would have to wait till permanent peace returned to Kashmir might have to think again.

Ironically, tourism and development today appear to be the two major agents ushering in peace in the troubled state rather than appendages that would have followed peace here.

Abdullah has, however, said neither economic packages nor guns would resolve the Kashmir tangle.

Given the aggressive development agenda the UPA has decided to follow in the state, it appears the centre believes differently.

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