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In Kashmir Valley, days of hope and despair

Scratch the surface and one can see resentment bubbling
Last Updated : 07 August 2022, 02:39 IST
Last Updated : 07 August 2022, 02:39 IST
Last Updated : 07 August 2022, 02:39 IST
Last Updated : 07 August 2022, 02:39 IST

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There is an eerie calm in Kashmir these days. In the mainstream media, hope-filled narratives are rife. There is much less blood-letting, tourism is booming and there is constant talk of investments worth hundreds of crores being lined up for the Union Territory.

But this calm, being packaged and pushed as a turnaround for the UT, is deceptive.

Scratch the surface and one can see resentment bubbling.

Unemployment rate was 46 per cent in March (second highest in the country). There has been a surge in targeted killings and the ordinary Kashmiri and the business community are deeply unhappy with the Centre. Youth are still going underground and joining the ranks of militants. Although the official count of militants shows a decrease, it is plain that militants still lurk.

This is also Kashmir: combustible and ready to explode. The calm can easily evaporate and the UT can return to its old violent ways. Those who know Kashmir’s history will always be cautious in reading too much into the peace, said an analyst.

Three years after the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status and set off a political earthquake, some things have changed yet a lot remains to be done.

One of the main sources of anger is the denial of political representation.

After the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government on June 19, 2018, several elections, including the Lok Sabha polls in April-May 2019 and the first-ever district development council (DDC) polls in November-December 2020, have been held in J&K. But the much-awaited Assembly polls are nowhere in sight.

For two years, the BJP government made holding of the delimitation exercise a prerequisite for holding the Assembly polls. The Delimitation Commission filed its final report to the government three months ago, but there is no sign of a political process starting anytime soon.

In the absence of an elected government, common people have no access to the power corridors to redress their day-to-day grievances.

They feel they have been disenfranchised from their constitutional right of having a representative government in place. Adding to this, the fear of losing jobs and land to outsiders after the abrogation of Article 370 has generated further anxiety among locals.

It is not just ordinary Kashmiris, resentment that the government favours outside businesses has been brewing even in Jammu as well, considered a bastion of the ruling BJP.

In September last year, the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for a day-long shutdown to protest against the Centre’s move to open 100 Reliance-owned retail stores in the region.

Wine traders in Jammu have been up in arms against the government’s decision to hold e-auctions for liquor shops as they fear it will drive out local businesses.

But it is not all doom and gloom.

In Kashmir, due to a sharp decline in stone-pelting incidents and separatist-sponsored strike calls, the tourism sector has touched new heights.

This year, tourists descended on Kashmir in droves. March broke the 10-year tourist arrival record in Kashmir, signalling that the tourism industry is finally on the path to recovery.

On the business side, investors from the rest of the country and even abroad have been showing keen interest.

The Union Territory has received investment applications of more than Rs 54,000 crore following the notification of a new central sector scheme in February 2021.

Out of them, projects worth over Rs 36,000 crore have been allotted land. However, it needs to be seen how much of this translates into reality.

Hard times

Kashmiris are still hankering for basic amenities of life. In March this year, J&K recorded the second highest unemployment rate in the country at 46.3 per cent.

Sheikh Ashiq, President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCC&I), says businesses in the Valley suffered immensely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ashiq, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with a business delegation a few months back, said they raised various issues pertaining to the revival of local business, economic reforms and the need for more international direct flights.

“We expect some good announcement soon,” Ashiq said.

Rameez Makhdoomi, a political analyst, says the central government must not take relative stability and peace as a ‘final solution’ to the Kashmir problem, “as history has indicated that such periods are usually short-lived and temporary in the Valley”.

“Unfortunately, the iron-fisted policies of the government continue to increase resentment among Kashmiris and encourage them to join the militant ranks. Minor incidents can trigger mass protests,” he told DH.

With reports from the ground reflecting the unease behind the surface calm, the trust deficit between Kashmir and Delhi has only deepened. The Centre needs to push major initiatives to bridge this gap.

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Published 07 August 2022, 02:39 IST

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