By S. Sivathasan –
Pulwama attack presaged the Regeneration of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. To Pakistan which launched the killing of 40 CRPF personnel on 14th February 2019 in Indian territory, it was the beginning of a fresh page in history. To India it was a God Sent opportunity to venture on the impossible. Pakistan never saw the writing on the wall. India lost no time in rewriting history.
India’s response was immediate retaliation. It was the Balakot airstrike on 26th February 2019 on a training camp in Pakistan. Personnel killed were over 300. Pakistan’s assessment that India was a diffident neighbour not having the strength to repulse an attack was demolished. With amazing speed all the arms of government worked in unison to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with India. What followed was the rebirth of Kashmir under the benign tutelage of Mother India.
A brief note is needed at this stage for the inexplicable aggression of Pakistan on India. Since India’s independence in 1947, Jammu-Kashmir has had a weird history. At the beginning was rule by Sheik Abdullah, followed by his son Farooq Abdulla. The latter’s son Omar Abdullah succeeded the Father. Interspersed in between was Father and Daughter of the Mufti family. The two families derisively called dynasties, ruled for a total of 50 years.
Kashmir faced a long period of intermittent interventions by Pakistan’s regulars and Pak. inspired terrorism. The target of attack and even persecution were Hindus called Pandits. Out of an estimated population of130,000 plus, over 90,000 left the valley. All this happened under two constitutional provisions Article 370 and Article 35A conferring special rights and privileges on the Muslims of Kashmir particularly land rights. Done with the best of intentions, it caused only the worst of consequences. Repose was wished for but only unrest resulted. The malignant outgrowth was burnt with a hot rod by the iron will of Modi and Amit Shah combined. Jammu-Kashmir had a new dawn. A constitutional change was brought about by terminating Articles 370 & 35A. India was well and truly integrated and Kashmir was deprived of the special arrangement which kept the two religious entities apart for 7 decades.
What followed was a rebirth, a renaissance – the theme of this article. “If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here” wrote the poet Amir Khusrau. So enchanted was he by the beauty of Kashmir, he couched his description in such exuberant words. To the governmental hierarchy securing this pearl of great price had multiple demands. Providing physical infrastructure and managing social engineering in all their facets. Conferring peace, repose and happiness being the principal consideration.
In a multi ethnic and multi religious society that had evolved over the centuries, guarantee of peace was primary. With insurgency and sporadic acts of violence reduced by 88% as Police affirm, people are now relaxed. Infrastructure neglected for long is now conferred immense importance. Jammu and Kashmir have a total area of 42,000 sq. km of which 1,219 s. k. are urban. Connecting them up out of economic and social compulsions would need a quarter century. The last three years however have seen transformation at break-neck speed. The population of Kashmir is 68% Muslim and 28 % Hindu. Hindu Prime Minister Modi is lavishing financial resources on every sector of development in Kashmir. With visible change in all sectors and money in people’s hands through employment, happiness is visible at present and hope is inspired for the future.
For modernism to enter a state, up to date rail transport is essential. Kashmir now has only metre gauge lines with narrow bodied coaches. The lines are intra state with no connection to the national system. What held up modernization? The forbidding terrain, high elevation and extremes in weather were great challenges to construction. When one sees the engineers and workers hard at work on roads and in tunnels, the wonder is what makes them work in conditions so trying. Wages are part explanation. Patriotism fills the balance.
What makes a Government heap such burdens as road, rail and bridge construction, lengthy tunnels, communications and buildings for multiple needs. The way Kashmir nestles in the shadow of the Himalayas and the manner in which Jammu-Kashmir is encircled by states that are hostile to India virtually mandate heavy investments. Political wisdom is driven home by Kautilya in Arthashastra and other treatises. To him, that state which is on the borders of another state is an enemy. Look at the map which illustrates. To the North West lies the Frontier Province of Pakistan, along a lengthy border in North and East is China. Not far away are Russia and Afghanistan. A case book on circumscription for Kashmir. Nehru with his foreign policy insights, sought to maintain the best of relations with Russia and China.
Even as security concerns were well addressed, they catered to commuter facilities for tourist travel too. In addition, goods transport long neglected from 1989 was provided. How much the people benefitted can be learnt through illustrations in the media as well as statistics. Kashmir has been an attractive destination for local and foreign tourists for decades on end.
With the vagaries of unsettled conditions moving away and pleasures of holidaying growing by the year, tourist arrivals both local and foreign have recorded a high of 18.8 million in 2022. A sure 22 million plus can be forecast for 2023. Besides recording mild increases, the challenge of garnering income rises and growing affluence are before the administrations of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The year 2022 has seen 300 film shoots in Kashmir. Establishing a Filmland with permanent residences can be an employment generator. In development centres forethought is seen in provision for sports – both winter and summer. Boys and girls and more in numbers young men and ladies have fresh opportunities.
Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh will go on developing at unrelenting pace. The two Union Territories will be making a persistent cry for State status, their own legislature and a Chief Minister. To concede all such demands with responsibility, the centre will undertake a comprehensive development of structures and more importantly institutions. Till about 10 years India will discharge her parental obligations to enable Kashmir to be equal to all states, subordinate to none.