By Harihar Swarup
Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent three-day visit to J&K was overdue. That it came over two years after the historic decision to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories of Ladakh and J&K, reflects the extraordinary times we have lived through because of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than any reluctance to visit the newly-created UT.
Two years since that landmark decision, J&K, especially the Kashmir Valley has changed considerably. Tourism and hospitality industry is flourishing, terrorist attacks have seen a downward trend – notwithstanding the recent spurt in targeted killings of Hindus, Sikhs and daily wage earners from outside the state – and life in general is easier in the UT, going by the experience of common citizens and also anecdotal evidence from frequent visitors.
Critics will continue to focus on the harsh policy and security measures applied from time to time, home minister has already described the stringent curbs that the people have had to endure as bitter pills that helped save lives.
Coming to the home minister’s visit itself, it was extensive, and designed to send multiple messages. A four-hour long security review meeting with all stakeholders would have given him an idea about the ground situation and recent attempts by Pakistan to escalate violence and create communal disharmony in J&K. His directive to stop infiltration and control attacks by terrorists would have stemmed from the deliberations at the marathon review meeting.
While the recent spurt in violence may give an impression that law and order is deteriorating in J&K, viewed over a longer period of 26months since August 2019, it is evident that the security grid and the unified command structure in J&K have worked seamlessly.
Aware of the targeted killings, Shah rightly chose to visit the families of security personnel from the UT who had made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. The lower echelons of J&K Police have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks for years. They deserve all the support and encouragement from the authorities.
Security dimension apart, the home minister’s most important engagement during his J&K trip was perhaps his interaction with over 50,000 youth of J&K through a video conference. He just had one message for the youth:(nearly 70% of the UT’s population is young) Join hands with the government’s development initiative for J&K launched by the Narendra Modi Government. He reminded people at large that till 2019 news from Kashmir used to be dominated by reports of stone pelting, killings and terrorism Today the narrative is overwhelmingly about development, skill enhancement, jobs and education.
The biggest message that Shah had was, of course, for Pakistan Frustrated by lack of any popular upsurge against the Indian government after August 2019, Pakistan has tried to meddle in J&K again post the recent developments in Afghanistan, However, the minister’s unambiguous statement that GoI would talk to the people of Kashmir and not to Pakistan about the future of J&K has sent a clear signal to Rawalpindi that it can no longer claim any stake in Kashmir’s future.
Shah’s blunt assertion that in the current scheme of things, the first priority is carrying out the delimitation exercise and not restoring statehood, should also send a clear signal to the old political players as well as Pakistan that their usual playbook is no longer applicable.
Of course, the Centre will have to be careful in calibrating the political roadmap in J&K, lest it loses the current momentum. While holding successful elections to the district development councils is a feather in the administration’s cap, the political process needs to be carried forward in due time.
Shah’s biggest task indeed lies ahead. He and his ministry must ensure that all development schemes that have been envisaged for the UT are implemented with sincerity and in a time-bound manner. This is essential to make sure India does not fritter away the new opportunity in J&K, provided by the bold decision to dismantle the old system in August 2019. (IPA Service)