There is little being heard about Jammu and Kashmir in the mainstream media after the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of the state into two union territories with effect from 31 October 2019. Apart from occasional encounters between security forces and militants, whose number and intensity seem to have come down, the only big-ticket news from the state came when Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a 3-day trip to the state in October last year.
An important announcement that the home minister made in the strife-torn state was the resumption of a direct flight between Srinagar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This air-link provides easy connectivity to the residents of this mountainous region with economic powerhouses like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, besides countries such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran. Clearly, the union government looks at Jammu and Kashmir from economic, employment, and development perspectives rather than an unfinished agenda of 1947.
More than two years after the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, all available indicators suggest that this trouble-torn northern tip of India is one of the most economically-backward regions in the country and it needs the attention of top talents in economic, industrial, and employment planning.
A new item on January 2 in local newspapers tells the readers that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has sent the 4th consignment of Kashmir vegetables to Sharjah, Dubai. This seemingly small achievement was the result of a direct air-link between Srinagar and Dubai. Kashmiri farmers in the hope of finding a long-term international market for their produce sent carrot, kale, radish, broccoli, lotus root, spices, and cereals. The consignment also included the prized produce of the reason — saffron.
The local papers had another piece of positive news about the UT around January 22. They reported that the UT administration has received investment proposals worth Rs 3000 crore during the Dubai Expo 2022. Among the high-profile companies that showed interest in investing in Jammu and Kashmir were Emaar, Lulu, AI Maya, Matu Investments, and Noon e-commerce. Emaar has committed to developing a shopping mall in Srinagar spanning 500,000 sq ft. It is also planning to invest in the real estate, mixed-use commercial and residential projects, and hospitality sectors in Jammu and Srinagar.
These baby steps to the economic progress of a region that occupied a significant part of India’s strategic planning over the last 3 decades are ironic and humbling. They underscore no matter how troublesome a situation is, normalcy begins with modesty.
Over three decades of mindless violence and anarchy, if there is anything to be learned from the Kashmir example, it is that a handful of bigots can spoil a perfect paradise. For this reason alone, these forces must be defeated. And, they should be defeated comprehensively.
During the last 30 years when the world marched from one advancement to another, Kashmir was losing its men, women, youth, and kids to bullets. Foreign mercenaries who had nothing better to offer had been trying to propagate prejudices and hatred that have long become obsolete in the civilized world. Ordinary Kashmiris remained intractably caught in the crossfire. Nothing could be more tragic.
But for India, what happened in Kashmir in the last 30 years was not entirely new. India had seen the partition of 1947 when a million people were killed and 20 million were displaced. But what preceded the partition is more important to know. It was mindless violence, anarchy, and riots for almost a decade involving two communities that made people like Mahatma Gandhi accept partition — as the last resort.
The agitationist and militant face of the Muslim population in the Indian context has its origin in the Indian Muslim Movement (1919-24). It is also called the Khilafat movement or the Caliphate movement. In this agitation, Indian Muslims were demanding restoration of the Caliphate rights denied in the aftermath of World War I. Since they were protesting against British rule, the Caliphate leaders were able to win the support of Indian nationalists including that of Gandhi.
This moment holds a very important twist in the political history of the Indian freedom movement. It’s said that Muhammad Ali Jinnah cautioned Gandhi not to endorse the Caliphate movement and thereby the elements of sentimental, religious, and political naivety. The Caliphate movement collapsed in the country of Caliphate, Turkey, by 1924, after it got a favourable deal.
But in India, the political turmoil created by the Indian Muslim Movement continued and went out of control, making both Jinnah and Iqbal (of Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindostan Hamara… fame) give in to their pressure. They became such a strong political force that no Muslim leader could ignore them and still be relevant in politics. Jinnah and Iqbal chose the easy option and turned from humans to gods to be worshipped by the masses who only knew fighting and protests. Sad for the Indian freedom movement and its glorious history!
The partition followed, and an Islamic country emerged on the world map constituting people who were essentially Indians, liberals, with democratic moorings. Separation from India is something that average Pakistanis could never reconcile with.
Talking about the masses is a good thing in politics. But giving in to the short-sighted, visionless, and naive viewpoints of the masses just because those are approved by a majority is not the best thing for a nation or polity. While dealing with Kashmir, Indian policymakers were acutely aware of this historic blunder of the Indian freedom movement. India was not a game for another mistake. And, it has helped it prevent Kashmir from becoming an Afghanistan, if not a Pakistan.
As the people of Kashmir are trying to dare and dream once again, Pakistan should stop its militants from creating problems in Kashmir and allow its airspace for the Srinagar-Sharjah flight. Let normalcy return to Kashmir. Let the Kashmiris plant one more crop of maize, to begin with. Let the cornflower bloom on both sides of Kashmir peacefully one more time. Let peace and prosperity get one more chance. Let’s not repeat the mistakes that divide us! (IPA Service)