I discussed a few observations on the Kashmir valley in my previous post. This concluding post discusses some more observations:
1. The spectre of October 27th on the wane:
October 27th is the day when Indian troops were airdropped in Kashmir in 1947 after the Instrument of Accession was signed the previous day. It is a landmark day in Kashmir’s history and has been a day when separatists and insurgents have unleashed terror in the past. The separatists have tried to propagate the viewpoint that the protests on this day are a result of popular unrest since 1947. However, facts speak otherwise. Some historical accounts say that the Indian army was welcomed by the people in 1947 at a time when the tribal invaders were rampaging the valley. Also, up until 1988, there was no ‘Black Day’ celebration on this day. It was only after terrorism raised its head in the late ’80s that this day has been given a negative connotation and is marked with calls for shutdown and protests against ‘Indian occupation’. Incidentally, I was staying very near to Lal Chowk – the emotional and political theater of Srinagar on October 27th this year. This year too, there were the regular calls for shutdown. However, the effect was barely visible outside Srinagar and all tourist sites were fully functional. In central Srinagar, all the shops were closed (maybe in part because it was a Sunday) but there were no major incidents. I suspect and hope that the spectre of October 27th is on the wane.
2. APHC – a spent force?
Before going to Kashmir, I suspected that the public space there would be dominated by the mouthpieces of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). I remember that in the early 2000s, the Indian government tried to engage the APHC on several occasions – elevating them to a status of the ‘voice of Kashmir’ and undermining the politically elected government in the process. However, since the split between the Mirwaiz and the Geelani factions, and the success of the 2008 elections, the combined power of the APHC has significantly come down.
3. The ‘durbar’ movement saga
I also witnessed the half-yearly exercise of the Secretariat shift from one capital to the other. This week long exercise comprises of physical transportation of government records packed in boxes and jute bags taken in caravans. Around 5000 government officials along with the ministers also undertake the seasonal migration. For the common people it means endless traffic jams and feeds into the narrative of insensitive government. This exercise was started in 1882 by the then Maharaja as it was supposedly difficult for people from far flung areas to reach the snow covered Srinagar in winter. Today, the exercise does not make sense. Most opposition to the archaic process is based on economic reasons. The arguments say that it costs tremendously to the public exchequer and hence the exercise should be stopped. I however believe that the greater problem is that without governmental presence in Srinagar for half a year, the public space is vacated for use by the separatists and propagandists of all sorts. It is for this reason that it needs to be stopped.
4. The omnipresent CRPF in Srinagar
One thing that you can never miss out while in Srinagar is the overwhelming presence of the paramilitary and the military. While I saw the Indian Army mostly around the Badami Bagh Cantonment area, rest of the city had a dominant CRPF presence. Outside Srinagar, the patrolling and CRPF presence was toned down. Living under the watch of armed personnel is not a pleasant experience and such a long presence in civil areas is bound to evoke animosity from the locals. One good development is that the J&K police is itself a highly specialized and advanced police force capable of tackling any law and order problem. I wish that the presence of CRPF and other forces in civil areas gradually gives way to an oversight by the J&K police entirely.
5. Agriculture and Industry
Agriculture and allied sectors continue to employ more than 70% of J&K’s population. Paddy, maize and wheat are the three main crops. Besides, high grade saffron in Pampore and high quality apple/dry fruits in and around Gulmarg/Pahalgam are unique to Kashmir.
There is hardly any presence of manufacturing industries. Attracting investments in this domain has been tough. However allied industries like food processing, wood works and willow processing exist and have a great potential for development.
Within the ambit of the Article 370, if the government is able to involve the locals and the non-J&Kites through lease or other mechanisms, the small and medium scale industry can get a much needed boost and realize its potential for growth.