When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will flag off train on the 18-km stretch of Qazigund-Anantnag on Wednesday, he will be sixth prime minister to lead such railway ceremonies in Jammu and Kashmir.
Prior to Singh, five Prime Ministers --- Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi, I K Gujral, Deve Gowda and Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- besides UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi have been part of the ceremonies related to the project.
It was in 1898 that the then Dogra rulers conceived a rail link between Kashmir and the rest of the country. It took more than nine decades to push for the dream project when in 1983 Indira Gandhi laid a foundation stone for 54-km Jammu -Udhampur stretch.
It was promised that the rail link thereafter would be extended by 290 km to Baramulla in the Valley. For fours years there was no progress and it was in 1986 that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi performed the same ritual for the second time in the same Udhampur town. Railway minister Suresh Kalmadi, who announced the same plan again in 1995, followed Gandhi.
In 1996, Prime Minister P V Narsimha Roa sanctioned Rs 2600 crores for the extension of the rail link from Udhampur to Baramulla, covering 290 kms. The Congress, however, lost the power at the Centre.
Rao's successor Deve Gowda laid another ritualistic foundation stone in March 1997, again in Udampur. Just two months later, his successor I K Gujral flew all the way to the Valley for the same ceremony, this time at Baramulla.
For 19 years, the link to Kashmir could not see the light of the day. In 2003, it was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who declared it a national project. The railway project that still remains incomplete witnesses piecemeal inauguration now and then, even for as small a stretch as 17 km.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 finally inaugurated a stretch -- 54 km long Jammu Udhampur -- of this 344 km rail link.
The remaining project has been divided into three parts - 41 km long Udhampur to Katra, 130 km long Katra to Qazigund and 119 km Qazigund to Baramulla. In the final stage, it will stretch from north to south Kashmir.
The 66 km long section of Qazigund Baramulla - from Anantnag to Mazhama -was inaugurated by the PM Manmohan Singh in October last year, Sonia Gandhi later doing the honours of inaugurating the 35-km long section from Mazhom to Baramulla early this year.