Political vacuum continues in Kashmir six months on
Six months after Parliament nullified Article 370 of the Constitution, depriving Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, a political vacuum lingers in the region with three former chief ministers and two dozen senior mainstream politicians remaining in detention.
And, although markets are now open and public and private transport is normal, businessmen complain of a slump.
“In winters, the markets used to drop by 50%; this time we have registered drop of more than 80% and it [business] is not picking up,’’ said a prominent trader on the city’s fashionable Residency Road.
The August 5 move to nullify Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories, J&K and Ladakh, with effect from October 31, was accompanied by the detention of mainstream politicians, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and the lockdown of the region. Telecom facilities were suspended for several weeks..
In a report, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated a loss of Rs 18,700 crore to business.The situation has not improved, said Sheikh Ashiq, president of the body “Even after the (inter)net was restored, it hasn’t helped businessmen in any way,’’ Ashiq said.
To be sure, domestic and foreign tourists can now be spotted in the valley, and hotels, restaurants and cafes remain open until late.
“People are hurt and will never forget the removal of special status, but at the same time life has to go on,’’ said Mudasir Ahmad, a university student.
The withdrawal of around 10,000 troops from J&K and the release of political leaders in batches has shown the government’s confidence that things are better. However, the continued detention of the Abdullahs and Mufti, and many senior politicians does reflect a degree of nervousness.
“There is no visible change in the situation on the ground; especially in the freedom of expression; it remains completely choked. Only those mainstream politicians are entertained who believe in sycophancy,’’ said Khuram Pervaz, a human rights activist and coordinator the Coalition of Civil Society.
The recent meeting of a group of former legislators and ministers of different political parties in the state with J&K Lt Governor G C Murmu and then with foreign envoys has won the government some political brownie points, and this group o politicians may help kickstart the political process in the Kashmir valley.
“We have to take the initiative and can’t wait till things get worse in J&K, especially in the Valley,’’ said former minister Altaf Bukhari who, along with other former legislators and ministers, is planning to launch new political party.
“A process has to begin for development and restoration of statehood and domicile rights. After article 370 was removed, we were promised development and we are waiting to see that take place,’’ he added.
The government is also planning to hold elections for the more than 17,000 panchayats for which polls couldn’t be held in 2018 and also to elect chairmen for district development boards.
Meanwhile, a sense of hope, marks the popular mood in Jammu and Ladakh.
People of predominantly Budhist Ladakh, which has long demanded UT status, anticipate generous central funding for development. Cautious optimism marks public sentiment in Jammu, a Hindu-dominated region where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds sway.
“The mood is upbeat. Article 370 has gone and Ladakh is directly under the administrative control of the Centre. So, it is a big benefit to us,” former chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, Haji Anayat Ali, said.
He admitted that initially the people of Kargil had been worried over the Centre’s move.
“Gradually, people in Kargil have now understood that they are independent and their funds will directly come from the Centre. Earlier, we had to rely upon the consent of Kashmir. In a year or two, development will be visible on the ground”.
Morup Stanzin, a 42-year old resident of Leh, said: “Six months on there are no big changes on the ground but the Centre is taking keen interest in the strategic region”. He exudes confidence that economic development would ensue in Ladakh at a faster pace.
Jammu resident Kashmiri Pandit PL Tickoo, who fled Shopian in South Kashmir with his family after terrorists killed his eldest son said: “There are no big changes. It seems a sort of moral victory to those who were opposed to Article 370. On the administrative level, there is still chaos. People are not satisfied. There is no work on the ground. The issues of jobs, unemployment, bad roads, defunct transformers, damaged drains and lanes still remain the same. ”
In the border town of Poonch, 37- year old resident Zaheer Abbas, is more upbeat. , “After revocation of Article 370 life is peaceful and we are free from the hollow slogans of politicians. It was a very good decision to revoke Article 370. Though no big change is visible on the ground as of now, we are confident. Nothing was done in the past 70 years. How can one expect miracles in six months?.”