On Saturday, a drove of three dozen Union ministers are to descend on the newly-created Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Their job is to promote development plans the Centre has for J&K after the reduction in the former state’s status, and the severe political and communications clampdown which accompanied the drastic action effective from August 5 last year, setting off serious uncertainties.
In the past five months, little development efforts have been noticed by the Kashmiri people, though much official hype was created around tourism possibilities, especially in the Valley.
None of this has materialised. Faith in official pronouncements appears to be at an all-time low. Greater energy by the Centre seems to have been expended on crafting “a new politics” for Kashmir — after locking up prominent politicians of Valley-centric political parties, including three former chief ministers of the state — rather than on doing anything to give concrete shape to development plans.
The key question is: Is development possible in the absence of mobile telephony, which was the case for much of the time since August, and the snapping of the Internet? The Supreme Court recently grappled with this question but did not offer justice, although it held that cutting off the Internet for an indefinite period was “impermissible”.
The official reason for cutting off Kashmir’s links with the outside world was that this was necessary to curb terrorism. This is what the government sought to impress upon the international community. And now a non-Muslim decorated police officer has been discovered to be mixed up with terrorists. The default line is for people of the Valley’s majority Muslim community to be suspected of terrorism. To what extent terrorism has been eradicated on account of disrupting communications and locking up politicians can only be tested once all curbs are removed. But will they be removed any time soon? If not, then is it possible to posit any meaningful development activity and economic acceleration? These are key questions worthy of debate.
Sending to Kashmir Union ministers — a cast of characters who have little knowledge or interest in the region except to routinely revile it in communal terms as being a hotbed for militancy — to spread the message of development at a time when practically all economic indicators in the country are showing negative results — cannot possibly be taken seriously, at least not by J&K residents. The only likely explanation is that the ministers’ visit is a part of a massive propaganda exercise that is especially aimed at an international audience.
While Indian politicians have been prevented from visiting Kashmir, and obstacles have been placed in the path of journalists, in the past two months the government has organised conducted tours for members of European Parliament of the far-right persuasion and a clutch of foreign ambassadors in New Delhi. With US President Donald Trump expected in India sometime soon, the planned visit of a horde of Central ministers seems little more than a shoddily choreographed mind-bending exercise.