Some years back, Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif had said that Kashmir will be beautiful if Kashmiri youth pick up bat instead of gun and pick up ball instead of stones. That hope expressed when Manzoor Dar who was picked up by IPL’s Kings XI Punjab, is becoming a reality today. Mujtaba Yousuf, Abid Mushtaq, Basit Bashir, Rasikh Salam, Waseem Bashir, Fazil Rashid, Sharukh Dar, Nasir Lone, Auqib Nabi are few names among the dozens of Kashmiri cricketers who were shortlisted in the 405-member final Indian Premier League. (IPL) Player Auction 2023 list. What’s more bats made from the well-known Kashmiri willow brand has made its mark with endorsement from some of the leading international cricketers.
Four years ago, on 5 August 2019, the Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha. Its result was that Article 370 which provided special status to Jammu & Kashmir, was revoked and article 35A which prevented non-Kashmiris to purchase property in the state, became automatically null and void. The government had also resorted to bifurcating the state into two union territories: Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (UT of J&K ) and Union Territory of Ladakh. Four years on the situation for the people in Jammu and Kashmir has transformed. Politically a strong grassroots democratic system commenced with genuine participation of people at the lowest rungs of governance in rural and urban local bodies.
Internationally, Pakistan tried to bring attention to India’s move on article 370 calling for a UNSC session on August 16 with support from China. But all leading UN SC members US, France, Britain, Germany and Russia and other members rejected the Chinese and Pakistani demand to issue a statement on the abrogation of article 370. The UNSC acknowledged that India’s move to revoke article 370 was an internal matter and this measure was to bring normalcy and development in J&K.
It is indeed ironic that dozens of films based on the subject of Kashmir have been shot there but in three decades not a single movie theatre had existed in Srinagar. The opening of a new cinema hall in Srinagar heralds the changed times for the valley. After three decades of conflict which was marked by a violent insurgency, propped up further by cross-border enabling, Kashmir has begun to feel normal.
Srinagar’s iconic Bakshi Stadium has been refurbished and equipped with world-class facilities which are at par with FIFA standards. A 150-bedded state-of-the-art super speciality hospital equipped with all the advanced medical facilities, was inaugurated in Nowgam.
This year the foundation stone of a mega-mall in the Sempora area of Srinagar has been laid, and represents the first direct foreign investment project in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (UT of J&K ). J&K received a record investment of Rs 1547 crore during the current fiscal year, till March 2023, the highest ever compared to any previous financial years.
While there may be much to be cynical about, all of these developments are an attestation to the changing atmosphere in the Valley.
Much of the development blueprint that the government had in planned in the aftermark of the abrogation of Article 370, had to be postponed because of the onset of Covid-19 pandemic and imposed lockdowns through 2020 and most of 2021. But since then massive infrastructural development has commenced by way of the New Industrial Policy (NIP) 2021, which came into effect in Jammu and Kashmir on Apr 1, 2022. Both the centre and UT of J&K are laying out attractive schemes for the global investors to come and invest. The purpose of the Jammu and Kashmir Industrial Policy (JKIP) 2021-30 is to provide an industrial ecosystem in J&K, in line with the national economic trajectory, removing the artificial legal and economic barriers between J&K.
With a total spending outlay of Rs. 28,400 crores i.e., 3.7 Billion USD up to the year 2025, the largest incentive to date, the new industrial policy will also focus on equitable development through a graded incentive structure that rewards both manufacturing and service sectors in remote areas of J&K.The J&K private-industrial Estate Development Policy, is a land allotment policy which has been initiated to incorporate a mechanism of public-private partnership in the industrial sector. Steps are being undertaken by the UT of J&K towards reducing compliances on “Ease of Living” and “Ease of Doing Business” which has received tremendous response from various potential investors. All of this has started to show its result and the UT of J&K is now emerging as an investment hub. Officials indicate that thousands of investment proposals have been received with an anticipated investment of about Rs 66,000 crore in near future. J&K’s arts, handicraft and handloom sector has recorded an unprecedented growth registering Rs.729 crore worth exports. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha proudly declared earlier this year that, “A new industry is becoming operational in the UT every day. Last month, 45 industries started their operations.”
Because almost 70 per cent of the economy is based on agriculture in J&K, plenty of planning and investment is going towards increasing agri efficiency, production, productivity, and profitability. Private firms have been permitted to undertake cluster farming of specific horticulture crops, just like other crop clusters across the nation. For instance the FIL Industries will develop an ‘apple cluster’ in Shopian. Earlier this year the government launched an ambitious Sensor based Smart Agriculture project with an initial investment of 30.40 crore for 29 projects, which will integrate agriculture with technology driven by Artificial Insemination and IoT, bringing transformative innovation for J&K’s agri-economy. Projects like the Holistic Agriculture Development Program (HADP) have been launched in order to create a robust market ecosystem, improve the Terms of Trade (ToT) in favour of farmers, and facilitate the branding of agricultural produce to promote marketing and competitive advantage of niche crops.
Tourism which has always been the backbone of Kashmir economy has thrived especially since the second half of 2022 when more than around 14 million tourists visited the J&K. In order to provide a varied experience to visitors the government is promoting offbeat tourist destinations. This in itself is testament to the growing sense of security in J&K. Health tourism has become the new buzzword for J&K. AYUSH hospitals that provide facilities like herbal treatment, yoga, aimed at promoting healing and well-being are being set up at Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Srinagar, Sonamarg, Patnitop, Katra, and Golf Course Jammu, with some already operational. Earlier in May, delegates from G20 nations were able to visit Kashmir for the first time during the 3rd G20 Tourism Working Group Meeting.
Speaking about the current security situation in the valley, at the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Tasleema Akhtar said, “Police and military casualties reached an all-time low. Civilian casualties, though very unfortunate, were less as well. There were just 24 law and order incidents in 2022 and there were no incidents of stone pelting in the valley. Compared to this, over 400 incidents took place in 2018.”
Indeed ranging in three to four digits, fatalities have come down to 30 in 2022 – a clear indication that the security situation is well under control. Previously there would be frequent riots, and the children would suffer as the school and colleges were forced to close down during hartals. Incidents like thousands gathering for the funeral services of a terrorist and stone pelting after encounters have also reduced. “Stone pelting on roads, hartals and closure of schools and colleges is history now. Out of 365 days a year, 100 days would witness hartals that would take toll on business, and education of children studying in schools and colleges,” said J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha while addressing a gathering on the occasion of 75th Independence Day.
It is legitimate to question whether the situation in Kashmir has indeed improved since the abrogation of Article 370. It would be a misnomer to state that violence has completely dissipated; Three decades of insurgency in Kashmir had made unrest and state of tension was almost chronic. Today some of that violence continues but has been massively contained. And although the level of violence is much reduced, problemattic issues related to governance and elections remain on the political agenda. The government’s delay in conducting Assembly Elections and restoring statehood is providing opportunities to elements inimical to peace, to spread misinformation. J&K was enduring widespread corruption that kept lakhs of ordinary citizens devoid of basic facilities for decades. The disorder which was the result of separatism was endemic for almost three decades will take time to correct but the process has begun. The return of full scale normalcy in Kashmir after three decades of insurgency will involve trust building, which will take time. The main emphasis should be the prevention of a resumption of violent radical conflict, which can be done through economic development that is inclusive and establishing democratic political institutions to the configuration of the particular society in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.