While Shopian dominated 2009, there were other controversies too that hogged the headlines. Haroon Mirani lists the top 10.
CHINESE VISA ROW
The year 2009 has been special for Kashmir particularly the way foreign countries have been taking up the issue in one way or other. In October China embarrassed India when it started issuing loose sheet visa papers to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir while continuing to attest visas on passports of other Indians nationals. Enraged Indian nationalists came out with condemnations but China didn’t budge.
The issue came into limelight when Indian immigration authorities disallowed some Kashmiris with Chinese visa issued on loose paper sheets and stapled to their passports, to travel.
The Indian media described the Chinese stand as ‘brash, waking dragon’. The situation was further compounded by incursions of Chinese army in J&K’s Ladakh region.
The problem with such visas is that it does not describe Kashmiris as Indian, making India fume. To circumvent the ban, some Kashmiri students and businessmen travelled to China through a third country. They get the visa from Chinese embassy in New Delhi, but they don’t staple it to their passports. They then fly to Macau or Hongkong before proceeding to China.
WORLD BANK DISCLAIMER
This December a high level six member delegation led by state forest minister Mian Altaf Ahmad met union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee at his North Block office and told him the World Bank had stopped disbursement of a sanctioned loan and raised fresh conditions.
Mukherjee assured the delegation that the government will oppose the World Bank disclaimer put up for the Rs 740 crore loan sanctioned for a watershed project in the state. The Bank has asked the state government to give an undertaking that the loan would not be treated as a certificate that the “disputed territory” was an integral part of India.
The state has failed to get the World Bank funding worth Rs 740 crore for a ‘Participatory Watershed Management Project’ after the latter issued a disclaimer on Jammu and Kashmir, implying that the territory was disputed.
India had encountered similar difficulties earlier this year when China had objected to an Asian Development Bank loan in Arunachal Pradesh saying it was a “disputed territory”.
The World Bank appraised the project for Kashmir in May 2008.
Altaf said World Bank had funded two projects in J&K, in 1991 and 1999. Though the loan component was much smaller, the multilateral agency had never sought any disclaimer.
Ironically, the state government was not even aware of the fresh conditions until the union environment and forest ministry in a follow up meeting revealed that the bank had sought the disclaimer.
PRE PAID BAN
Home Minister P Chidambaram emerged as a ‘villain’ among the state residents particularly youth, as he pulled the plug on pre-paid mobile services in J&K. Millions of prepaid mobile connections in the state were banned a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the Valley.
With 90 percent of mobile connections in the state being pre-paid, the ban hit more than fourty lakh subscribers.
In their justification to ban the services New Delhi evoked the much maligned ‘security concerns’. The government said some militants had acquired SIMs without proper verification, “so four million had to suffer.” The ban left more than 20,000 people unemployed.
Initially the ruling National Conference raised hue and cry over the issue but when it was revealed that the ban was invoked after consulting state government, it humbly retreated. The PDP hugged the limelight with token protests against the issue.
Poor Jammuites were left reeling the fact that they have to pay the price of living with Kashmiris. Panthers Party Chairman Bhim Singh challenged the order in the Supreme Court and the case is lingering on.
The latest buzz is that the ban may be revoked after the old pre-paid connections become invalid and new ones will be issued with stringent customer verifications.
On 28 July 2009, the mother of all the dramas was played in the state assembly, when opposition leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig revealed that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s name figured in the list of persons being investigated in the 2006 sex scandal by the CBI.