Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit after the reading down of Article 370 was focused on the development and grassroots democracy. The visit that saw the inauguration and foundation laying of projects worth Rs 20,000 crore was in sharp focus after a militant attack, two days ahead, reports Tahir Bhat
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Samba visit, his first to Jammu and Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into federally ruled Union Territories; saw a renewed emphasis on ending discrimination with people, encouraging development and strengthening grassroots representation. It might not have pleased the political class that hoped the Prime Minister will announce some kind of announcement about elections and restoration of the state status of Jammu and Kashmir.
After e-inaugurating a series of projects totalling Rs 20,000 crore, Prime Minister said that despite being chota rajya, Jammu and Kashmir is being liberally funded. He made special mention of the 20 districts now having access to Rs 22,000 crore, compared to Rs 5000 crore earlier. Most of his speech focused on grassroots representation because he had flown to address the panchayats across the country on Panchayati Raj Diwas.
“Be it democracy or development, today Jammu and Kashmir, is setting a new example,” Modi said. He repeatedly talked about the impact that the “change” has brought about in Jammu and Kashmir: a private investment of Rs 17000 crore in 75 years and Rs 38000 crore in two years; an unprecedented number of visitors have arrived and for next three months the sector is sold out; all the central laws that were denied to the people stand implemented which ended discrimination with some people. He told the new generation of Jammu and Kashmir that they will not face the same problems as their fathers and grandfathers faced. He said he has come with the message of the development and the pace of which has already increased with every penny being honestly spent.
Prime Minister spoke to an impressive audience that includes all the representatives of the grassroots democracy including panchayats, urban local bodies and the rural development eco-system. The government agencies were working on the venue for the last fortnight to make it a major event. Authorities levelled vast swathes of land into a huge ground and pitched one single sprawling tent with fans and other temperature reducing systems. The entire venue was properly compartmentalised to house a particular section of the invitees. The event was webcast live.
All the PRI members from Kashmir were driven by the SRTC fleets a few days ahead of the event. They were housed in hotels and guided to the venue. The entire Samba belt was literally busy with the event preparations for the last 10 days. Though the venue was at Pali village, the entire belt remained engaged for one or the other reason. The parking lots are created in a number of villages for the event. The event required the creation of three helipads in the area. The area was under the control of the Special Protection Group (SPG) for the last many days. All movements into the belt were banned for the last many days and the heavy vehicle movement on the highway, barely three km away, was also banned because of the VVIP visit.
Pali village in Samba district was selected to make it Jammu and Kashmir’s first carbon-free solar panchayat. In anticipation of the event, the village got access to a macadamized road and the authorities launched an electric bus service to the village, around 17 km from Jammu. It got an upgraded Panchayat Ghar, with a computer and internet connectivity, renovated government high school building, a new pond and improved playfields. Overnight an ATM was installed in the village after years of pleading with the authorities.
Barely a few days ahead of the visit, a Rs 2.75 crore 500 kW solar plant was commissioned on war-footing on 6408 square metres to provide clean electricity to 340 houses under the federally sponsored Gram Urja Swaraj scheme. District administration had already distributed the solar Chulhas (stoves) to the Pali families.
With the entire government busy in preparations for the high profile visit, it was a sensational militant attack that put the visit on newspaper front pages two days ahead of the event.
On April 22, Friday, when 15 CISF personnel were on their way to their duties, their bus was attacked around Sunjwan garrison. The attack led to the killing of an ASI as some of his colleagues were injured. This triggered an operation in the area in which 10 cops and paramilitary men were injured and concluded with the gunning down of two heavily armed militants wearing bulletproof vests.
On the eve of the visit, Jammu and Kashmir Police offered details of the investigations into the attack. They said the two slain militants were Fidayeen who had crossed into Jammu from the International Border at Supwal near Samba. They were picked up by a truck driver, Bilal Ahmad Wagay, a resident of Kokernag, in his vegetable-case laden truck and arranged their stay in the house of Mohammad Iqbal Rather, originally a resident of Ahahmadabad, DH Pora Malwan who is constructing a house at Jalalabad in Sunjuwan. In this, help was extended by Shafiq Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Mir Mohalla, Tral. He works at a walnut factory in Narwal along with his brother.
Police said they arrested Wagay and Shafiq along with Mohammad Iqbal Rather. Shafiq’s brother Asif is also being searched by the police. He is being accused of arranging mobile telephones for the militants. Police said one of the arrested persons told his interrogators that the slain militants were Pashto speaking and were either from a village in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan or from Afghanistan itself.
Police said they have examined a lot of CCTV footage, which corroborates with the statements given by the arrested people. However, it is yet to be established about how the two Fidayeen crossed over.
Mukesh Singh, the ADGP Jammu and Kashmir Police, who heads the police in Jammu, told reporters that Sheikh brothers are neck deep involved. Asif, Singh said created a Telegram identity Pagal Jamaat that he used to stay in touch with his Pakistan based Jaish-e-Muhammad handler, Veer. On his directions, he left his Tral home on April 20, stayed at Transport Nagar for the night and left for Supwal in Samba where he picked up the Fidayeen duo and transported them in a medium-size truck loaded with empty vegetable crates. They reached the Jalalabad locality of Sunjwan around 2.30 am where Sheikh took them home.
Singh said the plan was to inflict maximum causalities on the security forces. “Before they could set out for their mission, we received intelligence and immediately a cordon was laid,” Singh said. “The terrorists were holed up throughout the night.” Now the case is being investigated by the NIA, the chief of which also visited the spot of the encounter.
The militant attack added to the profile of the event that saw the inauguration of a series of projects.
“When I speak about Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat, our focus is on connectivity and bridging distances. Our aim is to provide all-weather connectivity to J&K,” Modi said. “The inauguration and laying of the foundation of projects of Rs 20,000 crore took place today. This will give new impetus to the development of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The major project that was thrown open is the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel which reduced the travel time between Srinagar and Jammu by around 90 minutes and 16 km of hill drive. The 8.45-km-long twin-tube tunnel cost Rs 3100 crore.
Besides, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of three road packages of the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway, being built at a cost of over Rs 7,500 crore. He also laid the foundation stone for 850-MW Rattle and 540-MW Kwar hydroelectric projects that would cost almost Rs 10,000 crore.