What to Expect From PM Modi’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ Visit at the Start of His Third Term?

   

by Muhib Makhdoomi

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Prime Minister’s visit offers a moment to assess the impacts of sweeping reforms on the valley’s socio-economic landscape, security situation, and the broader aspirations of its people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Home Minister Amit Shah after the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill in Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for his visit to the Kashmir Valley to celebrate International Yoga Day, the region stands at a pivotal juncture, reflecting on a turbulent yet transformative recent past. Over the last few years, Kashmir has witnessed significant political and social upheavals. These changes have been met with a complex mix of hope and scepticism among the local population. As the Prime Minister’s visit approaches, it offers a moment to assess the impacts of these sweeping reforms on the valley’s socio-economic landscape, security situation, and the broader aspirations of its people.

An Altered Socio-Political Landscape

A complex interplay of historical grievances, regional aspirations, and geopolitical considerations has always shaped Kashmir’s socio-political landscape. The region’s demographics, with a Muslim-majority population and significant Hindu and Sikh communities, have contributed to its diverse cultural tapestry and complicated political calculations.

For decades, Kashmir enjoyed a unique status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted it autonomy over internal matters while being an integral part of India. This provision was a cornerstone of Kashmir’s political identity, reflecting its historical and cultural distinctiveness within the Indian Union. The state had its constitution, flag, and significant control over legislative and administrative affairs.

LG Manoj Sinha with visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 7, 2024. DIPR

The revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 marked a watershed moment in Kashmir’s history. This decision, aimed at integrating Jammu and Kashmir more closely with the rest of India, reorganised the region into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. While supporters of the move highlighted it as a step towards development, critics expressed concerns about potential implications for Kashmir’s autonomy, identity, and stability.

Economic and Development Initiatives

Economically, Kashmir has seen both opportunities and challenges. Before the reorganisation, the state of Jammu and Kashmir had a diverse economic profile, with agriculture, tourism, and handicrafts playing pivotal roles. The region’s agriculture sector, supported by fertile land and a variety of crops including rice, wheat, apples, and saffron, provided livelihoods to a significant portion of the population.

Tourism, another key economic driver, attracted visitors from around the world to explore its scenic beauty, Mughal gardens, and adventure sports opportunities. However, the region also faced infrastructure bottlenecks, periodic unrest affecting tourism, and limited industrial development.

Post abrogation of Article 370, the Narendra Modi-led central government launched initiatives to spur economic growth and infrastructural development in Jammu and Kashmir. Policies sought to attract investments, promote industrialisation, and enhance connectivity for better integration with national markets. Initiatives like Udaan and Himayat aimed at youth empowerment through skill development, addressing unemployment to leverage the demographic dividend.

Violence Decline

Since the abrogation of Article 370, there has been a noticeable decline in violence and a significant reduction in loss of civilian life. According to official statistics, the number of attacks in Kashmir valley has decreased significantly. Similarly, there has been a sharp decline in civilian casualties.

This decline in violence can be attributed to various factors, including enhanced security measures, proactive counter operations, and improved intelligence gathering. The government’s efforts to restore peace and stability in the region have focused on addressing security concerns while promoting socio-economic development initiatives to foster a sense of normalcy and security among the local population.

Assembly Elections

Before the revocation of Article 370, the legislative structure of Jammu and Kashmir was governed by its constitution. The state had a bicameral legislature consisting of two houses: the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. The people of Jammu and Kashmir elected members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) through direct elections.

Hameeda (extreme left in red dress) of Ganderbal, who runs a cow form and a diary unit narrated her struggle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her virtual interaction from a district centre in Ganderbal on March 7, 2024.

Currently, the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir is marked by an absence of a legislative assembly, as the region remains directly governed by the Government of India through the Lieutenant Governor.

The last assembly elections were held in 2014, and since the reorganisation in 2019, there has been a pressing demand for the restoration of democratic processes to ensure local governance and representation. The upcoming assembly elections are anticipated to be a crucial step towards political stability and self-governance in Jammu and Kashmir.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite efforts, Kashmir continues to grapple with socio-economic challenges, including unemployment, educational disparities, and infrastructure gaps. The region’s journey towards economic prosperity and social harmony requires balancing development imperatives with preserving its cultural heritage and addressing local aspirations

Jammu and Kashmir faces the dual challenge of leveraging its strategic location, natural resources, and cultural richness while navigating complex geopolitical realities. Addressing regional grievances, promoting inclusive growth, and fostering dialogue remains essential for building a sustainable future for its residents.

Perhaps the first photograph that shows the Jammu and Kashmir politicians at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Delhi residence on June 24, 2021, on the occasion of All Party Meeting that he hosted. This was the first outreach of the Government of India to Jammu and Kashmir politicians.

On to the Future

Muhib Mukhdoomi

Kashmir remains a region of immense potential and profound challenges, where the quest for peace, development, and inclusive growth intersects with historical narratives and contemporary realities. The transformation from a state with special status to a Union Territory sparked debates, raised hopes, and prompted reflections on Kashmir’s identity and future trajectory within the Indian Union.

As stakeholders navigate these complexities, fostering dialogue, promoting economic opportunities, and preserving Kashmir’s unique cultural mosaic will be crucial. Ultimately, the journey of Kashmir is a testament to resilience, adaptation, and the enduring quest of diverse communities for a prosperous and harmonious future amidst its majestic landscapes and ever-evolving socio-political configuration.

(The author is a trained engineer, a student of politics and an aspiring techie. Ideas are personal.)

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