Warm up to the Valley: On Kashmir lockdown

The Centre must lift the lockdown and release political prisoners to restore normalcy

October 12, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 11:22 am IST

That the Jammu and Kashmir government has withdrawn an advisory it issued on August 2 forcing tourists to leave the Valley is to be welcomed, but it would be naive to expect any significant inflow of visitors immediately. Jammu and Kashmir was emptied of its tourists and the Amarnath pilgrims at the peak of the season on the pretext of terror threats but the real reason, it turned out, was the Centre’s move to rescind the special constitutional status of the State on August 5. Tourism, a key driver of the State’s economy, was severely hit by restrictions on movement and communication. With no word from authorities still on restoration of mobile telephony and the Internet, few tourists are likely to consider the Valley for a winter adventure. Due to lack of communication facilities and as a mark of protest businesses remain shut and life in the Valley remains far from normal. The partial relief announced now, meagre as it is, could mark a new beginning. The government has now initiated a process to release prisoners who were detained around the August 5 measures, in phases. These can only be the first steps in what will have to be a quick journey towards complete normalcy and peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

By politically eliminating the middle space between separatists and hyper-nationalists, the Centre has made electoral politics difficult in Jammu and Kashmir for mainstream representative regional parties. The notion that there is vast, unexpressed support for the watering down of Article 370 is misplaced as most independent reporting from the ground has borne out over the last two months. The failure to involve the stakeholders in the Valley in any search for a political solution in Kashmir is disconcerting. While the only concern for the government appears to be preventing street violence, the BJP is raising Kashmir as a key campaign issue in poll-bound Maharashtra and Haryana. The government’s plans to raise a new class of local leaders through Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir on October 24 is very impressive, at least in theory. Assuming that it turns out as is being hoped and projected, disparate local leaders are no substitute for organised political parties. With pro-India politicians detained and discredited, the room for negotiations which was never expansive in the Valley has shrunk further since August 5. Some seriously proactive measures by the Centre are required to restore normalcy and win popular support for the changes in Kashmir. Perhaps, returning Jammu and Kashmir its status as a State could be one such measure.

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