The Kashmir Valley is gradually looking towards the restoration of relative calm after the August 5 abrogation of Article 370 and the resultant curbs imposed by the Central government. The global diplomatic war over Kashmir has been successfully won by the Modi government and what remains is the need to win hearts of Kashmiris, a process that may extend over several years.
Despite the odd protest or shutdown by a section of Kashmiris, signs of life inching towards normalcy in the Valley have started to appear with several schools reopening, public transport vehicles operating freely and shops in markets opening for a full day for the first time after remaining closed for over three months due to the unannounced shutdown following the Centre's decision to abrogate Article 370 provisions.
While veteran Kashmiri leaders and former J&K chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti continue to remain in preventive detention and a section of residents continue their poster war against the administration and appeal to others to strike work, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has told Parliament that normalcy has been restored – an assertion linked to the administration's success in restoring essential services in the newly-created Union Territory.
Shah based his claim on the fact that schools have started functioning normally. Infact, 917 schools were never shut after abrogation of Article 370, he asserted.
The Home Minister's assertion came more than three months after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and blunted attempts by the Opposition leaders and civil society to amplify the negative narrative around the so-called sufferings of Kashmiris due to restrictions.
The government has said landline phones are working and all restrictions have been lifted and media, including newspapers and TV channels, have also started functioning normally. It opened the Valley to tourists on Thursday.
Shah told parliamentarians that hospitals, banks, government offices and courts were functioning normally in Kashmir. Citing an example to showcase the gradual restoration of normalcy, the Central government — which now controls the UT through its representative and L-G Girish Chandra Murmu — has pointed to the conduct of block development council elections last month, recording 98.3% polling, claiming that restoration of democracy was high on its agenda.
The local administration in the Valley is doing its bit to establish communication with the common people by putting out advertisements in Kashmiri newspapers, urging them to open shops and send children to schools, and not “let a few posters and threats” prevail.
The Union Home Minister, who along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has virtually rewriting history by removing Article 370 in Kashmir on August 5, has repeatedly flagged Pakistan's persistent desire to foment trouble and cited this as a reason for not restoring mobile internet services in Kashmir.
Keeping security in mind, whenever the local authority deems it fit, a decision will be taken on restoration of internet services, Shah has assured the Kashmiris, reminding that post-paid mobile service restarted on October 14.
In Parliament, Shah said, “After 5 August not even a single person has died in police firing. People in this House were predicting bloodshed, but I am happy to inform that no one has died in police firing. Incidents of stone pelting have declined. I challenge (Congress leader) Ghulam Nabi Azad to counter these facts which I presented."
The Congress and other parties have been accusing the Modi government of failure to safeguard the rights and interests of Kashmiris after the restrictions imposed after August 5. However, defence minister Rajnath Singh has effectively blunted the Opposition charge by blasting the Congress for internationalising the Kashmir issue by sending its delegation to meet Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in London to discuss alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.
“Human rights violations were taking place when terrorist activities were occurring (in Kashmir). Why did not you speak at that time?” he asked the Congress.
To bolster its claim about return of normalcy and business-as-usual in the Valley, the Modi government has also named Farooq Abdullah in a 21-member consultative committee on defence. The development is another strong indication from the Centre that the 81-year-old National Conference leader, in detention at his Srinagar home for over 100 days, may soon walk free sans restrictions.
Shah has also claimed that as compared to 2018 there have been less number of stone-pelting incidents in the Valley, so far, this year and a vast majority of students has appeared in board examinations and that hospitals are also functioning.
The early signs of restoration of normalcy in the Valley have been accompanied with criticism from a section of residents and rights groups which present a contrary picture on the ground realities. They condemn the detention of Kashmiri political leaders and also challenge the Centre's claims on return of normalcy by alleging that shops remain shut, public transport is sparse and schools and colleges are mostly empty.
The Kashmir Press Club (KPC), for instance, said that the prolonged and unprecedented internet shutdown in the Valley has lasted over 100 days which is a matter of deep concern and condemnation. The management committee of the KPC criticised the internet blackout of journalists in Kashmir, alleging that the curbs have “meant minuscule access to the world outside and over 100 days of deprivation and humiliation”.
The issue of restoration of normalcy has also been reverberating in the Supreme Court where the Union government has maintained that pleas alleging "complete clampdown" in the Valley were incorrect and irrelevant as steps have already been initiated for relaxing curbs imposed in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and Union Territory Jammu and Kashmir, appeared before a bench headed by Justice NV Ramana and justified some restrictions imposed in the region after the abrogation of Article 370.
While there appear to be positive signs of a large section of Kashmiris willing to return to normal life, a lot still needs to be done by the UT's administration to win hearts in the Valley. Holding elections to restore the elected Assembly of the UT would be a major step in that direction. The announcement of building metro rail facility in Jammu city and a separate MRTS rail facility in Kashmir is one such people-oriented step by the Union government towards winning hearts of people yearnng for fast development.
Admittedly, the Centre's ‘Market Intervention Scheme for Apples of J&K’ launched on September 12 did not fully succeed with its objective of “providing optimum prices to the growers”. But the step seems to be in the right direction as the administration seeks to win Kashmiris through the apple economy. But the killing of 11 persons, including truck-drivers, non-local labourers and an apple-buyerm by gunmen in south Kashmir impacted adversely the Rs 10,000 crore apple economy.
Apart from defeating Pakistan's all efforts to internationalise the issue of Article 370, the Narendra Modi government has done well to ensure that there is no major violent incidents in the Valley after August 5. However, there seems to be a long road ahead for normalcy in Kashmir to cement itself. The global diplomatic war over Kashmir has been successfully won by the Modi government and what remains is the need to win hearts of Kashmiris, a process that may extend over several years. The good beginning, however, augurs well for restoration of the pride of India's very own “Heaven on earth”.