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From No Disruption In Education To Tourism Boom, Centre Counts Many Positives In J&K After Abrogation Of Article 370

The Narendra Modi government has maintained that the abrogation of Article 370, seen as a hindrance to J&K’s development, was carried out for the welfare of the people and that it is committed to building a ‘New Kashmir’.

Firdous Nazir/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Image
Students read books in a classroom during the first day of classes after the resumption of school activities that were interrupted by the severe winter. Students across the valley head to their schools following a two-month-long winter break. Photo: Firdous Nazir/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Image
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Four years after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which provided special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Narendra Modi government last year invited international media to the region to cover an event in Srinagar in the run-up to the G-20 Summit. It was a rare invitation considering the Centre has largely preferred to have no international attention on Kashmir.

In 2019, international media and organisations criticised the telecommunication and internet restrictions in J&K which were imposed after the abrogation of Article 370. This posed a challenge for the Centre’s narrative about the region.

Last year, as Srinagar hosted the G-20 event, the Centre took the opportunity to showcase the tourism boom in the Kashmir Valley and highlight the return of ‘normalcy’ in the region after decades of unrest.

With a large deployment of security personnel and continuous crackdown of the police and central agencies like the National Investigation Agency (NIA), incidents of stone-pelting and militant activities have indeed declined in the Valley. Despite such a notable decline, there are questions within some quarters if this amounts to ‘normalcy’.

The Modi government has maintained that the abrogation of Article 370, seen as a hindrance to J&K’s development, was carried out for the welfare of the people and that it is committed to building a ‘New Kashmir’. The initiative has multiple streams, ranging from cracking down on disruptions in work and education to increasing infrastructural development in the region.

No Disruptions In Education

Throughout the decades of unrest in Kashmir, education was one of the worst-hit sectors. It affected students directly through the loss of relatives or physical violence. It also impacted the possibility of attending school or college given the dangers involved in getting there. Stone-pelting and curfews also added to students’ woes.

Now, as incidents of stone-pelting and curfews have come down, there is little disruption in education like the yesteryears.

“Before the abrogation of Article 370, going to school for a maximum of just two or three weeks at a stretch before being shut off for a month without internet was as natural as breathing. From class 8 onward, the situation took a turn for the worst because schools would be shut off for months and then only a quarter or a little more of our net syllabus was covered at schools. Then, after mass promotion to the next class, some chapters and concepts specifically in physics and mathematics would seem completely unknown and unheard of because we lacked basics,” says Alam Gir, a young student from North Kashmir.

However, over the past few years, education in the region has seen continuity without disruptions, helped by smooth internet services that have aided developments in the educational sector.

Gir further tells Outlook, “Since the abrogation, much opposite to our habitual life, schools functioned for complete sessions, only for Covid-19 to take us back to our chronic routine, but during that period at least there was access to the internet which did not make things worse.”

This stability is largely due to the absence of curfews. The Centre maintains that the Valley has reported a 100 per cent decline in stone-pelting occurrences with zero instances recorded in 2023.

Economic Boom And Surge In Infrastructure Development

One of the biggest developments has been the focus on economic development and infrastructural boom because of the Centre’s push to attract investments.

Since 2019, over 10,000 kilometres of roads have been built in the region. This includes the longest and highest tunnel in Asia, the Zojila Tunnel.

Additionally, the railway line connecting Baramulla in North Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu has been inaugurated. This railway route not only connects distant areas of the Jammu division for tourists but also opens avenues for increased economic activity.

Jahangir, a businessman in Sopore, tells Outlook, “Once this railway line is operational, transportation costs for raw materials coming from Punjab will significantly decrease. Even cement factories in Kashmir, which currently source raw materials from other states, will benefit from reduced transportation expenses.”

According to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), 92,560 projects were completed in Jammu and Kashmir during the fiscal year 2022-23, compared to 9,229 in 2018-19. Road connectivity has also improved, with the average travel time from Jammu to Srinagar reduced from 8-10 hours to just 5-6 hours, as per the MHA.

“One major difference between pre-2019 period and post-2019 period is the increased accountability in work. Digitalisation in attendance is one of the reasons that has made government officials more accountable and the work gets done on time,” says a government official on the condition of anonymity to Outlook.

Growth In Tourism

Since 2019, the tourism sector in Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a major revival despite some parts of the state still facing economic challenges.

In December, Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, G Kishan Reddy, announced in Rajya Sabha that a record number of tourists, more than two crore, visited Jammu and Kashmir in 2023. He added that this is the highest number of tourists seen since India became independent and credited the removal of Article 370 for this significant rise in tourism.

“The government has expanded its focus on tourism by identifying additional destinations in Kashmir as tourism was previously concentrated mostly around Srinagar,” says Javed Rehman, former Assistant Director at the Tourism Department. He adds that 38 destinations in Kashmir and 37 in Jammu have been identified.

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The G-20 tourism-related event held in Srinagar during May 22–24 of last year also contributed to a spike in tourism. The meeting caught the attention of international media with many of them noting India’s efforts for the restoration of stability and normalcy in Kashmir. However, some viewed it as an "attempt to fake normalcy."

A tourist from Romania, returning to Kashmir for the second time since his first trip in 2011, told us, "Regardless of the political situation, Kashmir's hospitality has always drawn us here. Locals make tourists feel welcome and shield them from any sense of unrest. However, a feeling of security is always appreciated."

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While much of the development cannot be directly linked to the abrogation of Article 370, the indirect sense of security has played an important role in the realisation of new projects and the surge in tourism. Public protests, strikes, and stone-pelting have fallen.

However, despite these apparent signs of peace, there still remains the potential of unrest and challenges to the security of the region. How these twin challenges are addressed in the long-term would determine if the Valley would see a long-term peace and normalcy.'

'Open Wounds'

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is highly critical of the Central government's figures regarding development and investment. Mehbooba has been asserting that despite the Government of India’s claims of heavy investment flow in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370, the figures presented by them during the Parliament session contradict their own claims.

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According to the Union government's reply in Parliament, Rs 840.55 crore investment was made in J&K in the financial year 2017-18, followed by Rs 590.97 crore in 2018-19, Rs 296.64 crore in 2019-20, Rs 412.74 crore in 2020-21, and Rs 376.76 crore in 2021-22.

A day ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to Kashmir, the PDP reiterated that development figures alone are not a solution to Kashmir. “For the past 30 years, people of the region have been bruised and they need a healing touch,” said the PDP spokesperson and leader, Suhail Bukhari. Bukhari stated that while earlier the Prime Minister’s visit, like that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, would generate a lot of hope among people, this time they had no such expectations.

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Former chief minister Omar Abdullah is also highly critical of the government and its claims. “This country was told once Article 370 was gone, all problems such as terrorism, separatism, and seeming lack of development that were a result of it would be gone. Five years into the abrogation, pocks of separatism continue, every week there is a terror attack, especially in Poonch-Rajauri,” he said days ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit.

On the development front, he said, the government is unable to point out a single new project that has come into force. “The foundation stone of the new railway line was laid when Indira Gandhi was PM. This 'hawa' has been created on tourism numbers. We are told the number has gone to a crore plus. If the number of tourists has gone from 14 lakhs to 1 crore 15 lakhs, where are the tourists sleeping? In their cars? Under the flyover? In our period, we never counted pilgrims as tourists, whether those who would come to Amarnath or Katra. But this government decided to count them as tourists. The actual number of tourists remains the exact same,” he says.

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“The categorisation has been changed. Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims are also tourists, Amarnath Ji pilgrims are also tourists now,” he adds.

He says the absence of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir is the open wound of last 30 years. “Kashmiri Pandits didn't leave because of Article 370. If that was the case they would have come back after the abrogation of Article 370. They will not return until a sense of security is restored to them. More Kashmiri Pandits want to leave Kashmir today than they did during the previous governments. More Kashmiri Pandits are being targeted today than they were in previous regimes.”

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"No new infrastructure for winter sports in Gulmarg has been added after I left office in 2014. Grossly unfair to suggest that we did nothing," he added.

Ridiculing the taunts of the Family Raj, he said, "If we are a democracy, the right to choose rests with the people. And it is their choice whether they want to choose one family, two families or ten families. I am not apologetic that I belong to a political family."

"It is a shame that elections in J&K had to be announced by the Supreme Court and not the government or EC,” he said.

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(With inputs from Naseer Ganai)

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