More than one-and-a-half months after the abrogation of Article 370 and imposing a total lockdown on Jammu & Kashmir, there are no signs of normalcy returning to the strife-torn Valley, notwithstanding the Centre’s claims to the contrary. The leaders of mainstream political parties have been under house arrest and severe curbs imposed on the movement of people. After the dramatic decision to scrap the special status and splitting the border State into two Union Territories, there has been no follow-up action in terms of public outreach or talks with the stakeholders on resolving the issues. More disturbing was the detention of National Conference veteran and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah under the draconian Public Security Act (PSA). Such arbitrary actions will only result in further alienation of mainstream parties in the Valley and creation of a political vacuum, a recipe for the separatist forces to gain strength. While the objective behind the historic decision to scrap the contentious constitutional provision was laudable, a swift public outreach should have been initiated by the Centre with a clear road map for the development of the region. A sincere attempt to heal the festering wounds of the past alone can help pave the way for Kashmir’s total assimilation and integration into India. Genuine engagement with the people of Kashmir through a message of hope and vision for a better future is the need of the hour because the continued communication blockade, detentions and security curbs would only make matters worse.
While launching the election campaign in Maharashtra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about his vision to create ‘“New Kashmir” and the need to “hug each Kashmiri” and restore the lost paradise. While all this talk makes for good optics, he must walk the talk and unveil steps on the ground to heal the wounded soul of the violence-hit Valley. For any development vision to succeed, restoration of normalcy is a prerequisite. And, the people of Kashmir are eagerly waiting for restrictions to end. At present, there are curfews and there is no access to mobile phones and the internet. While restrictions are understandable from the security standpoint, the continued hardships of the common people will, however, push the sensitive border region into the hands of secessionists. Already, a sense of alienation among the youth due to lack of opportunities for upward mobility has become the fuel for the Hurriyat parties to keep the azadi pot burning. The common people of the State deserved a better deal and fair share in the prosperity and development like their counterparts in other States. The big challenge before the Centre is to convince the Kashmiri youth about the futility of violent path and make them partners in ushering in “New Kashmir”.