(The article was originally published by Indian Express on August 05, 2023 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)
If the head of an Indian state tells you that an INOX theatre, which also screens Hollywood movies, has been opened in the state capital, or that a new theatre in a district headquarters has started showing movies, what would your reaction be? If he says that markets in the state capital are open till late in the night, people roam around until midnight to enjoy an ice cream, there is no street violence in the towns and cities, and ordinary people freely express themselves, what would you say? All these situations sound normal, and it might seem odd that these are being showcased as great achievements — except, of course, if we are speaking of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Normalcy, as found in any other state or UT in India, is the new normal in J&K — a spectacular achievement of the administration in the last four years after the annulment of Article 370. The Article had created lawlessness in J&K for decades. The state acquired a fundamentally militaristic character with the shadow of terror over every walk of life. A corroded state became a haven for vested interests and almost everybody bought into it. Naturally, ordinary citizens suffered the worst.
One senior official, who served in key positions in the state during the abrogation of Article 370, equated the situation in Kashmir with the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II. Dismantling the existing militaristic structure of Meiji Japan or Hitler’s Germany and the creation of a new administrative regime was a challenge accomplished by post-war Japanese and the West German leadership. A similar effort was undertaken in J&K after the abrogation — the architecture of a civilised and modern state was put in place.
With Article 370 gone, the entire statute needed to be re-written, and laws remade — a process that was completed during the President’s Rule. Over 350 important laws were amended. It resulted in the complete and unambiguous integration of the state’s administration with the Constitution. The most important net result is that the abrogated status can never return.
New administrative structures have brought the rule of law back to the UT. As Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha pointed out, peace is no longer “bought”; it is firmly established through law.
Minorities in the Kashmir Valley — the Shias, Sufis and Kashmiri Hindus — enjoy greater freedoms today. Even a religious event like the Muharram procession of the Shias, who constitute 20-25 per cent of the Valley’s population, couldn’t be held in Srinagar city after 1988. After more than 34 years, nearly 25,000 Shia mourners marched through the streets of Srinagar last week, remembering the martyrs of Karbala and the sacrifices of Hazrat Imam Hussain.
Teetwal is a tiny village near the LAC in Kupwara district of North Kashmir. Across the LAC from Teetwal, in POK, is the famous Sharda Mata Shakti Peeth, a most sacred place for Hindus. The Sharda Mata temple in Teetwal has been renovated and the Union Home Minister inaugurated it recently. The demand for a Kartarpur Corridor-like arrangement for the Sharda shrine in POK is being considered by the administration.
The Valley was once famous for Shaivism and Sufi shrines. Dozens, like the Shri Raghunath Temple, built by Maharaja Gulab Singh on the banks of river Jhelum in Srinagar in 1835, and the 700-year-old Mangleshwar Bhairav temple in Srinagar, damaged by floods in 2014, are being restored. Restoration of 123 temples and Sufi shrines is being undertaken with ample budgetary allocations.
All this is leading to an increase in the number of tourists, both local and international. J&K witnessed a footfall of over eight million tourists last year; the number is expected to cross 20 million this year. Neighbouring states like Punjab and Rajasthan attract around 50-60 million tourists annually.
Srinagar city witnessed the first-of-its-kind international event this year when the G-20 Tourism Working Group Meeting was held in May, attended by more than 50 international delegates. A few weeks later, over 200 justices from high courts and the Supreme Court of India met in Srinagar for the first time.
Investment inflow is picking up steadily. Projects worth Rs 25,000 crore are under various stages of execution, while the commitments have exceeded Rs 80,000 crore. The state administration is confident that at least Rs 75,000 crore will come in by the end of this year.
There is some criticism over high unemployment rates in the UT. In reality, J&K has higher government employment compared to many states. With a population of over 13.5 million, the UT has more than 5 lakh government employees — Haryana, with double the population has less than half. Yet, the UT administration has completed recruitment for another 30,000 jobs in the last four years.
The annual “Back to Villages” programme, initiated in 2018, opens up avenues for employment and livelihood at the grassroots. This year, loans were disbursed to around 50,000 youngsters and women’s self-help groups as part of this programme.
Three transformations — from a separate constitution to the Indian Constitution, from statehood to UT, and from a vast combined state to a divided UT — have proved beneficial to people in the past four years. The Covid pandemic was the first test for the new administration. Its Covid management received rich compliments from the Mumbai High Court which advised Maharashtra to learn from J&K.
Since then, administrative reforms and good governance have become the hallmark of the UT. The administration has been largely digitised and streamlined. The KAS examinations this season saw results declared within three hours with complete transparency and no interference.
J&K is free from terror, corruption and administrative corrosion. The UT stood first in the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav rankings, pushing Gujarat to the second position and vindicating the objective behind the abrogation of Article 370 — complete integration of the state with the rest of the country.