Kashmir: The Media Myths And The Reality3 December 2010
New Delhi: For those looking at the state from outside, Kashmir is an enigma. It represents a complex mosaic of thoughts and emotions, of diverse beliefs and opinions about its status - past, present and future. Very often inherent contradictions in the postures of the vast number of stakeholders who aspire to become masters of the region's destiny cloud the core issues. This cycle is showing no signs of abating. I got an opportunity to travel across the state by road and what was visible to the eye as also what could be gathered from interaction with a large number of local people presented a version that is entirely different from what is being conveyed by the leadership and other stake- holders in Jammu and Kashmir. In Kashmir, I drove to Srinagar along the beautiful mountains and meadows of Sonamarg. The eighty kilometers drive was along a well-metalled four-lane road. There were many new houses constructed or under construction along the road as far as the eye could see and significantly there was a complete absence of mud structures that marked this region less than a decade ago. There were other development works in progress like construction of a canal and many signboards gave details of tourism development projects. What was very evident was the complete absence of security forces on the roads, most significantly, the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Not even a traffic policeman or a police gypsy was seen anywhere along this entire stretch from Sonamarg to Srinagar. As one approached Srinagar, some army personnel were seen deployed on road-opening duty, but one could not fathom any consternation on the faces of the civilians who went about with their routine despite the presence of the security forces. The people of Sonamarg were quite at ease with the situation. They said that not many terrorists and militants have ever shown a presence in their area and now complete calm prevails. In Srinagar terrorism is no longer an issue but the incessant disruption of normal life and commercial activity occupies centre stage of all discussions, it is evident that the people are sick and tired of the Hartals (strikes) and Bandhs (closures). What immediately strikes the eye in Srinagar are the beautiful new houses that have come up in most localities and the hectic development activity which includes widening of roads, construction of flyovers and placing of sewerage pipes. It is said that even when the agitations were in full swing the work on ongoing projects did not stop. It was done during the night or during curfew hours. The new Srinagar airport is absolutely amazing. Travelling northwards, the area of Leh-Nimu, which witnessed maximum impact of the cloudburst is quite devastated. However, road communication has been fully established with the help of Army. Bridges that were constructed in record time by Army engineers and reconstruction work is in full swing. Despite the setback caused by the natural disaster Leh town is vibrant and prosperous: the market is reverberating with tourists and locals alike and infrastructure for tourism is coming up in full swing. The young boys revel in driving contract carriages that both tourists and the Army hire in great numbers. During winters when this activity slows down the drivers go back to their villages and seek employment as Army porters. Along the Leh- Kargil highway, the sight of little girls in smart school uniforms in villages is very beautiful and gratifying. Kargil has become a full- fledged modern township. Presently, reconstruction for four lanes is in full swing along the highway. This temporary inconvenience will ultimately lead to better avenues for tourism, trade and commerce. In Leh and Kargil people are not even remotely aware of terrorism and insurgency. Travelling down south, the Jammu region in any case has been relatively peaceful even during the heydays of the insurgency and it continues to be so. The security forces are seen undertaking some road opening activity up to Udhampur but beyond that there is no indication of any enhanced state of vigilance or security consciousness. In fact in Jammu even the Army personnel have shed their combat fatigues and are seen wearing their uniforms thus giving an impression of complete normalcy. There are some significant impressions that emerge from the foregoing narrative of the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir. First, the political rhetoric that one reads in the media does not give the correct picture of the state of affairs. The fashion of making emotive and grandiose statements to electronic media always hungry for sensationalist sound byte's is, by no means, helping the cause of Kashmir. Second, the government of Omar Abdullah is standing firm on its commitment to develop infrastructure and it deserves accolade for the same. Third, despite the perceived state of insurgency individual prosperity is on the upswing. Fourth, the Army is making a huge contribution not only in maintaining law and order but also in boosting the economy of the remote regions of the State. Fifth, the Jammu and Kashmir Police needs to reduce its dependency on the Para-military forces and the Army and take over responsibility of maintaining law and order. Fifth, the situation of near normalcy that has been achieved with great sweat, toil and loss of valuable life cannot be frittered away due to political compulsions. Enhanced vigil and proactive engagement of the remaining cadre of terrorists has to continue which make full protection from the security forces mandatory. It would be better for all genuine stake- holders to go about doing the work in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. The constituency of peace should be allowed to evolve rather than be thrust upon the people though proactive political and media orchestration. The solution should emerge from genuine aspirations of the people and not from the personal ambitions of a few leaders.