Amidst throes of enthusiastic people of Jammu and Kashmir, waiting with open arms and with expectations gleaming in their eyes, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, arrived in the Union Territory with elan, last week.
Undeniably this was one of the most triumphant visits by any Indian Minister to Jammu and Kashmir especially with regards to the security situation.
Surely we are aware of how 13 people were killed overnight, on the eve of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the valley circa 2013. Such killings were an indication of a discontent people, trying to give a statement to the world – that India’s ministers are not welcome to their land.
But this time, other than the bizarre homicide of DG, Prisons in Jammu, in what looked like a domestic dispute between an employer and his house help, no other incidents of civilian or security personnel killings were reported during this particular visit of Amit Shah.
All in all, a solid combination of efficiency of security personnel and locals who did not care to rebel against this visit, much unlike their rebellious or oblivious attitude to visits by other Union Ministers in the past.
That said, let’s take a practical look at how this visit was perceived in its entirety.
“ST status to Paharis a distant dream- an illusion- an empty promise like all other statements by BJP” – this is one claim by the opposition.
“ST status to Paharis an agenda based announcement to create communal rift between the peacefully co-existing Pahari and previous ST communities, a strategy to divide Muslims of the valley” – is another claim.
“ST status to Paharis just a trick to grab Pahari votes” – is the third assertion.
Now let’s examine if there’s any weight to any of these.
The “illusion” theory stems from the fact that despite promising 7 lakh jobs after the erstwhile state was converted to a Union Territory, not much has been perceived on ground in terms of job generation. Over-emphasis on security based tactics, led to a huge footfall of tourists, but consequent tourism revenue doesn’t incur as much credit to the BJP as it does to the security forces and Kashmir’s own natural beauty.
Most infrastructure projects are witnessing on-project professionals being hired from outside the UT.
In fact, many of the jobs that existed since before the abrogation of Article 370, still await regularisation of wages.
Corruption and existence of opinionated anti-India employees positioned since the days of Hurriyat, are still rampant in government departments, leading to most decisions by the Centre in an executional state of limbo.
Needless to mention, the impact of Covid-19 pandemic which the economy is still trying to bounce back from.
However the opposition, in its most natural tendency, will not stop to consider the constraints faced by the BJP, and will most definitely rub it in the eyes of the Kashmiri public that the BJP just came up with yet another futile promise which will never see the dawn.
Moving on to the next next big assertion -that this is a master strategy to divide the Muslims of the valley. Well, the overdose of Hindutva narrative being run internationally against India, which has even managed to reach frail, impressionable minds of some Muslims in India, is doing the job of a catalyst in this theory. Gujjars and Bakarwals of the valley, for whom the controversial ST status and its benefits were reserved, will now be at loggerheads with the Pahari community, because of undesired competition, this is the basic observation of the opposition, which is trying to support the underconfident community. Throughout history, India’s unregularizsd democracy has never allowed competition to thrive and political vote bank has always been magnetised by using the ace card of reservation. Which is why, I, a simple Indian Kashmiri Nationalist, being in the ‘bhakt” category myself, a fan of Amit Shah and his iron fist policies, am a bit sceptical of this decision by my favourite leader.
Why reservation for a community of people- who are highly educated and holding respectable positions in urban areas of the UT? If upliftment of the rural Paharis was the challenge – then why not develop the border areas where they dwell? Good roads will increase trade prospects for them, skill training centres will make them efficient and self sufficient, giving a GI tag to the only consumable produce in their terrain – the Guchi Mushrooms – will make them prosperous agro-based entrepreneurs just like their counterparts in south Kashmir-the apple traders. Developing malls, multiplexes, maybe even a dedicated Filmcity like the NT Rama Rao film studio in Hyderabad, would have been the ideal modus operandi to generate jobs and tourist footfall- all within environmental preservation standards.
But it was quite disappointing, that Amit Shah too, resorted to the outdated “reservation” technique to amass popular support, rather than choosing the more challenging path – his natural style of leadership.
And finally – the statement by the opposition, that this is all, not because Amit Shah and his party really cares for Pahari people, but to attract Pahari votes. Well, this one is a miss!
The BJP has always been idealistically nationalist, never compromised on nationalism come what may. It’s ideological support to empower Indian Nationalists – whether employees in armed dorces, or authors/ public speakers who vividly support Indian nationalism or communities who have sacrificed their lives and generations to remain loyal to India- whether it is Kashmiri Pandits or Paharis, is no hidden fact. Surely same minds strike a chord – and this is the chord that connected Amit Shah with the fiercely nationalist Pahari community. Many of them are now openly supporting the BJP on social media. Pahari leaders from opposition parties, like Tanveer Ahmed Tantray from Peoples Democratic Party led by Mehbooba Mufti, are publicly acknowledging the hard fact, that they won’t be surprised if BJP grabs all Pahari votes in the upcoming J&K elections.
Conclusively, Amit Shah remains the hero, with an iron fist to traitors and a loving hand to all those who love India, albeit he missed a great opportunity to truly empower the India-loving Pahari community who have low expectations but deserve far better than they are getting.
(Yana Mir is a Srinagar-based journalist and social activist. All views are personal.)