New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday defended his government’s decision to revoke provisions of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, a section of residents alleged the way it was done was “extremely undemocratic”. Some even claimed the Centre only wanted to “win lands and not hearts of Kashmiri”.
From students to professionals, belonging to both Jammu and Kashmir regions, many were apprehensive that taking away the special status will render the “ecologically sensitive” province “vulnerable” to exploitation due to infrastructure-related activities.
“With revoking of the Article, floodgates will be opened for the corporate sector to invest in big projects like hotels, flyovers and other big buildings. It will harm our pristine environment, which had so far been left largely unharmed due to the restrictions that come under the Article,” said a Kashmiri journalist, who did not wish to be identified. He cited the example of Uttarakhand to support his claim, saying the country saw how houses and hotels built close to rivers damaged the environment in the state. “We do not want that to happen in our homeland,” he said.
Ajaz Ahmed, a Delhi-based physiotherapist who is in his 30s, alleged, “They (the government) only want the land of Kashmir, they do not want to win the hearts of Kashmiri”. “If they wanted to win our trust, they should have taken us into confidence, discussed the pros and cons of the exercise and made us feel secure. Our families are living under siege there. If an emergency arises, our families won’t even have access to an ambulance,” he said.
Reaching out to Kashmiri with messages of hope and optimism, Prime Minister Modi had on Thursday assured them of all-round development, early and transparent elections and end to terrorism. He defended his government’s move scrapping the provisions of Article 370 and asserted they only gave separatism, corruption, family rule and were used by Pakistan as a tool to spread terror in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a nearly 40-minute televised address to the nation, three days after the far-reaching decision, Modi also sought to assuage concerns of the people after his government split the state into Union Territories, saying Jammu and Kashmir will not remain a UT for long. With the Kashmir Valley reeling under security clampdown, Modi promised the government is making all sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid which is on Monday.
But not many residents of the Jammu or Kashmir region were impressed with the prime minister’s speech. “I think his speech was redundant, verbose and lacking substance, and linking scrapping of Article 370 with development of the state, was misplaced,” a Delhi-based Kashmiri Pandit journalist said, who did not wish to be identified alleged.
“Whatever the prime minister suggested bringing development, selling Kashmiri shawls and apples and herbs around the world, is anything stopping that? Why link the growth to the revoking if Article 370. Besides, our state is better than other sates in many indices, be it literacy rate or health indicators, plus people are well-off, very few people live off the streets,” the Kashmiri Hindu journalist said.
Aejaz Ahmad Rather, Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union general secretary said, “They are saying that it has been done with an agenda to bring development. But according to figures, Gujarat is lacking in development as opposed to Jammu and Kashmir in many indices”. He alleged, “What the government has done is a grave mistake, and they will regret it later. They have taken away our identity.” He alleged the situation in Kashmir was the “worst form of Emergency” and the move is a “travesty of justice”.
Many Jammu residents were not enthused by Modi’s speech either, in which he spoke about the benefits that will accrue to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. “These people, including the youth of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, who have been denied a lot of opportunities and benefits, unlike their counterparts in other parts of the country, will now come out of the negative impact of this article and grow,” Modi said, adding that the provision had not given anything except separatism, corruption and family rule to the state, and Pakistan has used it as a tool to spread terrorism.
Shah Rukh Ali, 25, an MBA graduate, from Jammu, “The Centre should have taken the people or at least the mainstream politicians into confidence”.”How can you put the J-K leaders under house arrest and, decide on the fate of people of Jammu and Kashmir, without asking the local people Is that a democracy?” he asked, adding, this complete communication cut off in the Valley needs to end.
A Delhi-based university student from Jammu, said, she thought the revoking of the article and its repercussions are debatable, but the way in which it was scrapped is “extremely undemocratic”. She alleged, “Besides, the environmental impact on the state of such a move would be catastrophic. Moreover, if this is seen as a gateway to development, it would only be beneficial to the capital-owning bourgeoisie, who can buy land and open up their businesses, and would not really benefit the common masses. The gap between the rich and the poor would increase.”