Even as the harsh winter days are over and the spring is dawning in the horizons of Kashmir but its problems continue to haunt the people every moment. The main among these problems is the paucity of power supply—a trouble that touches every individual. Despite the improvement in weather conditions and increase in water flow in the valley’s water bodies, the darkness continue to loom large in Kashmir. It is not difficult to imagine a life with power. But the power woes have affected the tourist industry the most. People associated with tourist trade complain that the lack of electricity in hotels, houseboats and other places of tourist-lodge have a negative effect on the psyche of visiting tourists. All the charm tourists enjoy in the day turns into an ordeal for them in the evening which continues throughout the night. Hundreds of tourists have been thronging daily to witness the snowy scenes in the valley. With the valley having witnessed heavy snowfall this winter, the charm and beauty of Kashmir has gone up beyond bounds. It is after several winters that the valley has witnessed a good snowfall. Last winter went completely dry. The valley is presently host to hundreds of tourists who have come from non-snow zones across India and outside world to enjoy the picturesque snowfields and mountains. Hotels and huts in the land of snow—Gulmarg—are fully occupied. A thick blanket of snow is still covering the Gulmarg bowl and its surroundings making it a great attraction for tourists. Tourists have come from different parts of the country besides from abroad. Tourists are having a good time here. They are enjoying the snow and the snow clad mountains in the backdrop. This is despite the fact that the temperature here runs in sub-zero during the night. But what mars their mood is the lack of electricity. It gives a frightening picture in the evening when the darkness spreads its tentacles around. Most of the hotels have put in place alternate arrangements like diesel generators for lighting. But turning on number of generators simultaneously makes the whole atmosphere earsplitting noisy. It makes a horrible picture of this unparalleled tourist place. The visiting tourists too have on record expressed their displeasure on the poor power supply and the delight and charm one gets in the snow vanishes once one reaches hotel. Frequent and long unscheduled power cuts destroyed the whole mood.
The power scenario is worst of all in the Dal Lake where visitors stay in houseboats. The houseboat owners say that they cannot light on diesel generators as they have very limited space in the houseboats. The generators cause so much noise that the visitors get annoyed. This has a telling effect on the overall tourist industry. In the prevailing tense situation, tourists usually come after hard persuasion by tour and travel agents. It is the word of the mouth that motivates them. But when they confront with issues like no-power in the hotels, they have all the reason to counsel their friends against visiting the valley. The local residents of Kashmir live such a life permanently. While the city population avails the power supply in bits and pieces, most parts of the rural Kashmir have to remain content with sporadic but meagre power supply. Over the past few days, people in several areas protested on the roads against the government failure in providing scheduled power supply to the consumers leading to halt in traffic movement at various places. This scene is repeated every year with no attention from the powers-that-be. The present dispensation headed by Governor Sat Pal Malik has appeared somewhat different. He recently raised a genuine concern of the people of Kashmir over arbitrary rise in airfare with the Prime Minister. One hopes that the Governor would take note of what is happening with the people in these wintery days and deliver in mitigating the problems of immediate nature confronting them.
Trump’s mediation offer
The issue of Kashmir has finally caught the international imagination with American President Donald Trump offering to mediate on the issue to resolve it permanently. Trump’s unusual offer came during his meeting with visiting Pakistan premier Imran Khan in New York on Monday. As he met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Trump offered to be the “mediator” on the Kashmir issue and even said he has received a request to do so from Modi during a recent meeting with him. “I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you (Khan) would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be….we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” Mr. Trump said.
Though government of India has denied that Prime Minister Modi had made any such request to the US president but it is an indicator of the world community’s interest in Kashmir. American President’s offer is a major departure from the country’s established position that it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and could be resolved bilaterally. India and Pakistan are undeniably sitting on a powder-keg, which has every potential to explode into catastrophe of unimaginable magnitude. The two countries have not been engaging since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militants. India and Pakistan came close to war in February this year after a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama which left over 40 personnel of the force dead and many others wounded. India retaliated by carrying out a counter-terror operation, hitting the biggest JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured Indian pilot.
As it looked that the situation could take a further ghastly turn, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan showed extra degree of maturity and statesmanship not only by calling off further military action but also by offering for dialogue and release of the captured pilot. This calmed down the atmosphere to a large extent. Behind-the-scene international diplomacy too played a significant role in subsiding the hostility. America, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE worked off-the-scene to stop the two countries from further escalation. The captured wing commander was released by Pakistan without any condition. That helped a lot in bringing cool in the otherwise hostile atmosphere. One had thought that the two countries would show more maturity and wisdom to address contentious issue by starting a dialogue process. But the allegations and counter-allegations continued bringing forth the fact that the danger of war between India and Pakistan is still there. A small spark is enough to ignite a nuclear holocaust in the subcontinent. Few would dispute with the fact that most of the India-Pakistan animosity is due to internal political issues confronting the ruling parties in the two countries. It is no less than a crime that ruling parties merely for political gains could plan for a war. Any war between India and Pakistan could be disastrous not only for the two countries but for the whole world. The ruling parties, both, in Islamabad and New Delhi, should not be allowed to run the risk of putting the whole world to the danger. The International community in general and the United Nations in particular should intervene and pressurize the two countries to resolve its dispute through dialogue to save the world from the impending catastrophe.
Battle against corruption
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has taken a tough stand against corruption in the state. On Sunday, he said that in the next few months, he was expecting to corner and catch at least “two big fish” who had engaged in high-profile corruption during their time in power. “These big families have built their bungalows in Dubai, Delhi and London. Retired forest officers have their houses in posh locality of Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. Soon, you will see that at least two big fish (high profile corrupt people) will be caught in the coming two months. They have looted the wealth of Kashmir for decades,” Malik said. The Governor was addressing people during the inauguration ceremony of Kargil Ladakh Tourism Festival 2019 at Khree Sultan Choo Sports Stadium in Kargil. He said that if he had the power, he would confiscate the property of such corrupt people who had built several properties at the cost of Kashmiri people. Governor’s anger against corruption in the state can be guessed from his assertion in which he questioned militants about them targeting innocents instead of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who looted Kashmir. It evoked a strong reaction from politicians like Omar Abdullah. As long the move is aimed at cleaning the system from corruption, one should have no objection to it. Corruption is the main bane in Kashmir and it is used rather enjoyed as political concession. Corruption is a way of life in Kashmir. It is a political concession that politicians enjoy with complete approval of the system they operate in. As long as you toe a particular political line, you are accountable to none and for nothing. Your accountability begins once you cross the line you are supposed to hold. Corruption was formally institutionalized in Kashmir during Bakshi regime in 1950s, when government employees, bureaucrats and politicians were given free license to mint money in lieu for their political loyalty. The political uncertainty of mid-50s still continues in Kashmir and so continues the precedence of corruption. It is rampant among all politicians whether in opposition or in power. Over the past 30 years, the ways and means of corruption have gone bigger and wider. It is not restricted to politicians alone. Corruption has radically changed its contours in Kashmir. It runs deep into the day-to-day living and would need much more than a strict stance to be curbed. There has to have an overall understanding among the local populace about how corruption, even at the lowest and smallest level, hurts big time. The Imams of mosques, heads of darul ulooms (religious luminaries), members of civil society, journalists and academicians have to realise their responsibility in apprising people about this menace and how it is fast spreading its tentacles in Kashmir. Cleaning the system from this malaise is the need of the hour. Since Kashmir is a place of conflict, there is need for maintaining extra care while taking administrative decisions. In conflict zones, nothing happens without reasons. Motives, right or wrong, are always attributed with moves howsoever honest or sincere those might be. In case of Kashmir, there is a lot of mistrust between the state and the subjects. This lingering distrust is poisoning the key relationship. Every move at government or administrative level is seen and understood with suspicion. The Governor’s administration needs to keep in view this historical truth while taking decisions on matters of crucial importance. However, the bottom-line remains that any sincere move in getting rid of corruption are always welcome.
Reversing the history
In a rare move, the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has passed a resolution to declare the birth anniversary of Dogra monarch Maharaja Hari Singh on September 23 as State holiday, days after the State paid tributes to people killed during his rule in 1931 in the Valley. Jammu-based BJP corporator Narotam Sharma moved the resolution on Thursday. It was passed without any opposition from the Congress or independent candidates in the general house meeting, where out of 75 corporators BJP has 43 members. The resolution has been sent to Governor Satya Pal Malik for his consent. The development is shocking to vast majority of the people of the state who know Hari Singh historically a villain. The 101 years (1846 to 1947) of Dogra rule is a story of harassment, torture, persecution, neglect and denial of rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was against this backdrop that a political movement was launched against Hari Singh in 1931. Initially, it was the Muslim leadership of the time that set off the fuse against Hari Singh’s autocratic rule. As the movement picked up, prominent Pandit leaders too joined it, making it all-inclusive. It was at the persistence of some Pandit leaders, mainly Prem Nath Bazaz, that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah broke away from Muslim Conference to form National Conference in 1938. Abdullah, as the history says, did it to accommodate non-Muslims in the movement against Hari Singh. Singh’s response was too oppressive. Over 20 persons were shot dead by Singh’s forces on July 13, 1931 outside the Srinagar central jail. Since then, July 13 has become a reference point in the struggle and it has all along been observed by the people of the state as government holiday. Now regarding the same person, who presided over the July 13 massacre and other voluminous atrocities on the people of the state, as the hero of the state is quite reversal of the history. Ironically, the JMC’s move comes days after the State observed a holiday and paid tributes to J&K’s 22 martrys who fell to the bullets in Srinagar on July 13, 1931 to the Maharaja’s forces. Congress leader Vikramaditya Singh was first to stoke a controversy. He tweeted that “plunder, loot and rape by criminals and jail breakers in Srinagar city was put to an end in 1931”. “It is a blot on J&K that this is glorified as State Martyrs Day,” he added.
The discreet silence by NC and PDP leadership, the two dominant political voices in Kashmir, is quite intriguing. They are more concerned about their power than genuine historical issues. They owe an explanation as what could be the status of July 13 martyrs now on. The worst kind of reversal of history surely entails a political cost which the political parties of Kashmir shall have to pay. In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council passed a resolution, almost unanimously, to observe Hari Singh’s birthday. One grandson of Hari Singh (Ajatshatru Singh—who is in BJP) moved the resolution, and other grandson—Vikramaditya (who was in PDP) supported it. In a house of 34 members (then), BJP had just 8 members. But the resolution was passed without any resistance from the PDP (which had 11 members), NC (with eight members) and the Congress (which had seven members). National Conference has more responsibility at this juncture. The NC considers itself as the treasurer of Kashmir’s contemporary history. It claims that the entire era from 1931 till 1947 belonged to it. The NC founder Sheikh Abdullah led a heroic battle against the autocratic rule of Hari Singh which ultimately saw the end in 1947. The Jammu MC’s resolution negates all the history. It also disapproves the role of Abdullah and puts him in a villainous shadow as against Hari Singh. The party needs to take a strong stand against any such move and ensure that this suicidal reversal of history is stopped.