By Farooq Wani
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) abrogation of Article 370 and 35A was anxiously awaited, as evident from a mammoth gathering of more than one lakh people who braved the summer heat to catch a glimpse of and listen to him. While critics may try and play down the positive response of the masses, in all fairness, one cannot deny that Modi has indeed brought about a visible sea change in the lives of people of the Union Territory (UT) of J&K
Gone are the days when separatists used to give a shutdown call whenever the Prime Minister would visit the Kashmir and Jammu regions. Now, there is no stone pelting, strike or protests against such a visit, primarily because by initiating and closely monitoring its public oriented initiatives, the center is taking the issue of development in the UT beyond mere sloganeering. Although detractors may complain that there are no visible signs of such progress, the fact is that the benefits of such programmes don’t manifest immediately in a magical form.
What is heartening to note is that the development campaign in J&K is based on sound policies with pure intent and are being well implemented to benefit the poor. The PM wasn’t shy of admitting his affinity to J&K developed due to his long association with it and hence understands ground realities very well. Sharing his vision for next 25 years for J&K, he is confident that with democracy thriving in the UT at grassroot level and Central government schemes being rapidly implemented, the UT of J&K will emerge as a model for others to emulate.
Modi is rightly focussing on the youth through initiatives for achieving peace and development and has assured them that they would not inherit the problems faced by their parents and grandparents. He also met with prominent athletes from multiple disciplines in Jammu and promised to improve sports infrastructure in the UT so that they could bring greater laurel for India and indirectly appealed to the youth not to pick up arms. He appreciated ‘Golden Girl’ Sadia Tariq, who recently bagged a gold medal in the Wushu Championship held at Moscow, saying that “It has given us the much-needed impetus to nurture our talent and has instilled in us the confidence to compete with the best athletes in the world.”
The PM explained that “When I speak about ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’, our focus is on connectivity and bridging distances,” adding that “Our aim is to provide all-weather connectivity to Jammu and Kashmir.” He inaugurated the Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel, built at a cost of over Rs 3,100 crore. This 8.45 Km long tunnel would reduce the road distance between Banihal and Qazigund by 16 km, and reduce journey time by around one and a half hours.
He also laid the foundation stone of three road packages of Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway, being built at a cost of over Rs 7,500 crore. They are for the construction of 4/6 lane access-controlled Delhi-Katra-Amritsar Expressway from Balsua on NH-44 to Gurha Baildaran, Hiranagar; Gurha Baildaran, Hiranagar to Jakh, Vijaypur; and Jakh, Vijaypur to Kunjwani, Jammu with spur connectivity to Jammu Airport.
He also spoke about the tourism industry and said that it is gaining momentum in Jammu and Kashmir. Promising to improve employment opportunities, the PM said several private sector companies and organisations are now interested in setting up units in the UT.
Nothing can be gained by reliving a traumatised past in a manner that overshadows a bright future. It is time to look ahead and to work for a bright future, the incoming tourist season is a great opportunity to move in the desired direction, he said. He said that the message of Kashmir now being a safe destination for holidaying and doing business had gone across and this would help in generating income and revenue for the people.
Speaking like an ambassador of JK Tourism, Modi noted that while Srinagar airport had the potential of handling upto 100 flights in a single day, the road journey from Jammu too is very exciting due to the beautiful road and the lovely landscape along the route. Visiting exotic places like Yousmarg, Gulmarg, Sonamarg etc and staying in the capital city of Srinagar is now a very pleasant experience indeed.
To improve the quality of life of J&K residents, he inaugurated projects worth Rs 20,000 crore related to connectivity and electricity. PM Modi also laid the foundation stone of Ratle and Kwar Hydroelectric projects. The 850 MW Ratle Hydroelectric Project will be constructed on Chenab River in Kishtwar District at a cost of around Rs 5,300 crore. The 540 MW Kwar Hydroelectric Project will also be built on the Chenab River in Kishtwar District at a cost of over Rs 4,500 crore. Both the projects will help meet the power requirements of the region.
Noting that “It is a matter of great pride that democracy has reached the grassroots level in J&K,” the PM said that his celebrating the Panchayati Raj Diwas here was most appropriate and a befitting tribute to those who made this possible. Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said PM Modi had given the UTs of J&K and Ladakh real “self-rule” and it was indeed a landmark day in the development journey of Jammu and Kashmir he said.
J&K Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha remarked that a new era of development began in the union territory after Narendra Modi became prime minister and said that the central government was working hard towards the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits to J&K. “We have made some efforts over the past few days. We will create a safe environment for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley,” he added.
Due to the Prime Minister’s commitment and top priority to the Union Territory, J&K is shining in various sectors. Recently, J&K has been ranked third in performance under PMGSY. J&K is also featured frequently in NITI Aayog’s reports as a high performing UT.
Modi’s visit assumes significance as the UT is moving ahead at a pace contrary to pessimism expressed by the National Conference, PDP and Congress, who despite having ruled J&K in the past had done little to improve the condition of the people.
Credit for rapid progress of developmental work and people centric initiatives in J&K goes to the dynamic leadership of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and his able team of administrators who are working with missionary zeal to put the UT back on track of growth after decades of stagnation due to misgovernance by past J&K governments.
So, while PM Modi’s choice of J&K for observing the National Panchayati Raj Day, 2022, is a great gesture of appreciation for the vibrant grass root politics in the UT, it will also serve as a motivating factor for everyone to make the UT of J&K the best in India!
(The author is Editor – Brighter Kashmir, TV commentator, political analyst and columnist. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited)