Kashmir, with its beautiful weather and location, would have been a natural home for a software hub, just like Pune or Bengaluru Image Credit: Supplied

When it comes to the region of Jammu & Kashmir, October 27, 2020 is no less significant than 5 August, 2019. The Indian Parliament consigned Article 370 to the “has-been, never-again” bin of history on 5 August 2019. And on 27 October, through a gazette order, the Government of India made it possible for any Indian citizen to purchase land in Kashmir. A uniformed outsider, not fully tuned into the history of the region, may ask “what is the big deal about it? Is it not a natural right for any Indian citizen to be able to purchase property in any part of the country? Was it not the case earlier?”

One of the debilitating impacts of Article 370, which was supposed to give special status to the region of Kashmir, was that it became an instrument of institutionalised separatism. It was more devastating in its consequences than the Berlin Wall. The physical presence of that wall struck out in its obscenity each day. The wall of Article 370 was like an “invisible Berlin Wall”, only more diabolical in its impact.

The physical territory of Jammu and Kashmir merged with India in 1947. But what Article 370 ensured was that the people of the region were prevented from integrating with the lifeblood of the national mainstream. The state was nominally part of the mainland Indian map and was physically located next to two Indian states — Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. But the consequence of the ‘invisible Berlin Wall”, Article 370, was such that for all practical purposes the region of Jammu and Kashmir could have been located in another continent.

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People living in a nation bond and unite over time due to the unhindered flow of trade, ideas, customs, food, festivals, culture, traditions and attire. They live and breathe together. They celebrate together and they fight adversities together. They have common national joys in addition to their local unique traditions. A person living in North India is as aware of the importance of the Onam festival as a person living on South India knows about Chhath. Dosa is as much a favoured diet in Punjab as Samosa is in Bengaluru. All other regions of the country participated in the nation building project exactly as per this script. The only region which stood as an exception to this unifying impulse is Kashmir and it happened because of the generational impact of Article 370.

One of the provisions of this article was that non domiciles of Kashmir were not allowed to purchase land in the state (now a Union Territory). Apart from institutionalising separatism of the region on spurious grounds, the provision had many real-life eviscerating consequences. Major industries did not set up shop in the state because people who would work in such industries would not have property rights in the state even if they worked there for years or decades. India became a global software power in the last twenty-five years. Kashmir, with its beautiful weather and location, would have been a natural home for a software hub, just like Pune or Bengaluru. However, the land laws obviated such a possibility.

No meaningful investment

All India services employees and their children could never really consider the region as their ‘home’ despite being stationed there for decades. Startups taking roots in other parts of India skipped the region. The hospitality sector, which could have been the economic driver of the entire region has been staved off any meaningful investment because of the restrictions of land purchase and land use. The real estate sector and affordable housing boom, which has taken place in many parts of India has again skipped Kashmir.

The list of missed opportunities is endless. Think of the Indian Premier League (IPL) currently unfolding in the UAE. It is the biggest and the richest cricketing league in the entire world. Apart from the best international stars, the IPL has been a great platform for empowering aspiring young Indians. Every nook and corner of the country is represented in this great melting pot — except the state of Kashmir. Why is it that cricket, which has taken roots in every corner of India has failed to do so in Kashmir? The local cricketing grounds, the permanent coaching centers, the big stadiums, the cricketing nurseries in the cities and towns, with the requisite investment and manpower is simply not present in the state.

It is not as if the state is sheared of sporting talent. A young Kashmiri girl, who was a ‘stone thrower’ in 2017, later found her calling in football once she shifted to Mumbai. Such is her talent and passion for the game that she was recently invited to join a select group of people for a live-telecasted interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But a system which would nurture hundreds of more stars like her, right within the state, simply does not exist.

What the separatist nature of the provisions of Article 370 did was that it simply did not allow the people-to-people bond, to build and flourish. For the people living in Kashmir, they had no lived experience of knowing and growing up with another Indian, from another region, as a neighbour or a friend or a colleague. Almost same is the case with people living in other parts of the country because what Article 370 also did was to amplify the different nature of a Kashmiri. The process of being emotionally vested in each other simply did not take place. For the people of Kashmir, their primary exposure to India was not the brilliance of their fellow countrymen but the organs of the Indian state. It was natural, then, that the gulf would only widen over the years.

Small changes and small steps can create massive impact. The new land laws in Jammu and Kashmir have the potential to create that massive impact and herald a new dawn of economic and political integration. They will empower the state with new economic opportunities which would in turn bring new and well-paying jobs for the youth of the state. The people of Kashmir would be as welcome and assimilated in other parts of the country as any other citizen, for the Kashmir too would be similarly welcoming to citizens from other regions. A bright, exciting new future awaits the people of Kashmir.

Akhilesh Mishra byline
Image Credit: Gulf News 2020