Addressing the 118th Annual Session of the PHDCCI, Shah urged the industry to make more investments in research and development to make MSMEs world-class.
On 29 September, Union Home Minister Amit Shah attacked the Opposition for spreading “misinformation” about Kashmir. There were no “restrictions”, he said. “These exist only in your mind”. The Union Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy, said Kashmir was moving back to normal. And the External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, reportedly told foreign leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations session that Jammu and Kashmir was in a “mess” before the special status accorded to the state under the Constitution was revoked on 5 August.
Article 370 had been an impediment to governance but the Centre would now ensure bring development in the region, Mr Jaishankar claimed. It has now been more than three months since Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the state split into two Union Territories. The Centre also revoked Article 35A, which allowed the Jammu and Kashmir government to define “state subjects” and reserve for them specific rights and privileges, including the right to own land in the state. : While mobile connectivity has been restored, few mobile numbers in the Valley are actually functioning. Mobile Internet remains suspended in Jammu and almost all Internet connections are blocked in the Valley.
Kashmiris trying to reach their families must rely on landlines, which many households do not have. In the districts of South Kashmir, residents with landlines have kept the telephones on tables outside, charging passersby a few rupees per minute to use them. Journalists trying to send reports out of Kashmir have to go to the “media facilitation centre” in Srinagar, where the administration has set up a few computers connected to the Internet. As the Centre announced its decision on 5 August, most of the Valley’s political leadership, including those who contested elections, were locked up.
They included three former chief ministers ~ the National Conference’s Farooq and Omar Abdullah as well as the People’s Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti. Octogenarian Farooq Abdullah has been charged under the stringent prevention detention law, the Public Safety Act, apparently for being a threat to “public order”. The government now promises to release Valley leaders “one by one”. In a recent report submitted to the Supreme Court on 1 October, the Jammu and Kashmir Police admitted that 144 minors, including children as young as nine and 11, had been arrested. It claimed that there were no “illegal detentions”.
Several media reports suggest the number might be much higher, with minors being whisked away for a few hours to weeks. Apatrt from politicians, security forces have rounded up activists, lawyers, business leaders and youth they consider potential stone-pelters. The administration has claimed there is no centralised record of the total number of detentions, and that many have also been released. A recent fact-finding mission, citing local estimates, say 13,000 people may have been detained since 5 August and a large number have been released.
While habeas corpus petitions filed by anxious families of detainees pile up (over 300 since 5 August), the process of justice remains partially frozen in the Valley. With senior lawyers detained, the bar association of the Srinagar bench of the J&K High Court has gone on strike. Only seven lawyers have been deputed to file petitions to a court functioning at half its strength and hearing very few cases. The government has maintained that the restrictions and communications blackout were needed to keep the peace, reiterating that not a single bullet has been fired after 5 August.
But reports suggest there have been very few casualties, including one death, from pellets fired by security forces. Gunfights between government and security forces were reported in Baramulla and Ganderbal districts in Kashmir and Ramban in Jammu division. Gunmen also killed a trader who had opened his shop in Srinagar and shot at apple growers in North Kashmir. On 28, September, suspected militants also flung a grenade at Central Reserve Police Force troops in downtown Srinagar.
Since mid-August, the government has been declaring schools have reopened with low levels of attendance. Classrooms remained deserted, however, as parents refused to send their children to school amidst the lockdown and uncertainty. The Valley went under lockdown during the harvesting season. Apples and other fruit, a mainstay of Kashmir’s economy were able to find some buyers and transport their goods outside the Valley under the protection of security forces. The government has offered to buy fruit directly from growers resulting in some relief to the cultivators.
A few tourists have also started coming in under protection. The handicraft industry has also started picking up its business. The government announced elections for block development councils, the second tier of the panchayati raj system in J&K. An electoral college of panches and sarpanches votes the chairmen for these councils. But out of 18,883 panches seats in the former Kashmir division, which included Ladakh and the Valley, some seats lie vacant. Local representatives who were elected during the last polls remain holed up in heavily guarded Srinagar hotels, unable to spend time in their villages for fear of militant attacks.
As a mark of protest against the government’s decision, shops across the Valley are shut after the early hours of the morning and public transport vehicles by and large stay off the roads. While the government claims the shutdown is rooted in the fear of militants, several residents insist it is voluntary and they are willing to persist with “civil curfew”. The local administration has repeatedly claimed that hospitals and healthcare services are functioning normally. The Internet blockade in the Valley, however, has hit the Ayushman Bharat scheme, which provides vital healthcare to the poorest sections of society.
In October, the Centre resumed postpaid mobile services in Kashmir; traffic movement saw a remarkable surge in Srinagar city. Around Lal Chowk, storeowners lifted their shutters half-mast, buyers crowded the markets and the footfalls started to rise. It seemed as though the city centre had returned to life after more than two months of a crippling shutdown. The US has asked India to come up with a “roadmap” for the restoration of political and economic normalcy in Kashmir following the imposition of restrictions in the region after New Delhi revoked a provision in its Constitution conferred special status on Kashmir.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells sought the release of all politicians detained in Kashmir but added that it had seen “progress” in easing of restrictions in place since August. She also urged Pakistan to take “sustained and irreversible” steps against terrorists operating from its territory. The comments seem to indicate the State Department is trying to effect a balancing act between India, Pakistan and members of the US Congress. India has said that revocation of Article 370 is an internal matter given that it was a temporary provision of its Constitution that was revoked.
China has said that India’s move to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories is “unlawful and void” and it affects Beijing’s sovereignty. India has now hit back saying China should avoid commenting on matters that are internal for India. Tibet is a core issue in Beijing’s relations with countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan that traditionally did not have a common border with China. These countries became China’s neighbours after it annexed Tibet, which, after waves of genocide since the 1950s, now faces ecocide. Indeed, ever since China gobbled up the historical buffer with India, Tibet has remained the core issue.
Home Minister Amit Shah has said that abrogation of special status under Article 370 was absolutely essential and within 10 years Jammu and Kashmir would become the most developed state in the world. MoS in the PMO Jitendra Prasad said that the removal of special status was a reward after three decades of struggle. Mr Jaishankar has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was a “long awaited” step and the “right thing” to do. And it is only to be expected that Pakistan to pull out all its stops to challenge the decision as it has made considerable investment in fuelling terrorism in Kashmir.
(The writer is former senior professor International Trade and member Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi)