India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy. (Reuters/File
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Updated 18 January 2020

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”

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