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Politics over investment summits in J and K The Excelsior 18 Jan 2022
The J and K government notified that 70 acres of land, already in possession of the army in Gulmarg and Sonamarg, have been declared strategic enabling it to begin construction of dwellings on it. Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that such permission in tourist destinations implies that the centre is converting J and K into a military state. Possibly her most illogical and desperate to stay relevant statement in recent times. She should be aware that the Indian army does not run tourist destinations as the Pak army does. It appears these comments were made solely to incite local sentiments against the very forces responsible for bringing normalcy in the region. She has for some time been attempting to break the bond established between security agencies and local populace resulting in increased successful encounters.
In end December 2021, the J and K government held its ‘Real Estate summit 2021’ in Jammu. In this summit 39 MOUs worth Rs 18,300 crore were signed. These include investments in residential, commercial, infrastructure and film sectors. This was the first such summit post abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. The investments mainly covered the Jammu region. The next summit involving Indian investors is scheduled to be held in Srinagar in May 2022.
Regional parties of J and K condemned the summit mentioning that the state has been put for sale. Omar Abdullah tweeted ‘investors will buy up land in Jammu long before Kashmir.’ Mehbooba Mufti asserted that the region’s special status had been revoked to ‘dehumanise, dispossess and disempower the only Muslim majority state in India.’ She added, ‘Government of India’s brazen loot and sale of our resources shows that the sole motive is to annihilate our identity and change the demography.’
Addressing a rally in Bijbehara she mentioned, ‘Kashmiris, Dogras, Bakerwalas and all others must get united at this stage and if they won’t unite now, local youth will find it difficult to step out as no land will be left for them.’ She was attempting to incite people on the pretext that land allocated for development would be detrimental.
A few days earlier the central government had confirmed in Parliament that post abrogation of article 370 only 7 plots had been purchased by non-residents in the UT and that too in the Jammu belt. It displayed that despite relaxation in laws there is hesitancy to invest in the region possibly due to ongoing militancy. Most investors within India fear that investments in Kashmir could be counterproductive as passions may be whipped up by local politicians or enterprises targeted by terrorists.
In Oct last year, the J and K government signed an agreement with the UAE for investing in the UT. As a follow up, last week there were a series of MOUs with the government of UAE and companies within. The Lulu group proposed to invest Rs 200 crore in establishing a food processing and logistics hub in Kashmir. This was followed by agreements with Al Maya group, MATU investments, Century Financial and others for investing in multiple spheres of development, mainly in the Kashmir valley.
The Lt Governor of J and K stated, ‘due to transparent policies and ease of doing business we were able to clock investment proposals worth 45,000 crore and an additional 18,500 crore in the real estate sector. The government could take this step based on an improved security environment in the valley.’ In an interview with Gulf News, the Lt Governor stated, ‘things on ground are not bad as is being propagated by certain vested interests. There are people who want to keep it like that, and they are doing this to give a negative perception to the world.’ He added that people in the valley are, ‘fed up with violence and want development.’
The Indian and UAE governments could reach the stage of investing in the valley based on the improved security environment. It is due to efforts of security forces and cooperation of the local populace that such an environment has been created. Hence, ideally, the benefits of development must flow to them.
There were no adverse comments from valley politicians on MOUs being signed with UAE based concerns. Mehbooba and Omar need to be questioned on whether investors must possess specific parameters and investments made from specific regions to be beneficial to the valley. What the PDP and NC had failed to do for decades the government has done in a couple of years and maybe this is hurting their prestige.
A fact not being discussed is that investments flowing from the UAE, backed by their government, send a few major signals. The first is that they have accepted the fact that Kashmir is not disputed territory. As a corollary, they have discarded Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir. This will mean that any demands for an OIC meeting on Kashmir will not be supported by them. Secondly, any attack by terrorists on their infrastructure would not bode well for Pakistan-UAE relations, as terrorism is controlled from across the LOC. Finally, they back the Indian government’s policies for the region. Pakistan would have been hurt by this action, however, since it survives on largesse by the UAE it would not comment.
For decades Kashmiri politicians exploited the state exchequer but ignored the masses. They built palatial residences at state cost. Now the only option open for them is to enhance divide within the region and display their relevance. The reality is that people are far more aware than Mehbooba’s and Omar’s consider them to be and desire development over divisive politics. For Pakistan, it is time to accept that their support base has receded and even allies are dumping them in favour of India. For the Indian and J and K governments, it is time to pat their backs.