Development of Kashmir...Really?
These days everyone with an IQ above 30 ( Arnab Goswami just about makes the cut) considers himself an authority on Articles 370 and 35A. After their revocation we all wait with bated breath for its political and legal consequences to play out.
We are told that this is going to be a five day test match with pellet interruptions, not a T-20, so we shouldn't hold our breath.
It's a good time to go back to Pranayam. I've decided to light a cigarette instead because I know how things will turn out, you see.
The Supreme Court ( where a challenge has already been filed) will at best recommend another mediation by Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, given its current orthopedic status. Politically the Bharatiya Janata Party will win at least 400 seats in Parliament at the next elections in 2024, after having carved up some more irritating states like turkeys during Thanksgiving.
So these are not issues that merit any further discussion, and I do not propose to do so either. I am on another issue altogether- the promised development of the vivisected Kashmir valley and Ladakh.
The Prime Minister himself announced the other day that good days were about to dawn for Kashmir and that it would no longer be the wasteland it currently is- pervasive poverty, no social services, no health or education, rampant unemployment, corruption, and so on.
With the kind of industrial, power and tourism initiatives the central government has in mind , Kashmir would soon become a land of milk and honey: it would become a model of development for other states. Fine words, and I hope the Kashmiris in the valley, sans internet, TV or telephony, heard them. No doubt they wept with joy and relief.
But there is a seminal problem with this line of argument and this vision- actually, two problems.
First, Kashmir is nowhere near being the netherworld or failed state it is being made out to be; in fact, all the social, economic and human development indicators ( as per the government's own figures) are better than most states and also compare very favourably with the national figures. Its position is far, far better than the state from where the Prime Minister has been elected. Here are some figures:
It is quite clear that Kashmir is not the basket case it is being made out to be, notwithstanding the unremitting decades of violence it has witnessed: it is far more developed than many states and years ahead of BJP's flagship UP. Of course, any further development is always welcome but the narrative that its " underdevelopment" is the cause of all its problems is patently fallacious.
Secondly, one cannot but be apprehensive of the TYPE of development which Kashmir has been promised, without any regard for its distinctive mountain topography and ecology. It has been indicated that all types of heavy and manufacturing industries will be set up there, hydel projects, massive road construction, even building new cities.
Heavy lifters are already lining up, licking their chops at the prospect of appropriating the massive, untouched natural resources of the state. Massive tourism projects have been envisaged for Ladakh.
This will be a disaster for the state.
We only need to look at what has happened to the likes of Himachal and Uttarakhand, which followed the same get-rich-quick route, and ended up with their environments devastated by excessive construction, unmanageable traffic chaos, mindless road building, conversion of once idyllic towns to urban slums, more garbage than trees on its mountains, rivers choked and rendered lifeless by hydel projects, waterways polluted by all manner of industries and mining projects.
These states have lost more and gained little from this industrialisation, either in revenues or employment. Their two traditional activities- tourism and horticulture- continue to be their mainstay.
Which is precisely the lesson to be learnt now for Kashmir. It has done very well from its traditional sectors: tourism, adventure sports, horticulture, handicrafts, dry fruits, pastoral trades. These are all environment friendly and completely in tune with its ecology and terrain.
It is imperative to preserve these and to follow a development path which retains Kashmir's ecological and cultural sensitivity. Rather than the pure capitalist model, Delhi should look at the Bhutan model which blends GDP, GNP ( Gross National Happiness) and GHG ( Green House Gas) values.
Bhutan's spectacular success in implementing an equity-centric policy rather than a growth-centric one, a socio-environmentally oriented development philosophy, maintaining a balance between tradition and modernity, has paid the country rich dividends.
It has a 71% forest cover, is the only carbon neutral country in the world, its GDP has been growing at an average of 7.5% over the last decade, it has a poverty ratio of just 2%, its per capita GDP at US$ 2897 ( 2016 figures) is higher than ours.
Bhutan has given the lie to the western concept of development which postulates that development is not possible without environmental degradation, social inequity and loss of traditional ways of life in the short and middle terms. It has now become a case study for far more "advanced" countries.
If at all "development" has to be thrust upon Kashmir ( and the centre seems hell bent upon doing so) it should follow the Bhutan model. The economic "transformation" of the state (now of course a union territory) should not become an excuse for ruthless exploitation of natural assets, or land grabbing, or demographic change, which is what the Kashmiris fear.
We have decided in our wisdom, or lack of it, that Kashmir needs a new beginning. The irony, if not tragedy, is that it did not require carving up the state into two, or converting it into a Union Territory, to achieve the "development" of Kashmir!"
Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR