Connectivity and development

Presence of the scion of Nehru-Gandhi illustrious family, besides top Congress-NC entourage at a public rally, was bound to kindle reminiscences of long camaraderie between the two historical ruling houses of post-independent India. In their addresses to a mass rally at Sonamarg, 85 kilometres from Srinagar on Srinagar-Leh road, they re-affirmed their historical bond to be the basis of continued cooperation and connectivity in service to the nation. Nehrus come from Kashmir, and Jawaharlal’s romancing with Kashmir was almost proverbial. Hence Rahul has reason to assert that “nothing can separate us from one another.” Thus makes the guffaw rounds that the union of two houses is the union of J&K with India.
However, these pleasantries apart, in his capacity as General Secretary of the Congress—- the coalition partner in the NC-led Government in the State—–, Rahul Gandhi made a major policy statement saying that he had come to participate in the Congress rally for two specific purposes: one was to know what the pain of the people of the State is, and the other to connect J&K with the development surge now underway in the rest of the country. Let us take up the second question first. What are the specificities that Rahul Gandhi thinks would facilitate State’s close connectivity to the huge and multi-dimensional development mission of the Indian Union? We all know that after economic reforms of 2001, the country embarked on a massive developmental programme so much so that within a decade, sort of an economic revolution took place in this country. J&K has had its share and nobody denied it. Rather there was much concern at various levels that owing to disturbed situation, the State was not making full usage of the facilities and financial support provided by the Union Government. We ought to understand that in broader terms development has two aspects, the philosophy of development and the practicality of development. It is in the latter aspect that our State has had shortfalls. Hopefully with Rahul Gandhi’s enquiry this shortfall will be made good.
As regards the first question, it fell to the part of the Chief Minister to reflect on the question posed by Rahul Gandhi. Apart from economic development—- a matter that is under regular discussion — the Chief Minister has been focusing on political aspect and demanding political resolution of Kashmir. He wants two-way talks to take place viz. between the State and the Centre and between India and Pakistan.  However, Kashmir watchers say that the Chief Minister needs to be more specific and pragmatic in raising the pitch for his demands. Nobody knows the complexities of Kashmir issue better than the Chief Minister, and he also knows the limits within which stakeholders have to perform in regard to Kashmir discourse. Hence Congress General Secretary wants to know what his pain is.
The occasion that led to the assemblage of political bigwigs at Sonamarg rally was the stone-laying function of the 6.5 km long 2717 crore rupees worth tunnel at Z-Morh in Sonamarg.  This will be part of the bigger project of keeping Srinagar-Leh road open throughout the year. The second stage of this connectivity would be the 13.5 kilometre long tunnel at Zoji La connecting Sonamarg with Drass, Kargil and Leh at a cost of over 5,500 crore rupees. Once these two tunnels become traversable, a vast area of north-east Kashmir, the Lar Valley and the trans-Zoji La regions of Kargil and Ladakh districts will meet with immense boost to their economy besides considerable improvement of life style. This link has also great strategic importance for India being the crucial link to the northern frontier where borders of three countries, China, Pakistan and India meet. By 2020, hopefully J&K State will have extensive rail and road connectivity and more than a dozen tunnels will bring hitherto remote and inaccessible areas on all-weather road map of Kashmir. State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said that connectivity is a priority with his Government. Its consequences will be most beneficial for the people of this hilly and tough terrain state. Union Planning Commission also understands that the key to all round progress of our State is broad-based connectivity. Inaccessibility has been a major hurdle in our economic growth and material prosperity. Border Roads Organization deserves compliments for undertaking mega projects like four-lanning of Lakhanpur – Srinagar-Baramulla road which will reduce traffic jams and the journey time.
Hopefully this visit to Kashmir and interaction with Kashmir leadership and various delegations will have brought Rahul Gandhi better understanding of the problems and prospects of development in the State. He is appreciative of the State Government, particularly the Chief Minister, in seeing through the implementation of Panchayati Raj scheme, a really ambitious plan of empowering people in right earnest. It will be noted that Rahul Gandhi did not touch on the subject of threats handed down to the Panchs in the State. Quite recently this issue had become a subject of heated discussion in political circles in Srinagar as well as in New Delhi and some divergent statements were ascribed to Rahul and Omar. But the ground situation suggests that there is perfect understanding between the two leaders on the issue of empowerment and security of the elected members of Panchayats in the State. With the election of Block Development Council chairpersons on November 7, the State will be on the verge of full implementation of Panchayati Raj. The manner in which the Leh Panchayats have been working under the aegis of LAHDC has been rightly credited as a model for the Panchayats in other parts of the country.
In final analysis, the visit of Rahul Gandhi and his interaction with the stakeholders in Kashmir has opened more opportunities for the State of benefitting from national developmental plans especially in the fields of education, healthcare, technology, infrastructure and tourism. Centre’s goodwill gesture has always been there. We have many sympathisers and well-wishers in New Delhi and we should make the best of the congenial atmosphere. Rahul Gandhi is at the top of our sincere friends in New Delhi. What we need to concentrate upon is providing good and efficient governance within the State.

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