Correcting the biases exploding the myths-biggest challenge for the Govt.

Vishal Sharma
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
“The Economist,” which ran a story captioned “The mirage of peace and prosperity in Kashmir – Narendra Modi’s hardline approach has not made the region richer or safer”, on 10th January, 2023, has been extremely economical with the truth. In fact, if anything, the piece represents the complete distortion of facts as they exist on the ground.
The problem with international writers writing on Kashmir has been that they have chosen for the most part to follow rhetorical approaches at the expense of truth/ground realities. This piece of writing is no different as the writer has merrily joined the vanguard of the international drumbeaters who claim to know everything about Kashmir. Alas! It has been seen that they know about Kashmir as much or as little as they know about Mars !
The period that has followed abrogation of Article 370 and reorganization of erstwhile State of J&K into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh has been the most peaceful in the history of J&K.
Let’s start with internet: the internet restrictions, as we have known, are gone and, predictably so, as there has been a significant dip in incidents of unrest/militant incidents over the last three years.
Prior to 2019, the Govt’s default option in the face of a militant attack/unrest was to shut down the internet to quell spread of misinformation and rein in the army of trolls on the twitter, whose only article of faith was to create further discord in the region.
Today, it is unthinkable! In fact, when one thinks back to those days, they are not easily recallable; forgotten and part of our dim and the distant past as they have come to be.
Remarkably enough, J&K today is perhaps the most digitalised economy amongst the 36 States/UT of the country. It has been amongst the first few States/UTs to have rolled out 5 G services with a speed of about 300 mbps. About 450 digital online G2C services have been launched in record time of less than 10 months under the campaigns “Digital J&K Mission” and “Aapka Mobile – Hamara Daftar” thereby ushering the era of transparency and corruption-free Jammu and Kashmir.
In a few days from now, all services in J&K will be rendered on line.
Come to think of it, would this be possible if internet services were patchy and unpredictable in J&K!
The terror incident, which occurred in early January this year, happened in Rajouri district of Jammu Division and not in South Western Kashmir, as has been claimed in the piece. It is understandable that the writer has no understanding of geography of the J&K, but at the bare minimum, should he not then have cross checked his facts with the local administration and ensured that he was spot on with his facts?
The case of Abdul Nadaf is held up as a test case as if a point proven in this case would settle the argument in his favour.
It is counterintuitive to accept the writer’s argument in this case! No person, howsoever mighty he may be, is above the law. In all secular/ liberal societies of the world, a person who is involved in any subversive/terrorist activity has to face the law. If he turns out to be innocent, he is set free. On the other hand, if he is found to be on the wrong side of law, he has to accept the punishment that he gets under law. This is a universally accepted principle and is upheld much in the same manner in J&K as in other progressive secular/liberal democracies in the world.
The writer would have had an argument if he had stats to show for. Unfortunately, he does not! Consider this : the number of detentions under the Public Safety Act has actually decreased from 646 in 2019 to 134 in 2020 and 303 in 2021. It may not be a quite linear decline. But it is a decline nonetheless. So much for the argument on illegal detentions and disturbance in the Valley !
The most misunderstood fact about the number of troops in the Valley is the number itself that is usually bandied about.
Firstly, the strength of troops in the Valley is overblown quite significantly. And secondly, the troop deployment in Kashmir has to be understood in the context of Indo-Pak geostrategic dynamics in the region. India and Pak have gone to war over Kashmir thrice in the last 75 years. Thus, it’s region which is militarily defended on both sides of border/LoC strongly by both India and Pak. The troop deployment in Jammu and Kashmir has the larger focus of preventing war and not merely figting the jihadis. The battle against counter insurgency is largely led by paramilitary forces and local police whose numbers are not quite as many as the writer says they are. He is way off the mark on numbers he is using to buttress his point !
The number of bunkers, nakas, checkpoints in Kashmir is more or less the same as it has been in the past. There would have been a need for more checkpoints/nakas in the Valley, if there were more incidents of violence. Let’s look at the stats because that’s where all the answers are !
The number of militancy related and law and order related incidents have reduced from 417 in 2018 to 125 in 2022 (reduction of 70%) and 825 in 2018 to 26 in 2022 (reduction of 97%).
Also, the killings of police personnel and security forces have declined from 45 in 2018 to 14 in 2022 (reduction of 69%). The killings of security forces have also dipped from 46 in 2018 to 17 in 2022 (reduction of 63%). The number of civilians who have lost their lives in militancy related incident has also reduced from 55 in 2018 to 30 in 2022 (reduction of 45%).
In contrast, the arrests of the militants have shown an increase; clearly a result of an improved law and order situation in J&K. As against 71 militants arrested during 2018, 159 militants were arrested during 2022. The above numbers are clear pointers to the fact that the security situation has dramatically improved during the last three years, which is further buttressed by the fact that elections to three tier Panchayati Raj System and Urban Local Bodies were held during this past three years which witnessed huge public participation without even a single untoward incident despite boycott calls by all the political parties.
The easy inference that can be drawn from these figures is that people are fed up with this mindless violence and have now parted ways with the peddlers of mindless violence and decided to join the national mainstream. India has a free and vibrant media and if Kashmir were such a disturbed place, it would not have been lost on the Indian media. There is no disturbance, no gore and bloodshed in the Valley ! There is only peace and calm in the Valley now ! This is the only story that can be written about Kashmir.
There is no such thing as “Non-Kashmiri Guest Workers”, but the writer would have us believe otherwise. The people who come to Valley do so only in search of work. Work brings them there.
The writer has let his imagination run riot and in the process has ended up self contradicting. For instance, he says there is strife and discord in Kashmir and then goes on to build an argument around so called Non Kashmiri Guest workers thronging Valley. The question that he does not answer is this: if Valley is disturbed and no body’s life is safe there, why on earth would some one visit Kashmir for work? Or Better still why would the Central Govt ( if that is what he is alluding to) send these workers to Kashmir to act as cannon fodders ?
The entire process of migration of labour in the entire country is the product of demand and supply dynamics of workers in different parts of the country. Workers will keep migrating to areas where they can find jobs. In any case, India is a free country and every one is free to move to any place within the country at his/her sweet free will. The premise that the Government is driving the migration of workers to Kashmir is ill-founded.
Another myth that has been pushed in recent times is that the investment pouring from outside J&K is a ploy to dispossess the people of the UT of their land. Industrial investment is flowing as a part of the New Central Sector Scheme for industrial promotion in J&K. The Scheme has a number of incentives for the prospective entrepreneurs and the incentives are linked to the criteria based evaluation of the proposals. It’s an objective and merit based allocation of resource and quite expectedly, J&K has witnessed a record investment of Rs. 1416 crore in the first nine months of the current financial year as against Rs. 590 cr during 2018-19 despite COVID induced disruption.
As the industrial development throws up results over time, the actual investment and number of units that will be set up as well as the jobs that will be generated will increase exponentially in the weeks and months ahead.
Tourism, along with horticulture, is the mainstay of the J&K’s economy. However, as things stand, it is difficult to measure the scale of its contribution to GSDP. That is partly due to the fact that value of tourism as a sector is not quantified separately. Infact many facets of this sector overlap with other sectors and, therefore, they are computed as part of those sectors’ contribution to GSDP.
It is, therefore, difficult to figure out as to what has formed the basis of the writer’s assertion in putting a number to contribution of tourism as a sector to GSDP.
However, while it is difficult to compute tourism’s contribution to GSDP, there is no difficulty in seeing the positive result that improved law and order has had on tourist arrivals in J&K. 26,73,442 tourists visited J&K in 2022 as against measly 8,30,758 in 2018 and 5,65,532 in 2019. This represents nearly 3 and 5 times increase in arrivals over the years 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Government has recently made a strong push towards developing new off-beat destinations/ trekking routes. Infrastructure build up in these areas remains top priority with the Government and it is expected to increase the tourist footfall, leading up to a significant boost in the J&K’s economy.
Efforts are also underway at promotion of tourism in a big way. There is unrelenting focus on creating a buzz to attract the tourists all the year round. This will make the sector sustainable in the long run and also improve incomes and opportunities for the people connected with the sector.
The year long tourism related activity, which has already begun and will be strengthened going forward will make the region vibrant and throb with positive energy. Infact, the signs of this are already visible in the Valley!
Lastly the writer’s view on employment is completely misplaced and not based on facts. His reliance on CMIE data is inexplicable given that he has not tried to confirm the CMIE figures by tallying them with those of the central government statistics organisation (MOSPI). CMIE methodologies are not available in public domain and many states have challenged its ways of calculating employment figures. CMIE has never approached J&K Government on employment numbers and, therefore, it is not known where it has sourced its numbers from. Given such a background, unqualified reliance on CMIE data to make a case is inappropriate.
As per J&K’s own calculations, the unemployment rate has actually reduced over the last three years and is not more than ten percent. As per the conservative government estimates, more than 20000 people have been recruited in the public sector including in the companies over the last two years. Taken together with around 40000 self employment opportunities that have been created outside the public sector created during the corresponding period, this represents a massive increase over the last few years.
On all fronts, be it law and order or be it the employment, J&K during the last two years has seen a turnaround never witnessed in the past. Its developmental success has ridden on the peace that has been ushered in the Valley due to relentless efforts of the govt.
The govt has defeated long running militancy/terrorism; the biggest challenge imaginable. But much bigger challenge still remains to be conquered; the challenge of correcting biases and winning battle of perceptions. This is exactly the challenge the write up in the Economist poses to the government !
(The writer is a Milken -IFC Fellow)