Signs of emerging stability in Kashmir

Vijay Hashia

The exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s marked a significant and tragic chapter in the history of Kashmir. Decades later, even with changing circumstances, many Kashmiri Pandits still harbour doubts about their return to their homeland. The writer’s last week’s visit to Kashmir, after 34 years since the exodus, provides a unique perspective on the region’s evolving dynamics.
During my week-long sojourn, encompassing visits to various temples, the once tumultuous downtown Srinagar, a few rural area enclaves, and prominent tourist attractions, I discerned a noteworthy transformation in the mindset of Kashmiri Muslims. The hospitality I received was heartwarming. A Muslim friend, without fret and fear greeted me at the airport, offering a vehicle for my use and checked on my well-being daily. Another friend gifted me saffron, walnuts, and cherries. An old neighbour embraced me warmly and offered me kahwa, a traditional Kashmiri tea. Everywhere I went, whether reconnecting with old college friends, neighbours, or local businesses, the atmosphere was one of friendliness and cordiality. The Kashmiri Muslims attitude towards Kashmiri Pandits has significantly softened, reflecting a genuine desire for their return, peace and progress. The changing political climate also seems promising for the potential return of Kashmiri Pandits. However, deep-seated fears and memories of the past persist.
For decades, Kashmir has been viewed as a troubled zone within India, with its residents directly affected by ongoing conflicts. The association between the Valley, terrorism, separatism, and Pakistan has heavily influenced national politics and public perception. The armed insurrection, fueled by Pakistani involvement since 1989-90, has become ingrained in the collective consciousness of India.
The general election represents the first significant political contestation involving the Valley’s mainstream political players. The turnout for these elections is noteworthy: about 38.5 percent in Srinagar compared to 13 percent in 2019, the highest since 1996; Baramullah indicated a turnout of 59.1 percent, up from 34.6 percent in 2019, the highest since 1984; and Anantnag-Rajouri recorded 54.3 percent, the highest in 35 years, compared to a meager 8.9 percent in 2019.
All these trends are significant changes, ballot over bullet. The once-dominant Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (J&KNC) saw a stiff competition, with Baramulla, Srinagar, and Anantnag-Rajouri experiencing high voter participation. The disbanding of the Hurriyat leadership and the significant voter turnout indicate a shift in the political panorama.
Kashmir is swiftly advancing towards unprecedented development. The recent visit of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, gifting a bat to differently abled cricketer Amir Hussain Lone and his exploration of Aman Setu Briidge, alongside the burgeoning influx of Bollywood directors and stars for film shoots, indicates an era of renewed normalcy. A total of 102 Bollywood and Tollywood films and web series were shot in J&K in 2023. Among them Shahrukh Khan’s ‘Dunki’, Yami Gautam’s ‘Article 370’ and John Abrahma’s ‘Vedaa,’ coupled with the recent filming of ‘Singham 3’ featuring Ajay Devgun underscore the region’s burgeoning allure and transformative progress.
With peace and tranquility prevailing, the aspiration to surpass last year’s record of 2.11 crores tourist arrivals has ignited a fervent spirit among both locals and authorities. This collective enthusiasm reflects dedication to showcasing the region’s beauty and attracting even more visitors this year.
The transformation of Srinagar into a smart city, with improved infrastructure and road conditions, is a work in progress. The iconic Ganta Ghar in Lal Chowk, once a political hub, is now a popular spot for tourists to take photos and film shoots. The absence of curfews, stone-pelting, and terrorists mass funerals marks a significant change. Sporadic terror attacks in remote areas though prevalent, but the overall peace is a promising sign.
The geopolitical dynamics between India and Pakistan has also shifted. Pakistan’s hopes of gaining leverage through covert or overt operations have diminished. The abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, remains a contentious issue, but no Indian Parliament is likely to reverse this decision.
The desire for change and dignity among Kashmiri Muslims is palpable. Gone are the days of widespread cries for Azadi (freedom). The increased voter turnout is a significant indicator of the changing sentiments among Kashmiris. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertion that higher polling figures are a testament to the correctness of abrogating Article 370 reflects this shift. The use of the ballot box by many in the Valley indicates a willingness to move beyond the political turmoil of the past.
While the past few decades have seen Kashmir predominantly in the headlines for its chronic crises, a new era of progress is emerging. The resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland may not be immediate, but the signs of a brighter, more peaceful future are becoming increasingly evident. The journey towards a reconciled and prosperous Kashmir is underway, and it is only a matter of time before Kashmiri Pandits can consider returning to a region they once called home.

The post Signs of emerging stability in Kashmir appeared first on Daily Excelsior.