Episode from the podcastIssues of the Week with William Morris of the Next Century Foundation

The Winter has come in Kashmir

Released Monday, 18th January 2021
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The Kashmir Valley for decades has thrived of the scores of tourists that travel there every year. However, the past one year due to Coronavirus has severely impact travel to the valley, largely due to travel restrictions and lockdowns but also because of the turmoil in Indian administered Kashmir since Kashmir special status was revoked by the Indian government. Kashmir’s economy is nearing collapse, and it has never been worse. In previous years despite the extra military presence or lockdowns for security measures, tourists still continued travelling to the valley for vacations and contributed to the economy through their spending in local shops and accommodations. However, this year that little saving grace has also vanished through travel bans and the lack of tourism and the consequent revenue for locals. 

To make matters worse, the past few weeks have seen very heavy snowfall in the region. This had to led to closure of many roads and highways as well as air traffic, leading to about 4,500 trucks mainly carrying essential items for the items stuck along the closed highways. Authorities in some parts of Kashmir are already rationing items such as LPG and Petrol, essentials for daily life, and adding to the pressures on Kashmiris coupled with the lockdowns, lack of steady income and security concerns. 

Finally, Jammu and Kashmir held its first elections this past December wherein voters from all over stood in lines to vote despite the harsh winter and the COVID-19 pandemic. This election has been the first since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status under article 370 of the Indian constitution giving its autonomous status and prohibiting citizens from other Indian states from buying property in Kashmir. Many voters were hopeful that this election will the beginning of better systems in Kashmir such as access to better roads, water, elecricity and general development but did not support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). The two main contenders of this election were the BJP and the Gupkar Alliance, which is a grouping of regional parties that all held the aim of re-instating article 370. The problem however is, that even is the Gupkar group wins a majority of seats in parliament, they as elected representatives hold no legislative authority, only the task of promoting local development and improve daily life for those in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The elections as per the Indian Prime Minister “have further strengthened the roots of democracy” as people both young and old in Jammu and Kashmir waited for hours to cast their vote. Of a total of 280 seats across Jammu(a hindu majority) and Kashmir(a muslim majority), the BJP won over 70 seats mainly in Jammu and 3 seats(for the first time ever) in Kashmir. Whereas the Gupkar alliance, won more than 110 seats, 70 of those being in Kashmir. However although the BJP claimed this voting process was a victory for democracy, there were opponents who claimed that the BJP had illegally detained them and barred them from canvassing- charged the BJP denied.

An additional fear of militants and violence has often also kept voters at home. This year, the overall turn out was 51%, and in Kashmir alone, 34% of those eligible to vote did so, which is double the amount seen last year in the parliamentary elections.  

Unfortunately, despite the hopes of many Kashmiris, the chances of the Indian government re-instating article 370 are slim. However what they can hope for from these elections is that their elected representatives will work hard to bring development and progress to Jammu and Kashmir. 

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