Economics and Politics in J&K

Can J&K’s disunited politics allow an integrated economics?


The agglomerative state of Jammu and Kashmir was born out of expediency. It never surmounted the challenge posed by the extraordinary circumstances of its birth to become an organic whole, and remains to this day a contrived thing that either cannot integrate or will not. Ladakh, Hunza, Gilgit, Jammu, and Kashmir were disparate bits of Western Tibet, North India and trans-Indus territories that the British cobbled together and outsourced to an upwardly mobile Miyan Rajput. Events in 1947 removed some odd bits in the agglomerate but had no effect on its mottled complexion. It never became an agglutinate. Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir continue to occupy different worlds; Jammu in fact is not even one cultural entity, let alone a political whole. Can J&K’s disunited politics allow an integrated economics? After all if people cooperate in the common interest everyone should benefit-unfortunately such interest was never perceived let alone displayed either by political authority or by the people. No one conceived the notion that the energies and dispositions of its diverse peoples should be harnessed towards any common goal, political or economic. Admittedly, it would be hard to imagine, let alone implement an inclusive and integrated path of development for the whole state; what we have instead is therefore a natural outcome of J&K’s riven state, ‘me too’ instead of appropriate-Duplicate not integrated development, wasted resources instead of best practices.
The Jehlum Valley cart road built by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1889, and which provided Kashmir reliable and easy access had become the only point of entry into and exit from Kashmir. It replaced the commonly used Noonwath or Mughal route through Shopian, Bhimber and Gujrat. Partap Singh also had the Banihal cart road completed in 1922. Prone to landslides and closed over winter it was little used. When Pakistan imposed an economic blockade in September ’47 following up with the tribal invaders it put an end to all commerce, travel and trade.  Not only was Kashmir’s economy devastated, it entered an era of deprivation and hardship that persisted thirteen long years till the Jawahir tunnel restored a semblance of normal economic activity.  
Jammu, like Kashmir also lost its road and rail connections through Sialkot, but it recovered quickly; Kashmir had to wait a great deal longer. Delhi built an all weather road to Jammu from Pathankot but Kashmir remained hostage to Banihal-And it was the Chinese who rescued Ladakh from its isolation when a black topped road to Leh was finally built. The induction of an army division and the Border Roads Organization then delivered benefits equal if not exceeding those brought by the caravans that used to trade with Yarkand and Tibet.
Closure of both the Banihal and Jehlum valley cart roads for a long part of the year meant that Kashmir returned to the isolation and deprivation of 1889.  The economies of Punjab were damaged by its partition and took years to recover, on both sides, but in Kashmir no path to recovery existed. Timber could no longer be floated down the Jehlum, tourists were not up to the tedious two day bus journey from Pathankot, and wholesalers had to forge new connections with the Beopar Mandal in Jammu instead of Rawalpindi. Kashmiri produce lost its market, having nowhere to go. Apples, earlier only one of the many sorts of temperate fruit exported now replaced orchards of blackberry, raspberry, peach and plum because these perishable soft fruits couldn’t survive the long hot road journey.
Accession gave an enormous boost to Jammu’s economy just as it made Kashmir a dependency. The ravaged economy of Kashmir was no longer in the same class as Jammu whose trading classes prospered. Much fuss is made over the Indus Waters Treaty; over losses that are still to occur, and which are not really of such consequence as is made out. (Annual profits from all the projects NHPC operates do not much exceed 2000 crore rupees.)
No one in Jammu seems to care about the Chenab waters though Jammu is where the river flows. As surprising-No one in Kashmir complains about the toll post at Lower Munda which imposes additional taxes on goods and vehicles destined for Kashmir. One can understand the Maharajas taxing Kashmiris through a special toll; but a government led by Kashmiri ministers continuing the discrimination?  Shouldn’t the toll at Lakhanpur be equitably distributed for both divisions? Perhaps the Maharaja charged extra for Kashmir because he had to maintain an extra bit of road, but it is Delhi that does that job now.
The Dogra rulers hadn’t done much to develop Kashmir, except perhaps Maharaja Partap Singh who built not only the two roads mentioned but also the Mohra power project; but they did as little for Jammu. It was not the paradigm of either the princely rulers or the British administrators to ‘develop’ their territories; that concept came later with Nehru. Economic development as a goal of state policy and through the instrumentality of the state is very much a post war thing. For Kashmir unfortunately it came at a time when the valley was not in a position to take advantage of state led development activity, especially when the ruling classes were not disposed to help the public so much as they were to help themselves.
The GK carried a piece last Sunday about the development agenda’s of the main political parties and of some newly emerging. It seems that only Kashmir based parties that have an economic agenda for the state; even so interest in Jammu does not extend beyond its water resources. The Chenab Forest Circle used to be the largest revenue earner in the days when forestry contributed something to J&K’s revenue, and the Chenab is now its main economic resource. The Sapphire mines are also in the Chenab valley; pity then that no one talks about the residents of the Chenab valley who sometimes complain that they feel colonized by Kashmir and Jammu.
One will search in vain for the economic manifestoes of the Jammu based parties, the BJP and Panthers Party. The latter is a sectional interest dominated by Rajputs and the former by Brahmins and Mahajans. The Congress claims to be an all J&K party, and it may well be that but its national outlook like that of the BJP prevents it from articulating specific local demands. Leh district is practically autonomous of the state government, which seems relatively content to let the situation not to disturb the situation.
J&K’s polity is segmented reflecting its segmented society. It is not so surprising therefore that no one has more than a segmented interest in its development. It is the rare politician who thinks beyond the limits of his own constituency. No one thinks for all of Jammu and Kashmir the way say Nitish Kumar speaks about Bihar. Over here it is either Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh. Jammu is actually a particularly bad case, where they don’t think of anything but Jammu city.
Is it all feasible to have an integrated plan for economic growth? Can one unite economically what is divided by topography, by politics, by culture?  J&K hasn’t created a common power grid in all these years; other things are so much more difficult. There are two sets of Heads for each Department, two universities for agriculture, two medical colleges, two engineering colleges and so on. Institutions are created not because they are needed but to satisfy the two halves of a segmented polity. Thus two central universities; and if Srinagar has the Dal, why, Jammu must have a lake too! Institutions are created not out of need but in competition. There is a division of spoils not satisfaction of demands.
The fact is that the changed times require a changed paradigm for economic growth in Kashmir. The Prime Minister did at one time talk of making borders irrelevant. That may happen but not quite the way he meant, or how people understood him, on both sides of the Line of Control. Jammu is once again well connected to Punjab but soon Kashmir will be too. That means revival of economic activity in Kashmir may no longer be dependent upon reviving traffic on the road north to Muzzaffarabad. It may be just a pipe dream that renewed trade through Rawalpindi will revive economic growth in Kashmir.
The Jehlum Valley road is destined for oblivion. Sixty years of infrastructural developments southwards and to the west over Pir ki Gali have already consigned it to history, even if free trade and travel to Pakistan is permitted. The four lane highway through Jammu will be a quicker and shorter route to Lahore and Karachi. Lahore is only 375 kilometers from Srinagar through Banihal, Jammu and Sialkot and much less over the Mughal route, (the old noon wath) via Rajouri, Bhimber, Gujrat and Gujranwala. It is 685 kilometers via Rawalpindi.
Perhaps a Pir will once again take up residence at Pir ki Gali. There hasn’t been one for over a hundred years. 

Lastupdate on : Sat, 13 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 13 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 14 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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