What does a rail link between Banihal and Qazigund mean!
First of all, the rail link from Banihal to Qazigund is bound to bring the people living across the Pass closer to their compatriots on this side. And for those living in other parts of the Kashmir and having to travel frequently from Kashmir to Jammu, it is sure to bring a wide smile. The travel is going to ease out tremendously. Normally it would take more than an hour, if all would go right, from Qazigund to Banihal. Now it is a matter of minutes. Someone travelling from Srinagar to Banihal will now find it very easy as he can board the train from Srinagar and alight at Banihal. In simpler terms it means the volume of connections – economic, social, educational and cultural – would now see a tremendous growth between the two regions. There are also chances of Banihal, just an emergency stopover on the 300 Km track between the two capital cities of J&K, becoming a transit point. Someone boarding the train from Srinagar station can reach within an hour or two to Banihal, take a commercial vehicle upto Udhampur and then board the train again to either reach Jammu or move onwards to Delhi. The road drive from Banihal to Udhampur can take him just three hours. Great ease in travel, indeed. And if the tunnels on the road are ready in next some years, it will change the whole thing. The Srinagar – Jammu travel will no longer be a story we can regale our younger ones with. The anecdotes of the olden days would then be hard for the new generations to even comprehend.
This ease of travel and the saving on time are great things. New road connections – like Mughal Road, Sinthan Road, and now this rail link are all bound to bring speed and volume to our personal and professional transactions. But beyond the apparent, there are more profound questions. Who will get closer to whom and to what end. What will be the real things that will pass through these roads. Earlier we would strongly believe that Kashmir has been deliberately kept divided for certain political reasons. If the various regions of Kashmir are now getting connected, were those reason completely misplaced, or have they lost relevance. If we had understood it right, then what are the new realities that have overtaken the old order of things. Is it the augmented and accumulated confidence of the apparatus of control that they now feel completely secure in the face of increased connectivity, or is it some riding compulsion that makes them compromise on certain older doctrines of security. Or may be, it is the plain pace of development and the changed economic vision of the states that people are allowed to move freely and meet frequently. There are dozens of such anxieties that prop up on an occasion like throwing the tunnel open from Banihal to Qazigund to link the two rail terminals. Skeptics would look at it their own way and make us alarmed about certain things. On the other hand, optimists will celebrate this moment to hammer home the point that the world has really changed for better.
In all this there is one safer and more productive way of looking at it. As an individual one can be happy with the ease of travel it brings. As a businessman there is enough to feel good about as it expands the market and improves the access to market. But beyond this, Kashmir has to take this connectivity very meaningfully. Last year I happened to attend a workshop at Banihal ( not many people think of going to places like Banihal and meet people there), thanks to some of my friends who organised it. Talking to the people there, one could so easily feel that they live in a state of perpetual despair. The reason being that they have been administratively placed in such a way that all the disadvantage redounds upon their compound. They are naturally inclined towards having their official and unofficial connections with the people and the offices on this side of the Banihal pass, but they are compulsively made a part of Ramban District. Not that Ramban is a district in some other state, but we know how things are ordered in J&K. Now that Banihal is connected through train what will that bring to the people there, depends on how we conduct ourselves as a collectivity. Without undermining the importance of plurality and tolerance, there is a need to reach out to the people who are unfortunately seen as sitting on the margins of Kashmir valley. The political parties that are centered in Kashmir can, in a very positive manner, look into the possibility of ending the vulnerability of the people living in those regions. Whatever, connectivity is throwing open a world of opportunities. Without vitiating the atmosphere the cultural connections can be revived. This can bring dividends in terms of economy and politics.