Modi Govt Launches ‘Outreach Drive’ in J&K After Drawing Criticism

The Centre has launched a drive in J&K and Ladakh to make people aware of ‘real fruits of abrogating Article 370’.

Published18 Jan 2020, 01:34 PM IST
5 min read

Visibly unsettled by the Opposition’s rejuvenated campaign against the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, coupled with Jammu and Kashmir’s disintegration into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, the Narendra Modi-led Government of India has launched a massive public outreach on ground zero, while scheduling a weeklong visit of around 30 Union ministers. It literally ran into rough weather with its commencement on Saturday, 18 January, but the authorities have been on the job to make this drive a success, and make the people of Jammu and Kashmir ‘aware’ of what they call ‘the real fruits of the annulment of Article 370’.

According to knowledgeable sources in the top corridors of the UT government in Jammu, the Centre had initially planned the visit of as many as 38 Union ministers in different groups from 18 January. In the second phase, around 20 Union ministers were scheduled to visit J&K immediately after the interim process of elections on nearly 13,000 vacancies of panchs and sarpanchs in the panchayati raj institutions in February 2020.

However, heavy snowfall in Kashmir and parts of Jammu province early this week played spoilsport, forcing the authorities to reschedule the itineraries of the Union ministers.

Campaign Runs into Rough Weather

“We were expecting over 25 ministers in Kashmir as we had made all the necessary arrangements for the programme that would start from 18 January and conclude on 24 January. Now this outreach will last only for four days from 21 January, when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (Union Minister of Minority Affairs) would be arriving in Srinagar with a Central team,” said a top-ranking official. According to him, now only four or five ministers would be visiting the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Baramulla.

There are 20 districts in the UT—10 each in Kashmir and Jammu provinces.

Even as the Central teams’ visit has been curtailed to only 3 districts in Kashmir, the ministers are expected to hold rallies and interaction with the people in all the 10 districts in Jammu.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and Lok Sabha member from Udhampur-Kathua, Dr Jitendra Singh, is playing a key role in conducting this ‘awareness drive’.

Dr Singh, along with his ministerial colleagues – Arjun Singh Meghwal and Ashwani Choubey – on Saturday, 18 January, left New Delhi for Jammu to kickstart the programme, but due to poor visibility at the Jammu airport their SpiceJet flight was diverted to Srinagar. One of the ministers from Srinagar told The Quint that they would go ahead with the schedules in Jammu with improvement in visibility in the afternoon.

BJP’s ‘Awareness’ Campaign

On Friday, 17 January, Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam held a series of meetings with the Divisional Commissioners of Kashmir and Jammu and different administrative Secretaries and Deputy Commissioners including an exhaustive video conference. He also flew to Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu to ensure a substantial response to the Union ministers’ visit split in several phases. Top bureaucrats revealed that Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, was personally supervising all the arrangements related to the minister’s visit.

Amid sustained criticism of the ‘information blackout’ and virtually dysfunctional broadband and 2G mobile internet connectivity in Jammu’s five districts, Principal Secretary Planning Rohit Kansal, announced operation of pre-paid mobile phones in all districts, broadband access to all software companies, and mobile internet 2G service in all 10 districts of Jammu and the Valley’s Kupwara and Bandipore districts.

The connectivity would be restricted to only the ‘white-listed sites’.

Sources said that the Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Surface Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, Law and Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, and Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, were expected among the ministers who would be visiting in the second phase in February.

Focus on Infrastructure Development, Employment

“The objective of the visit is to disseminate the information about the importance of the government policies with regard to overall development of the J&K and its people along with steps taken in this direction in the last 5 months,” said an official release. “The Union ministers will interact with the people to educate them about the schemes/projects being implemented /to be implemented by their ministries in J&K. The outreach programme will cover five themes, namely, rapid development after President’s Rule from June 2018 and after reorganisation in August 2019, 100 percent coverage of 55 beneficiary-oriented schemes to all residents of J&K, rapid infrastructure development including implementation of PMDP, flagship schemes and iconic projects, good governance and rule of law with equality of opportunity to all and rapid industrial and economic growth in all sectors with focus on incomes and employment”.

A central control room which is functional 24x7, with a dedicated team of officers, has been established to ensure seamless coordination between various ministries of the Government of India, administrative departments, divisional and district administration and to facilitate all arrangements including travel, logistics, security and field visits. A WhatsApp group has been set up to keep all the concerned officers informed about all the required details on real time basis.

Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Gadkari, Irani Among Key Campaigners

The Central teams, according to sources, would integrate the people with programmes and schemes related to PMDP, particularly the projects operated by the ministries and departments under Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, Ramesh Pokhriyal (Human Resources Development Minister) and Smriti Irani. Goyal and Irani have already announced a number of programmes including the fully-funded ‘Lal Ded Chair’ through ministries of HRD and Women and Child Development. Lal Ded, also known as Lalleshwari, was the 14th century iconic poetess and one of the principal founders of Kashmir’s secular ethos and composite culture.

After the criticism over the abrogation of J&K’s special status and subsequent lockdown and communication blackout, the Centre has recently eased certain restrictions and ordered the release of a number of the political detainees.

However, three former chief ministers, namely Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, are still among 20 odd prominent mainstream leaders who continue to be in confinement.

Why BJP Supporters in Jammu Are ‘Sulking’

The Opposition parties, particularly Congress, CPI and CPI (M), have revived their campaign over the abrogation of Article 370 in the wake of a nationwide unrest over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) over the last two months.

Even as the Valley has been considerably calm in the last over five months, the BJP has been perceiving trouble in its principal constituency of Jammu – its own supporters have been sulking over a disconnect between the people and the government.

Many people here have pointed out that Ladakh has got its popular demand of UT fulfilled in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, but Jammu’s demand of separate statehood has been ignored – and it has been simply clubbed with Kashmir in the Constitution of the J&K Union Territory. The Opposition has also raised the demand of domicile of 15 years to protect the local population’s rights over immovable properties and government jobs.

Some Kashmiri Mainstream Leaders Revive Contact With Centre

A group of Kashmiri mainstream politicians led by former Finance Minister Syed Altaf Bukhari has lately revived contact with the Centre and held meetings with LG Murmu, and a delegation of foreign envoys. Separately, the former Deputy Chief Minister and senior PDP leader, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, has also started meeting the central dignitaries and issuing statements.

Significantly, however, there has been no mention of Article 370 in their statements, and their demands have been restricted to only restoration of statehood, which is Home Minister Amit Shah’s promise since Day One, and protection of domicile rights, which has been exclusively the demand of the people of Jammu and Ladakh, and thus, realisable in the foreseeable future.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)

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