The Kashmir Valley is once again dominated by politics of power; however, this time round it is power of a different nature that has gained centre stage. Hydro-power has become the latest buzz word of all political shenanigans, manipulations and maneuvers designed to emotionally exploit the common mans miseries for self interest and petty brownie points. The separatist lobby has realised that lack of electric power is a good subject to instigate the people, especially during the winter season, when they feel maximum discomfort due to power cuts.
The first salvo was fired by sending a crowd to demonstrate outside the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) complex in Boniyar where, quite mysteriously a student named Altaf Ahmad Sood, got killed allegedly due to firing by the CISF. The death of young Altaf is a matter of great sorrow for the entire Nation. One hopes that the inquiry into the incident will be expeditious, transparent and unbiased so that the culprits are identified and punished. However, one also wonders as to how and why only students are killed in such incidents and not the ring leaders of the agitations.
With the pace set by the unfortunate incident, separatists and their likeminded allies got into proactive mode. While sitting in the comfort of his residence, lit up and warmed by electric power provided by the State government, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq was at his political best while eloquently addressing the issue of power cuts in the State. He openly accused the Army, CRPF and other forces of power theft while grandly stating that the region stays bereft of power due to the faulty policies of the government.
On earlier occasions also some Kashmiri leaders have stated that presence of troops is leading to the deprivation of the people of Kashmir. Such statement are quite divorced from the ground reality since, in actuality, the Army is fully involved in a large number of economic, social and infrastructural areas that are assisting the State in its march towards progress and prosperity. The army’s presence generates economic development of the region, its routine maintenance activities require hiring of transport and thousands of porters and ponies. A sizable percentage of milk products, vegetables etc is purchased from local sources generating crores of rupees worth of business. Recruitment in the Army as a lucrative career option for the youth of the State generates overwhelming response. Jammu and Kashmir is the only State which has four infantry regiments (The JAK LI Regiment, the J&K Rifles, The Dogra Regiment and the Ladakh Scouts) apart from Home and Hearth Battalions and Ecology battalions, comprising of personnel hailing from J&K. Of course, recruitment in other branches of the Army is also open to the youth of J&K.
For the cause of social upliftment the Army has launched a massive project called Operation Sadhbhavna that focuses on education, women and youth empowerment, rural health care etc. Under this initiative the Army runs Goodwill Schools which impart education to thousands of boys and girls, mostly in remote areas. It also runs two residential schools with state of the art facilities in Rajouri and Pahalgam. Assistance is provided to State Government schools in the form of renovation of buildings, construction of additional class rooms, toilets and playgrounds, provision of furniture, stationary, books for students and libraries, computers and educational software packages. In addition, the Army runs hostels for orphans and those who have suffered due to terrorist atrocity. Army run Women Empowerment Centre’s impart skills like stitching, embroidery, computer literacy etc; these are bringing about a quiet revolution in the rural areas of the State; Vocational Training Centre’s assist the youth in becoming proficient for self employment ventures. The Army also carries out cross cultural integration by conducting educational tours of children and elders to various regions of the country. For Gujjars and Bakharwals assistance in the form of tented schools, meeting basic needs in Deras, medical and veterinary assistance is provided. In the matter of infrastructure development the Army has been in the forefront by building roads, bridges, community halls etc and providing basic amenities like water storage facility, electricity, roads, sanitation etc
The Army is known for its spontaneous and committed response in providing relief to the people during instances of natural disasters ranging from closure due to heavy snowfall to earthquakes, floods etc. Whether it is stranded passengers, the earthquake in Uri in 2005 or floods in Leh in 2009, Army personnel worked ceaselessly, with no concern for personal safety, to save human lives, provide sustenance and restore infrastructure. People were rescued with herculean effort, casualties were evacuated by helicopters which plied beyond prescribed safety norms, rations were distributed, relief camps established; in fact, anything and everything required to be done was done. The results are all there on ground for the entire world to see.
In view of the Army’s overall contribution to the economy of J&K, talk of non-payment of electricity bills etc sounds rather fatuous. There is no point in dragging the poor security forces into any and every controversy. If the Mirwaiz has a problem with electric power, by all means, he should speak about it; it is his right to question the government; at the same time, it would be better if he leaves the security forces alone to perform their onerous duty during the peak winter season. Unfortunately, security forces do not have the luxury to sit in a warm bunglow and talk, they have to be out in the open, day and night, to ensure that others can sit in a bunglow and talk. Projection of the Army as an anti people is nothing more than propaganda spread by forces that would benefit by creating a divide between the Army and the people of the region.