Celebrating grassroots level democracy . . .
On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), his first visit since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August 2019, when the former state was stripped of its autonomous status and split into two union territories: J&K and Ladakh. In J&K, Modi addressed the country's Gram Sabhas (village level assembly) to mark National Panchayati Raj Day commemorating the decentralization of certain powers to villages to allow them to implement self-governance and plan for social and economic development at the local level. Despite tight security, in the 48 hours preceding Modi's visit, the region saw multiple terror attacks highlighting the ongoing strife and violence in the north.
Pakistan unhappy, while UAE does business . . .
During his visit, Modi announced that J&K would see infrastructure developments worth C$3.3 billion and can expect investments worth an additional C$6.3 billion. Modi also laid the foundation for two hydroelectric projects and inaugurated the Banihal-Qazigund tunnel that provides an all-weather connection between J&K and the rest of India. Meanwhile, Pakistan voiced its dissatisfaction with Modi's visit, pointing out that the hydroelectric projects on the Chenab river were in "direct contravention" of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960 that requires India to inform Pakistan of such projects. One of the most prominent investors in J&K are United Arab Emirates (UAE) based companies, some of which accompanied Modi on his visit to the region. In recent years the UAE has played the role of mediator between India and Pakistan. Despite Pakistan's efforts to involve Islamic countries in resolving the Kashmir issue, the UAE has remained neutral and has been growing its relations with India.
Kashmir today . . .
While Modi promised Kashmiri youth a better future than their parents and lauded J&K's path to integration with the rest of India, his visit to the region was not without criticism. Opposition leaders questioned the irony of celebrating decentralization in a region where members of the local level administrative bodies lack the power to legislate safely and without bias. The imprisonment of critics, journalists, and human rights activists has further raised questions about the government's intentions and its rhetoric of normalcy. Deadly violence also continues with many civilians caught in the crossfire between rebels and armed forces.