Government sponsored adverts are trying to convince Kashmiris of the benefits of scrapping Article 370 by promising an influx of investment.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - The Indian government has launched an advertising campaign in the disputed Kashmir region aimed at convincing residents of the supposed merits of its decision to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
Over the past few weeks, adverts have occupied full pages in leading local newspapers, telling Kashmiris that they have nothing to fear from the changes.
In early August, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government scrapped a decades-old clause that provided Kashmiris with a level of ostensible autonomy, and protected the demographic make-up of the majority-Muslim Himalayan state.
One advert plastered across the front pages of newspapers reads: “How will Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh benefit?”
“In recent weeks...important decisions have been taken regarding Jammu and Kashmir,” the advert says, adding: “Article 370 and 35 A have been abrogated or substantially modified and other important changes have been made. How will these changes benefit the common man? What advantages will accrue to the region?”
The campaign comes as India has implemented a severe crackdown on Kashmir by cutting off communications networks, such as phone lines and the internet, and restricting travel.
Political leaders, including pro-Indian Kashmiris such as former chief minister and MP Farook Abdullah, have been put under house arrest or otherwise detained.
Despite its repression of ordinary life in Kashmir, the Indian government insists its actions will bring “prosperity to the region”.
‘Increased land prices’
The purported benefits, according to the Indian government, include an increase in land prices for “those who wish to sell their land”.
“Land rates all over the country have increased manifold while rate in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) have not increased much. This will change in the days to come,” one advertisement said.
Prior to the Indian government’s decision to revoke constitutional protections for Kashmiris, mainland Indians were not allowed to purchase land in the disputed territory.
August’s decision paves the way for both private and commercial entities to buy up land. Officials claim this would help develop the region.
The adverts say the previous constitutional clauses, meant development was “severely constrained” and as a result “no large industries developed in the state”.
“Removal of restrictions will encourage industry and private investment,” an advert says, adding: “This will spur growth and employment leading to prosperity for all. Industrialization (sic) of the state will multiply job opportunities for local youth.”
The purported benefits also extend to the tourism and education sectors, with the adverts declaring that the “tourism potential of the entire region is immense” and insisting that “film shootings, adventure-tourism [and] religious tourism” will grow.
Among other benefits listed is the potential for Indian-administered Kashmir to become a medical tourism hub for patients from the Middle East and East Asia,
“Large private investment in health and education is expected, world class health care providers to open their franchises and health centers. J&K can become medical tourism for Middle East and East Asia,” an advert reads.
Other predictions in the adverts include improvements to the quality of education, especially for girls and provisions for the protection of the Kashmiri language.
Little substantive research is presented to back up the promises of benefits made in the adverts.
Residents of Kashmir have reported that they have seen Indian troops put up posters lauding the Indian government’s decision and explaining its benefits in villages in Pulwama and Shopian districts. Both areas have a strong history of anti-Indian sentiment.
When asked at a press briefing whether the army was behind the campaign, army official, K J S Dhillon, did not deny involvement but said that there was “no organised campaign”.
“[For the] last 30 years, the army has been involved in Sadbhavana (goodwill) activities, a lot of interaction with opinion-makers, the moulvis, teachers, students and sarpanches, for the benefit of the area. [In order] to get from them what is to be done for the benefit of the area’s development,” he said.
Residents of Kashmir, however, have a hard time buying the PR push and have labelled the campaign “mere propaganda”.
“For us, it is not just fear...the occupation of India has been strengthened,” said Rafiq Ahmad, 35, a shopkeeper in the region’s main city of Srinagar: “It is now an occupation of our land, our homes and even a threat on our religious identity and insecurity for our women.
“We might lose everything in this, but we must resist. Whatever the government is doing in its campaign, it will not fool people anymore.
“[We have] have protected our homes in the decades of bloodshed. More than ever, even our children understand what has been done to us.”
Another resident said: “Dark times have started for Kashmiris.”
“It might be prosperity for those who come to settle here from other states, but for us, it has marked that destructive days are ahead.”