THE annulment of Article 370 opened floodgates of development in the newly carved Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The erstwhile state was marred in corruption and inefficiency which dejected the local populace from imbibing the spirit of democracy. J&K saw a tumultuous history with leaders living with double standards to satisfy their political ambitions.
The past three decades saw some major uprisings which got aggravated due to the inability of local rulers to contain the situation. Militants were portrayed as heroes while as those who laid their lives for the motherland were looked at with enmity.
Sopore, a small but prosperous hamlet, was known as the hub of uprisings till 2016. Sopore, also called Chotta London, is known as the apple town of the Valley due to high-quality apple production. The town nestles the second largest fruit mandi of Asia with a yearly business of more than 2,600 crore as per figures.
With insurgency all around the erstwhile state, Sopore saw some major turbulent phases starting 1993. The people were up against the Indian democratic system. The town never witnessed more than 20% voting in the elections and the call of boycott would prove successful in the town. Stone-pelting and shutdowns were rampant and synonymous with Sopore.
- A paradigm shift
Today, after the union government has struck off Article 370 from the Indian Constitution which carried temporary privileges to the region of J&K, Sopore saw a massive shift from being a town of separatism to being a town of peace and democracy. Normalcy is evident from the business flourishing in and around the town. Peripheral areas with arteries connected with Sopore are also witnessing development.
The previous successive governments in J&K neglected the town and loopholes in development were evident till some years back. During a rally in 2014 in the Maharajpora area of Sopore, the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had categorically told the people to either vote during the elections or live with elusive development. The people did not pay heed to his call or warning; and his party’s candidate was defeated and the voting poll percentage was minimal – around 22%.
With Article 370 out of the system now, the town caught the eye of the present dispensation. Eventually, the step-motherly treatment towards it waned away. The town now enjoys development and peace. The call for shutdown and destruction is a thing of the past. People have realised the benefits of uninterrupted business and work.
Tariq Ahmad, who runs a medical business in the town, shares with KC, that the four years of abrogation have changed the landscape of Sopore. Says he, “My medical clinic is in the heart of the town. Earlier, the interruption was such that we were unable to carry out our business smoothly. There were calls of shutdown and people used to come and forcefully shut our shops to observe strikes. We would have no choice but to follow since the security of our shops and equipment would be at stake. But now, in these four years, those insecurities have vanished. We observe holidays only on Eid, Independence Day and Republic Day. We work even on Sundays with a big rush of patients. Today, we have nine employees working at our clinic and indeed, business is running smooth”.
Indeed, Sopore is on its way to transition and development. Take infrastructure, for instance. The bypass bridge has come up, paving way for a hassle-free traffic movement towards the northern district of Kupwara.
Massive makeover and facelift to the town carried out by the Municipal Council and the District Administration is reflecting on the streets. Importantly, people are jubilant to see the change. Students, businessmen, employees and vendors are doing their business smoothly without any pressure or threat.
The playground at Government Degree College which was under the control of the Army earlier, has been handed over to local people. Then, a stadium – Khushal Stadium – has come up adjacent to the bypass. This lush stadium is equipped with a pavilion, flood lights, huge playing and practice areas. People throng to these stadiums to play sports and enjoy matches.
The municipal council that was elected after the abrogation of Article 370 is working tirelessly on the local infrastructural grievances. The sanitation system has improved in the town; the traffic has found direction and flow; public toilets have come up in the area; a large number of important roads have been macadamized; infrastructure of educational institutions is being revamped; public transport is getting better; new business ventures have come up in the sub-district; hospitals are working round the clock and a concrete clock tower made with designed bricks is welcoming visitors to the town.
Notably, during the 2011 and 2016 agitation, Sopore became a hub to the separatist ideology. Huge rallies were organised against the Indian State. Cinema houses were abandoned and burnt down. Colleges remained shut. Transport withered and democratic spirit remained buried. Contrastingly, the present Municipal Council is fully elected and endorsed by the people. Its work is being appreciated by the local populace.
Tasleema Akhter, social and human rights activist, talking exclusively to KC says that the abrogation of Article 370 happening was a statesman move. Says she: “The last four years have witnessed overall development in Sopore and the adjacent areas. Today, we witness a new dawn of regular working of transport, schools and colleges. The era of stone pelting is over and peace has been established in Sopore”.
On the new political landscape that emerged post the abrogation, she adds, “Earlier there was incomplete penetration of democracy at local levels. Now, we have a three-tier system in place. Women have been given reservations and we have seen women leading from the front at Sopore and its peripheral areas. The make or break situation is over. There was a time the arsonists would bring down the infrastructure built by the government, under the garb of protests and azaadi. That time is over”.
“Yes there are some public grievances that need to be addressed by the administration. Only four years have passed; so we are hopeful that holistic development and changes will take place in Kashmir, and in Sopore in particular,” she adds, smiling with hope.