The recent floods in Kashmir have changed a lot of things in the Valley. The floods wreaked much devastation, the effects of which are being seen in the ongoing assembly elections as well. A big change has come in Kashmir, and that change is in thinking. Two important changes were seen in the thinking of local people who had emerged after facing flood related problems. Firstly, there has been a change in the anti-Army view of people and secondly, people have started thinking of giving preference to the BJP as a political party. A belief can be seen amongst the common people that ‘development-talking’ Narendra Modi is capable of changing the picture of the State that has become ugly after the floods. This exclusive, first hand report from Kashmir – often referred to as ‘heaven on earth’ — brings you the latest and real situation in Jammu and Kashmir…
Kashmir these days is echoing with the ‘voices’ of Narendra Modi. The reasons for this are varied and the whole of Kashmir is at this time looking with hopeful eyes towards Narendra Modi. It was believed that Muslims will not want to even hear Narendra Modi’s name, but at this time in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar, Muslims are listening to Narendra Modi’s name. And the reason that is behind all this — that reason is a lesson for the leaders of the country. The floods that came about 2 months ago in Kashmir have opened a channel for Narendra Modi’s entry in the SrinagarValley. We will talk about this unexpected opportunity that Narendra Modi has got later. First lets talk about that flood which had submerged the whole of Srinagar and which can prove to a Victory Horse for Narendra Modi.
Those who have not been to Kashmir have not seen heaven. There is a saying which most people in our country are familiar with, that if there is heaven anywhere on earth, then it is here, that is, in Kashmir and even in Kashmir, it is in Srinagar. The heaven in Kashmir can’t be imagined through just writing or in pictures. The devastation by the floods that came recently cannot be felt without going to Kashmir. Some 2-3 months ago, the country saw the devastation in Kashmir on television. But immediately after that devastation we saw entertainmet programmes, saw politicians quarrelling and that pain which the people of Kashmir underwent, we could feel very little of it. That is why even today when we go to Kashmir, it is only then that we realise how the Kashmiris faced a situation like apocalypse and how, to live their lives again, they forgot all other problems and are trying once again to stand erect.
Floods in the Jhelum river are a known occurence. To release the overflow of water in the Jhelum river, Maharaja Hari Singh had got flood channels constructed and many other channels were there too which used to divert and disperse the flood waters right and left towards farm land. But on these channels, especially on flood channels, in the last 20 years many ‘acquisitions’ commonly called encroachments took place. People made houses, channels were not cleaned and this time, when the water level increased in Jhelum, then the amount of water that was there in Jhelum, the same amount was there in these channels too. The Jhelum itself breached some dams at the sides, some were cut by people. In the whole city the water filled so rapidly that people could just about somehow manage to save their lives.
He who has never been to Kashmir may find it difficult to visualise one or one or one and a half floors of a house completely submerged in water and each and every thing of the house wet with water. Nothing remained in the houses and this was the case for miles. In the heart of Srinagar and the biggest business center, Lal Chowk, too, there were boats moving. In each shop goods worth crores are usually stocked. All the goods got wet, got ruined. In the shops — be they of shoes, be they of clothes, of jewellery, of electronic items — all the goods were ruined. Those people who were even a little late in getting out of their homes, in their houses the water entered so fast that they had to take escape to the upper floor of the house, then after that, as the waters rose, had to go on the roof top. On a broad scale, fatalities are estimated between 200-250. In this number, people who live outside Srinagar in villages is not included,.
Approximately 80 kms away from Srinagar lies Anantnag, where it kept raining for almost for 6 days. Some people called it cloud burst, some people called it continuous rain. That rainfall wreaked havoc in Anantnag and about 6-8 feet of water inundated the whole of the Anantnag area. And the implications of this inundation were that from Anantnag the water, submerging the highway under it, devastating houses, moved towardsSrinagar. The amount of water that could flow into the Jhelum, went into the Jhelum. The Jhelum began to overflow, refused to take more water and that water started spreading all around. Entire villages got wiped out by the water. People couldn’t save their belongings and this water started moving towards Srinagar. In Srinagar the Government kept sleeping – maybe it felt that the additional water would get absorbed or would dry out before reaching Srinagar. A few rumors began spreading, but the Government issued only a normal warning. It didn’t say that people in Srinagarshould remove their belongings and move to higher, safer places. In the absence of such a warning, people remained stationary at their homes and shops. And they felt that like every year the floods will come, the water will rise, but will flow away through the Jhelum and flood channels.
But this time within 2-3 days, the water reached Srinagar and because of the inexperience of the Government, because of its carelessness,Srinagar got sub-merged in this water because the Jhelum had broken the embankment. The velocity of the water was so much that I saw with my own eyes that strong walls of cement came down like a house of cards. Entering inside the houses, the water destroyed everything and from windows one and a half storey’s high water was pouring out like a waterfall. Local residents relate that cars were flowing like paper boats. Crores of cars were destroyed, household things were destroyed, books were destroyed. Meaning whatever was below one and a half storeys, all that was destroyed. You can imagine this : take your house to be one and a half storey from the ground and it gets filled with water. And that water doesn’t go into just one house. The level of the water remains the same till at least 30-40 kilometers and devastating people, remains for at least 7 days. After this the water decreased a little, but some areas still remained submerged at the seame level. Rich people found ways to bring their life on track again, but the lives of poor people became hell.
In Srinagar, the maximum affect of the floods was seen in Shivpura, Sonawar, Cantonment area, Lal Chowk and Rajbagh. Bemina is an area of the poor. Here, the floods ruined the lives of the people. At Sonawar, behind a strong wall there is a whole city of the Army. Here an Army hospital, a mall, everything is there. All this was submerged in the flood waters, but the the Army jawans were trying to save the lives of the people. Boats were moving in all areas including Lal Chowk. It had happened for the first time in history that Srinagar was under water. Boatmen took 20-20, 25-25 thousand rupees from each family to take them out of the houses — at that time the Government was nowhere. Almost 4000 boats are there on theDal Lake.
The Government didn’t try to requisition them and shikara owners or boatmen looted people at will. The Government was just not there. Omar Abudullah himself didn’t have contact with anyone. Everything in Srinagar, which is the center of power, was submerged in water. Radio station, Doordarshan, the High Court, the Secretariat, post offices, banks were all submerged in water.
And I think that all the banks that were there, their strong rooms are generally on the ground floor, lockers are there, so the money of all the people who had kept it in lockers must have been ruined. The bank’s cash which was there in the strong room got ruined. Only jewellery was saved. Medicines were ruined. In Srinagar food grains for 6 months are kept in storage. All that was submerged in water and got ruined. Around 40,000 tons of rice were gulped away by flood water. Stocks of gas, petrol — everything was ruined. Nobody had contact with anyone else.
When I moved around on the streets of Srinagar, then everywhere big-big piles of rubble could be seen. Went I went into colonies, then people were seen burning their belongings, because doctors had said that using anything could create the possibility of an epidemic. That is why clothes, the furniture of the house — in good houses chandeliers were dangling like bark peeling from the trees — all the people were seen burning the things that has been in their house. In car showrooms cars remained submerged for more than 10 days. How much damage happened, there is no estimate of it yet. But the middle class and upper class is following the suggestions given as safeguard against an epidemic. For example, study books are being burnt. That books should not be used in school, this is being kept in mind because doctors have given this suggestion.
It is being advised that items that got wet in the water in shops should not be sold again on the streets, but inspite of this in Srinagar attempts are being made to sell off dried or dry clothes at the cost of pennies. One shopkeeper had displayed very beautiful wall clocks and said that today, in 10 rupees, take whichever clock you like. And all the goods he sold off in 10-10 rupees. Many shopkeepers tried to sell shoes after drying them. But the Government and Health Officers are saying that no item soaked in water should be used. Reading books are being sold and spiritual books are being buried with respect.
I am trying to show you a short glimpse through words. You see that those who are poor, they are washing their belongings covered in sludge and are trying to use them again, because they just don’t have the money to buy anything new and in Kashmir winter has started. Homes have been ruined like straw. People still don’t have place to stay. People are living in tents provided by the Army and the Government. The story of these tents too is amazing. There has been a decrease in the anti Army sentiments in Kashmir, because the Army has done incredible work in saving people caught in the floods. The policemen had fled leaving their weapons behind. Srinagar for 5 days was at the mercy of the floods. The Army saved people. At one place Army jawans had a tiff with separatists, in which firing took place and a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawan was killed. All of Kashmir stood up against these people — that at this time of difficulty you are talking about yourselves, you are creating tension in Kashmir. The result was that all such people went silent, because the full support of the people of Srinagar was with the Army. It was the Army that saved people, transported food-water, especially drinking water, to where people were stranded. And for the first time empathy for the Army was seen amongst people in Srinagar. But here it will also have to be said that in Jammu-Kashmir a similarity is seen. Whenever elections come around, bullets are fired by law enforcement agencies, people get killed and the whole atmosphere is vitiated.
The Government was missing, but the people had spirit. Many people had come from far-off villages and were engaged in saving people caught in the floods. Some saved 10, some saved 20, some saved 25. Young people with bottles of drinking water tied all around their bodies swam in the flood waters, throwing the bottles of drinking water to people trapped by the floods, so that it could prolong the time to remain safe. Couldn’t give food, but could give drinking water at least. The irony was that many of those who saved people themselves fell prey to some or the other accident and were martyred. While saving others some people lost their lives, while ferrying water bottles due to their weight round their bodies they drowned in the water. When the water level receded, then some people died because due to staying in water for so long water borne diseases took their lives. They couldn’t be provided with treatment. The names of such people are not known. The Government should find out the names of such people and help their families, because the spirit of such people who risked their lives saving people should be saluted and should be given respect.
Srinagar is not heaven now. It will take 5-10 years to become heaven. Here people are waiting for Narendra Modi. People feel that previous Prime Ministers used to come to Kashmir to fulfill a ritual but Narendra Modi in the last 6 months has come to Kashmir for one or the other reason. And because Narendra Modi had come to see flood, he would give a good amount of money for relief work, for rehabilitation and development work related to the floods. Narendra Modi announced the first package of 1000 crore rupees. And the people of Kashmir are happy that Narendra Modi didn’t give this money to the Jammu-Kashmir Government, because people felt that the State Government would have wasted all this money in corruption.
The people on whose names the cheques are coming, there are such rumors in Kashmir or such information that all the cheques are coming made from Delhi itself. No responsibility of distributing relief money has been put on Omar Abdullah’s Government. Omar Abdullah’s Government hasn’t yet even been able to figure out how much damage has been done and how much help people should get or not get. Therefore, the floods have done the unique work of instilling anger against the local Government and trust in Narendra Modi. The whole of flood affected Srinagar without any doubt believes that after the elections Narendra Modi will take more interest in relief, rehabilitation and development work here.
On the other side the BJP is fighting these elections seriously. In the last 25-30 years, neither did Congress leaders from the Centre go to Kashmirto develop any contact with the people there and neither did the Socialist and Communist leaders. In the Jammu area the Congress had a stronghold, but the area is now with the BJP. And in the Valley, where the BJP couldn’t get candidates, it has now started getting candidates. The BJP wants to field candidates for every seat with great vigour at any cost. It feels that in Srinagar people are angry with the National Conference and the Congress. On the other side, Mr. Gilani and his Hurriyat Conference, like every time, this time too will give a call for boycotting elections, due to which its vote percentage will reduce and in that situation the votes received by the Muslim candidates of the BJP can contribute in a big way to making it victorious. Here, a call by the Hurriyat to boycott elections can 100 percent go in favor of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Be it Anantnag, be it the Kashmir Valley, for the first time Muslim candidates here are fighting elections on the election symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party. I can tell you one example of of the determination with which the Bharatiya Janata Party is contacting people. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley himself is talking to people every hour, every half an hour and appealing to them to fight the elections. If it comes to know of any person who can contest election, then the question is not of winning-losing, the question is only of fighting the elections. Assurances of help with money, help with resources are being made from Delhi. And if Arun Jaitley himself calls somebody and says that he/she should contest election from his party, then the kind of results the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to get this time in Kashmir with its contacts and resources becomes clear.
A lot of people said to me that the Hurriyat Conference is a thief. When I asked about Gilani, then people said that Mr. Gilani himself eats money ofIndia and says to us don’t cast your vote. When I asked, who can win, then only two answers came. The first that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s party the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will get good support and the second that the Bharatiya Janata Party
can get seats. The biggest reason for the Bharatiya Janata Party getting votes can be the support of Congress supporters for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but in the whole
of Kashmir there is a lot of trust on Mufti
People feel that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is such a person, who has experience, who has vision, who has a map for the whole of Kashmir. And if he wins, if he becomes the Chief Minister, then be it Jammu, be it Leh, or be it the Kashmir Valley, everywhere a new era of development can begin and the people who have fallen victim to the floods, in their lives light can come again. People remember the many ‘works’ done by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s in his Chief Ministerial tenure. That is why there is the possibility that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed either forms the Government alone or if some seats are less, then together with some other party it forms the Government. But perhaps he will form such a Government on the condition that coalition parties don’t interfere in his work.
The tragedy of Srinagar gives politicians of the country a message — that now those days have gone when you could attempt to fool people just like that. It also gives the message, and gives it to all Governments, that now disaster doesn’t come by giving a signal. That is why a disaster system should be kept on constant alert, otherwise nothing is left other than wringing hands and banging heads. In the Srinagar Valley there are no pumps to remove water. The few pumps that were there, they were submerged in water. From somewhere or the other, small-small pumps were sourced, but they didn’t have the capacity to drain out the water. The most dangerous thing was that there was no system of disaster management. And the people who had come from outside, they didn’t know where to go in Srinagar city, what has to be done and what priorities should be decided. Local people were not even
included in this. Everything was hay wire, the estimate of which came forward in damage
of millions-billions of rupees. Perhaps it will never be known completely that Srinagar
i.e. heaven on earth, drowned in water and when it surfaced, what was lost during the surfacing.
But despite this, Kashmiri people should be saluted that they have risen from all this. When I asked why did this flood came, then most people said that maybe it was our bad deeds because of which Allah wanted to teach us a lesson. Many people indulging in crimes, in bad deeds have reformed. They are feeling that Allah has given them one chance to live a good life. But new people have started doing crimes, like giving wrong information to insurance companies and all these things are being done by those who who have big money. Things like making plans to loot insurance companies, establishing fake NGOs in the name of help coming from outside are being done. Voluntary organisations have floodedKashmir. People from outside too, without knowing whether their help is reaching affected people or not, are sending money to these organisations. Inspite of this people of Kashmir are standing up and in this the first lesson that should be learnt from them is that even they who don’t have resources, who are poor, who are at this time facing a danger
of epidemic by using ruined things, they too are trying to live again. Kashmir is a lesson for the country in terms of disaster management, it is also a lesson for political leaders of the country. Now it has to be seen who learns this lesson.