Mohammad Ashraf | 20 MAY, 2015
J&K: Making the Willow Trees Produce Pears
There is more to Jammu and Kashmir than tourism
The expression is often used to describe people who discover after sometime that the real goals are still elusive because they have been following a wrong track. People get into jobs, careers, businesses and relationships to achieve some purpose in life by taking a certain course which seemed the right idea at a particular time. However, they suddenly start discovering that the path taken is not the right one. It is said that if one discovers that he is climbing the wrong tree, the best strategy at that point is to get down and find the right tree! That is the most sensible course but people often forget the basics and continue climbing instead of getting down and finding the right tree. The result is a disaster!
The present ruling set up of the state came into existence after lengthy deliberations and the main goals given out were the respecting and implementing the peoples’ mandate and relieving the sufferings of the people caused by the most devastating flood of the century. The most immediate priority was the prevention of future floods, rehabilitation of the displaced persons and the restoration of the damaged infrastructure. It was for the first time that the poshest areas of the capital city of Srinagar were severely hit and damaged by the flood waters. Apart from this many parts of the valley were adversely affected as regards infrastructure like the roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, offices and so on.
The residential accommodations all over suffered either total destruction or very severe damage. The crops were destroyed in many parts of the Valley. It was given out that these goals of restoration and rehabilitation could only be achieved if the State Rulers had the Delhi Rulers on the right side! All these projects would cost money and the key to the treasury of a totally bankrupt state was only with the centre! Well, that may be true as Delhi does not treat Kashmir on the same scale as other states because of their confidence that no one can rule the state without their goodwill.
There seems to be common feeling that priorities of the setup have got seriously misplaced. No doubt Tourism and Bollywood are contributors to the state’s economy but even these cannot flourish without the basic infrastructure. In fact, one of the Bollywood heroes on his visit to the valley remarked that Kashmir has everything except the infrastructure!
Anyone flying into Srinagar, the capital of the “Heaven on Earth” gets the first shock on getting into a traffic jam on dilapidated and dusty roads. A very common custom in Kashmir is to greet the guests with burning of Rue (Peganum Harmala seeds) locally called Isband, in an earthen pot filled with coals known as Kangri. A famous cartoonist depicted the situation of welcoming tourists as guests with a Rue burning Kangri of which the bottom has fallen out! It is a fact that the tourist inflow into the valley has received a severe setback. There have been massive cancellations especially after the panic regarding a second flood highlighted by the electronic media extensively.
A journalist friend recently remarked why government has to proclaim initiation of improvements in everything with the arrival of tourists? It gives an impression as if the local population does not matter and they can live with anything! There is need to cleanse the minds of the ruling elite of the “Tourism Obsession”. Yes, Tourism is an important economic activity generating employment but it is neither the backbone of Kashmir’s economy nor an activity without which Kashmiris cannot survive. For almost 10 years of upheaval during nineties Kashmir had virtually zero Tourism but there were no starvation deaths or suicides.
However, if Kashmir’s crops totally fail we may have a big disaster on our hands. The idea is not to belittle the importance of Tourism but to place the priorities correctly. Without world class infrastructure the really paying upmarket tourists will not come to Kashmir. Even the middle class tourists avoid Kashmir because of the spiralling airfares. They could visit any European destination in the same price! Moreover, there are no two opinions that the fundamental requirement for any leisure destination is peace which plays hide and seek in Kashmir! In view of this it is not advisable for the state rulers to put all their eggs in the Tourism basket.
Before the elections no one believed the slogans concerning the final political settlement of Kashmir. In fact, it is hypocritical to expect mainstream parties to have any role in that as most of these are only protégés of Delhi. People wanted good governance and improvement in day to day living. It was not difficult to achieve this given the political will and sincerity coupled with dedication.
Unfortunately, this too has not happened as the rulers are climbing the wrong trees. It is not important how many dreams you sell to the people. The most important thing is what is happening at the ground level! There is a Kashmiri proverb about a person asking Willow trees to give Pears! That sums up the present situation. There is still time to find the right tree and climb it. Otherwise there would be no Ghar Wapsi for the present rulers from the valley!