How business can transform Kashmir


Rapid economic growth has made full integration of the North-east with the mainstream look possible. The same must happen in Kashmir

Bhupesh Bhandari

Later in the month, I plan to go to Kashmir for a short holiday: Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam. I had booked the tickets in July, and am happy to report that fares since then have more than doubled. The notional savings have lifted my stock at home. The family has had serious misgivings about my financial acumen for a long time. As the fare to Srinagar goes up with each passing day, some of that damage to my reputation gets undone. But the ban on giving financial advice to friends and relatives, imposed by the family many years ago, stays firmly in place. God willing, one day…. 

But what you can definitely conclude is that tourists are back in Kashmir in very large numbers. It’s going to be chaotic out there. A friend who had gone to the valley during the summer complained bitterly that the place was as crowded as Chandni Chowk in old Delhi, all hotels were full, and he got fleeced by the shopkeepers and shikara boatmen. A colleague, who was in Kashmir last week, said the local people were businesslike and unfriendly. They might not have been warm, but they were ready to do business with him. Some people he spoke to complained how for 20 years they were robbed of all income as tourism had dried up. The flood of tourists gives them a chance to recover those losses.

It is still too early to say if the focus of the debate within Kashmir has shifted from self-determination and azadi to business. It might still take some time – it is, after all, not easy to get on with life after a quarter of a century of strife. But if it were to happen, it will prove to the world once again the amazing transformational powers of trade and commerce, growth and consumption. Economic betterment is the most cherished of all goals. A rational person, whose career graph and fortune are on the upswing, is unlikely to give it all up for any other cause. Similarly, a people, if they see the prospects of sustained prosperity, are unlikely to do anything to ruin their future. Indians, given the country’s long tradition of abstinence and obsession with the otherworldly, may have been slow to come round to this view, but the change has been triggered and is taking firm roots across the country.

Just a thought: does the large and growing Indian economy hold the promise of a better future for the average Kashmiri? It would seem so. What’s happened in the North-east states is a good pointer. The fast growth in the services sector has resulted in a large number of young men and women from the North-east coming to cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangalore for jobs. True, their assimilation into the mainstream has not happened and they are still uneasy about their place in these cities, as the Bangalore incident showed, but hopefully this problem will get sorted out in a few years. 

After decades of alienation, full integration of the North-east with the mainstream looks possible. India could count it as one of its biggest recent achievements, and it has resulted from rapid economic growth. The same must happen in Kashmir. The state’s youth must come out and make the most of the situation. What a sight it would be if every day the train from Srinagar (hopefully, it will be a reality soon) takes young men and women to their work places all over the country!  For the moment, the rush of tourists like me is a good beginning. I will be happy to be fleeced at the shops, dhabas and shikaras.

Source Business Standard

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