The Mother Of All Alternatives!

The NC led coalition government as well as the departments under its control have always been known for spawning ill-conceived and weird ideas. However, the recent statement of Director Tourism Kashmir, Talat Parvez regarding the J&K Government’s proposed strategy of tourism promotion through a sectarian approach, undoubtedly takes the cake for probably being the most absurd scheme ever conceived! 

In an interview given to Srinagar based daily, Parvez has been quoted as saying “It is time to substitute for tourists of Europe, North America and other potential big markets who are barred from visiting Kashmir owing to the negative travel warnings imposed by their countries.” The concern of the Tourism Director regarding the perceptible decline in the number of foreign tourists from cash-rich nations visiting Kashmir is well placed and thus deserves appreciation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the proposed solution that he has in his mind to overcome this problem as it discards modern promotional techniques and instead relies upon “cultural relations,” which is nothing more than a euphemism for the primitive method of exploiting clannish loyalties to attract tourists by promoting sectarian affinity !

As per Parvez, “Kashmir’s Muslims of Wahabi leanings have great access to authorities in Saudi Arabia; so do have our Shias in Iran. The cultural relations of both these sects would be cashed- in on to boost arrivals from Gulf and Middle East.” So, in the essence, the J&K Tourism Department’s new proposal seems to be nothing more than promoting tourism by encouraging the locals to first identify with tourists from the Gulf countries and the Middle East who belong to the same sect as theirs, then host them and show them around. Though this may indeed be a good and practical approach, but will the respected Director Tourism please care to tell us, what about those in the tourism business who are neither Wahabis, nor Shias? 

Instead of addressing the issue of security due to which Western nations have issued negative travel advisories to their citizens on visiting Kashmir, the Government has probably found it more convenient to try and circumvent this issue. And this it has done through its Tourism Department in the form of a promotional campaign, which has all the trappings of a medieval mindset as it uses religious and ethnic considerations to attract tourists. As far as tourism is concerned, every country tries to project its people as the perfect hosts and take pains to assure potential tourists that despite religious, ethnic and cultural differences, they would not face any discrimination and be most welcome. So, while the whole world   is promoting the ‘global village’ and ‘international brotherhood’ concepts to boost tourism, Kashmir is seeking to attract tourists by doing just the opposite- introducing a culture of ‘only birds of a feather should flock together’.

Claiming that visitors from the Arab world have developed a “great taste for Kashmir”, Parvez sees them as an appropriate alternative to tourists from Western nations. So far, so good- but instead of further popularising Kashmir through traditional tourism promotional programmes amongst this newly found tourist group, why is he hell-bent on taking the sectarian route? Does Kashmir, which has been honoured with the famous sobriquet of ‘Paradise on Earth,’ really require to be marketed as a tourist destination? And in an era of dramatic advancements in the field of multimedia, isn’t there a more scientific way of promotion than using the antiquated ‘positive word- of- mouth’ method of tourists communicating Kashmir’s beauty to the people in their respective countries?

The potentially negative fallouts of such a parochial proposal need no elaboration but one thing is certain- under the present situation prevailing in Kashmir, implementing this proposal is fraught with danger. For even if the ‘Wahabi’ and ‘Shia’ visitors restrict themselves solely to sightseeing, adventure sports and leisure activities, the forces inimical to peace in Kashmir are bound to exploit this to incite sectarian disharmony and create fissures within the society. And we should also realise that by officially giving tourism in Kashmir a sectarian character, not only would visitors from Western countries become wary of coming here, but it would also erode Kashmir’s multi- ethnic, diverse cultural and tolerant image.

There is no doubt that tourism provides a major source of employment for Kashmiris and so, any proposals to attract additional tourists are most welcome as they help our people. However, while money may mean a lot, it in itself cannot be allowed to become the sole objective of all human endeavours and when earning money is at the cost of vitiating the societal environment, it makes no sense. Therefore, any scheme that has even the slightest scope of being exploited by unscrupulous elements to create fissures within the society or tarnishes the fair image of Kashmir needs to be outrightly rejected.

From his statements, it is also evident that Parvez is well aware of the apprehensions, which the people may harbour as regards his bizarre proposal. Probably that is why he has attempted to throw bait by saying, “When a Saudi prince could spend $15 million dollars on his graduation ceremony in Disneyland, Paris, one can imagine the contribution they can make to Kashmir tourism.” However, I am very sure that even by giving them dreams of hefty windfalls, evincing public support for this insular proposal seems very unlikely. Afterall, wasn’t the proposal to re-open liquor shops in Kashmir outrightly rejected by the people even though it held promise of immense pecuniary gains?

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