In a heart-warming development, the business chambers of Kashmir and Jammu held a joint press conference in Srinagar to condemn the murderous attack on a Kashmiri truck in Udhampur. The chambers took an identical view about the economic challenges facing the state. Jammu chamber president Rakesh Gupta called for turning J&K into a free economic zone for enabling trade with Pakistan, China and Central Asia. Gupta, also termed the NHPCs control of J&Ks power projects as illegal and unconstitutional and a forcible occupation of the states resources.
But beyond Guptas observations, it was the show of solidarity of the two chambers following the Udhampur truck attack that is important. Gupta sitting alongside the president of Kashmir Chamber Mushtaq Ahmad Wani made for a powerful image in the backdrop of the recent political turmoil over the beef ban ordered by J&K High Court. Portents did not look good after the ban charged up the political atmosphere and looked set to pit Jammu against Kashmir in a repeat of 2008 protests over land transfer to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. Then the unrest had lasted for three months leading to loss of scores of lives in Valley and culminating in an economic blockade of Valley by the rightwing elements in Jammu. Like everything else, the relations between the business chambers of the two regions had too ruptured. In retaliation to the blockade, Kashmir businessmen had refused to lift merchandise from Jammu. But mercifully this time the two chambers have chosen to act in advance and closed ranks. This should act as a dampener to the elements out to communalize the situation and disturb the peace. Business chambers have an apolitical role and they can play it to drill some sense into the fanatic groups currently on the loose in parts of the state.
At the same time, the identity of opinion over the demand for the return of power projects is significant. Politically, Jammu hasnt been keen enough for such return. Nor has the demand resonated with the majority of the people in the region. Jammu chambers support will, therefore, add more popular force to the states longstanding claim over the power projects under NHPC.
Jammu chamber has also reiterated its demand for turning J&K into a free economic zone. This, in Chambers view, could enable the state trade with Pakistan, China and Central Asia. This is a radical idea but the one mired in the reigning political conflict over the state. After 1947, all the natural routes that connected J&K to the world are closed. Opening these and letting the state trade along its historic trading routes would transform the economy of the state. But this seems an unlikely prospect before the conflict over J&K is resolved.
For now we need greater connectivity and the peace among the three regions of the state to ensure that the businesses grow. This is here that the solidarity between Kashmir and Jammu chambers becomes important. It has sent a strong message to the lumpen elements who are not driven by any genuine political or social cause but by a petty objective of their own survival and relevance.
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