It was an announcement that took most people by surprise. Two factions of the separatist party alliance Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which had been spearheading the five-month-long unrest in Kashmir, in a joint statement, invited tourists and pilgrims to visit the Valley. Promising them safety, the separatist groups promised to extend the traditional hospitality Kashmir is known to extend to its guests.
The announcement elicited strikingly contrasting responses from the Centre and the BJP. Tourism minister Mahesh Sharma said New Delhi was prepared to see that the tourism industry flourishes in the Valley. Tourism will change the shape of the Valley and will bring glory back, he said.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, clearly, doesnt share Sharmas enthusiasm. Terming the invitation as hypocrisy, Madhav has likened it to a spelling mistake. They wanted to say terrorists but ended up saying tourists, went Madhavs retort. Although the Hurriyat statement is indeed unexpected, the BJP must not put a spanner in the works. In absence of any industry, tourism is the main source of income for the Valleys citizens. According to the latest data from the states tourism department, 388338 tourists visited Kashmir between July 2015 and November 2015. These included 14111 overseas tourists.
This year, in the first week of July, before unrest gripped the region following the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, between 80,000 and 90,000 tourists had already arrived to see the sights in the Valleys picturesque locales and natural beauty. It has been a downward slide ever since, say travel professionals. Another 3 lakh tourists, who were likely to visit Kashmir between July and November this year, going by last years trend, have given Kashmir a skip this time round. Most properties of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation in traditional tourist magnets such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg are low on occupancy. The drying up of tourist arrivals can have serious implications for the local economy.
It is a given that the tourists will return only when peace in the Valley has been restored. But it is in everybodys interest that tourism is encouraged by each and every stakeholder. Extending warm hospitality to visitors is part of the peoples ethos and an increase in tourist arrivals will help everybody, from the tourist guide, to boatmen, to travel professionals, make a living. It could even be a baby step towards restoration of normalcy and providing a viable economic ecosystem to the disenchanted in troubled terrain. It is time that the BJP?considered the bigger picture and looked beyond petty political interests.
The Article First Appeared In Hindustan Times
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