After battling the harsh and cold winter, the valley of Kashmir has stepped into the year’s most glamorous and exciting season—the Spring. This is the time when all the flowers are in full bloom. The blossoming flowers from the perennial wild trees to apple, almonds, and cherry and other fresh fruit trees make the valley look a heaven in real. The biggest attraction currently is the Tulip Garden laid out in the Zabarwan foothills—the bulbs for which have been imported from Holland. The tulips which flower by the end of the March have life of around three weeks. It is currently in full bloom and has become a centre of attraction for a large number of local as well as domestic tourists. With the onset of the spring the voices of promotion of tourism have also begun to echo in the air. Kashmir is nature’s gift with extraordinary beauty and breath taking forested and snow-peaked landscape. It is bound attract the outside visitors. Government, every year, specifies crores of rupees on advertising and propagation to lure outside tourists. Tourist sector has always been termed as the mainstay of the state’s economy. But a keen study of the case makes one to feel that tourism is overemphasized while talking about economic development of Jammu and Kashmir. All the studies and surveys conducted in the state have shown that tourism is no major contributor to our economy. It contributes less than 3 percent to our overall economy. This can well be understood from the fact that tourists have been coming to Kashmir in large numbers ever since its existence. But tourist trade never expanded beyond the Dal Lake and limited places of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.
The state tourism department, after the collapse of so-called tourist industry in the wake of militancy, conducted a survey in early 90s, which showed that hardly around 10,000 people were directly and indirectly associated with tourist trade. If a similar survey is conducted even today, the conclusions would not be too different. People associated with tourist trade could be counted on finger tips. A limited chunk of people in and around Dal Lake in Srinagar, and some hoteliers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and labourers (including poneywallas) in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg are all who are related to tourist industry. They do not form even one percent of our overall population.
There are no two opinions about the fact that Jammu and Kashmir requires development at all levels and in all sectors including tourism but overemphasizing least important sector would serve no purpose. It appears that people at higher levels have got influenced by the false propaganda. It goes without saying that around 80% population of the valley is directly and indirectly involved in horticulture and allied activities. As per estimates over 10 lac families are actively involved in horticulture sector. This sector is one of the most important employment generation sectors in the state. Agriculture and handicrafts are two other major sectors which could be termed as mainstay of our economy: the service sector being the other one. The state government should place its priorities right. Promotion of Horticulture, agriculture and handicraft industries should be the top priority of the government. Tourism is simply a political slogan. Initially it was raised to underline the disadvantages of militancy. One hopes that the Governor Satpal Malik is not unaware of the key economic sectors of the state and he would himself monitor the development of basic economic sectors of the state. The government should place its priorities right and promote and project horticulture and handicraft. Let us make apple and Shawl as the brand ambassadors of the state.
Battle against corruption
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has taken a tough stand against corruption in the state. On Sunday, he said that in the next few months, he was expecting to corner and catch at least “two big fish” who had engaged in high-profile corruption during their time in power. “These big families have built their bungalows in Dubai, Delhi and London. Retired forest officers have their houses in posh locality of Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. Soon, you will see that at least two big fish (high profile corrupt people) will be caught in the coming two months. They have looted the wealth of Kashmir for decades,” Malik said. The Governor was addressing people during the inauguration ceremony of Kargil Ladakh Tourism Festival 2019 at Khree Sultan Choo Sports Stadium in Kargil. He said that if he had the power, he would confiscate the property of such corrupt people who had built several properties at the cost of Kashmiri people. Governor’s anger against corruption in the state can be guessed from his assertion in which he questioned militants about them targeting innocents instead of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who looted Kashmir. It evoked a strong reaction from politicians like Omar Abdullah. As long the move is aimed at cleaning the system from corruption, one should have no objection to it. Corruption is the main bane in Kashmir and it is used rather enjoyed as political concession. Corruption is a way of life in Kashmir. It is a political concession that politicians enjoy with complete approval of the system they operate in. As long as you toe a particular political line, you are accountable to none and for nothing. Your accountability begins once you cross the line you are supposed to hold. Corruption was formally institutionalized in Kashmir during Bakshi regime in 1950s, when government employees, bureaucrats and politicians were given free license to mint money in lieu for their political loyalty. The political uncertainty of mid-50s still continues in Kashmir and so continues the precedence of corruption. It is rampant among all politicians whether in opposition or in power. Over the past 30 years, the ways and means of corruption have gone bigger and wider. It is not restricted to politicians alone. Corruption has radically changed its contours in Kashmir. It runs deep into the day-to-day living and would need much more than a strict stance to be curbed. There has to have an overall understanding among the local populace about how corruption, even at the lowest and smallest level, hurts big time. The Imams of mosques, heads of darul ulooms (religious luminaries), members of civil society, journalists and academicians have to realise their responsibility in apprising people about this menace and how it is fast spreading its tentacles in Kashmir. Cleaning the system from this malaise is the need of the hour. Since Kashmir is a place of conflict, there is need for maintaining extra care while taking administrative decisions. In conflict zones, nothing happens without reasons. Motives, right or wrong, are always attributed with moves howsoever honest or sincere those might be. In case of Kashmir, there is a lot of mistrust between the state and the subjects. This lingering distrust is poisoning the key relationship. Every move at government or administrative level is seen and understood with suspicion. The Governor’s administration needs to keep in view this historical truth while taking decisions on matters of crucial importance. However, the bottom-line remains that any sincere move in getting rid of corruption are always welcome.
Reversing the history
In a rare move, the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has passed a resolution to declare the birth anniversary of Dogra monarch Maharaja Hari Singh on September 23 as State holiday, days after the State paid tributes to people killed during his rule in 1931 in the Valley. Jammu-based BJP corporator Narotam Sharma moved the resolution on Thursday. It was passed without any opposition from the Congress or independent candidates in the general house meeting, where out of 75 corporators BJP has 43 members. The resolution has been sent to Governor Satya Pal Malik for his consent. The development is shocking to vast majority of the people of the state who know Hari Singh historically a villain. The 101 years (1846 to 1947) of Dogra rule is a story of harassment, torture, persecution, neglect and denial of rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was against this backdrop that a political movement was launched against Hari Singh in 1931. Initially, it was the Muslim leadership of the time that set off the fuse against Hari Singh’s autocratic rule. As the movement picked up, prominent Pandit leaders too joined it, making it all-inclusive. It was at the persistence of some Pandit leaders, mainly Prem Nath Bazaz, that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah broke away from Muslim Conference to form National Conference in 1938. Abdullah, as the history says, did it to accommodate non-Muslims in the movement against Hari Singh. Singh’s response was too oppressive. Over 20 persons were shot dead by Singh’s forces on July 13, 1931 outside the Srinagar central jail. Since then, July 13 has become a reference point in the struggle and it has all along been observed by the people of the state as government holiday. Now regarding the same person, who presided over the July 13 massacre and other voluminous atrocities on the people of the state, as the hero of the state is quite reversal of the history. Ironically, the JMC’s move comes days after the State observed a holiday and paid tributes to J&K’s 22 martrys who fell to the bullets in Srinagar on July 13, 1931 to the Maharaja’s forces. Congress leader Vikramaditya Singh was first to stoke a controversy. He tweeted that “plunder, loot and rape by criminals and jail breakers in Srinagar city was put to an end in 1931”. “It is a blot on J&K that this is glorified as State Martyrs Day,” he added.
The discreet silence by NC and PDP leadership, the two dominant political voices in Kashmir, is quite intriguing. They are more concerned about their power than genuine historical issues. They owe an explanation as what could be the status of July 13 martyrs now on. The worst kind of reversal of history surely entails a political cost which the political parties of Kashmir shall have to pay. In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council passed a resolution, almost unanimously, to observe Hari Singh’s birthday. One grandson of Hari Singh (Ajatshatru Singh—who is in BJP) moved the resolution, and other grandson—Vikramaditya (who was in PDP) supported it. In a house of 34 members (then), BJP had just 8 members. But the resolution was passed without any resistance from the PDP (which had 11 members), NC (with eight members) and the Congress (which had seven members). National Conference has more responsibility at this juncture. The NC considers itself as the treasurer of Kashmir’s contemporary history. It claims that the entire era from 1931 till 1947 belonged to it. The NC founder Sheikh Abdullah led a heroic battle against the autocratic rule of Hari Singh which ultimately saw the end in 1947. The Jammu MC’s resolution negates all the history. It also disapproves the role of Abdullah and puts him in a villainous shadow as against Hari Singh. The party needs to take a strong stand against any such move and ensure that this suicidal reversal of history is stopped.
A familiar but unhappy trend is again affecting the relations between India and Pakistan, and the leadership of both the countries appears to be more interested in domestic posturing than genuinely seeking to engage with each other. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Indian prisoner in Pakistan, Kulbhushan Jadhav, is being used as a ruse to show each other down by Islamabad and New Delhi.
The ICJ, on Wednesday, granted some relief to Jadhav by suspending his death sentence and asking Pakistan to review the case and grant government of India consular access to the accused. Jadhav is facing death penalty in Pakistan. A former officer of Indian Navy, he was arrested by Pakistan in troubled Balochistan in 2016 on accusations of “spying and terrorism”. A fake passport under an assumed Muslim name was recovered from him. Jadhav was sentenced to death by Pakistan’s military court in 2017. India rejected Pakistan’s accusations against Jadhav and moved to ICJ for his release. India said that Jadhav’s sentencing followed a “farcical trial”. New Delhi acknowledged that Jadhav was an Indian national, but said he had been kidnapped by Pakistani agents from Iran, where he had gone on a business trip after retiring from the Indian Navy. Pakistan, which has constantly accused India of supporting Baloch separatists, saw Jadhav’s capture as proof of India’s involvement in the unrest. Government of India also took exception to Islamabad’s not informing the Indian High Commission within stipulated time of Jadhav’s arrest.
Pakistan took three weeks to inform India of taking Jadhav into custody. India’s high commission in Islamabad had made requests to meet Jadhav but was eventually denied by Pakistan. In May 2017, India approached the ICJ, which restrained Pakistan from executing Jadhav till the adjudication of the case. While the ICJ put brakes on the death sentence of Jadhav and asked Pakistan to give him consular access, it, however, did not entertain Indian requests as well. India had requested to annul the military court verdict, retrial in a civilian court and release and safe passage of Jadhav.
The verdict has been claimed as victory by both the countries. No less than the Prime Ministers of the two countries gave public statements on the verdict. Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as “huge win” for India and said “truth and justice has prevailed”. Pakistan PM Imran Khan, for his part, tweeted: “Appreciate ICJ’s decision not to acquit, release & return Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav to India. He is guilty of crimes against the people of Pakistan. Pakistan shall proceed further as per law.”
The media and other state officials of both the countries also made much of how the two claimed victory. The United Nations’ principal judicial organ has given a ruling that favours neither side. It is the worst kind of immaturity that is being displayed on both the sides. Wisdom has it that, both, Islamabad and New Delhi should understand the gravity of the situation and instead of indulging in showdown against each other, they must engage diplomatically to resolve the problems affecting the bilateral relations. It is quite a sad commentary on the wisdom of Indian and Pakistani governments that they are following the street sentiment while formulating their relations. They must rise above the street mentality and move forward with maturity. Apart from Jadhav’s, the two neighbours have a host of other issues that have been marring their relations. They cannot live permanently with those problems. Those have to be addressed sooner or later. It would be in the best interests of the two countries to resort to a comprehensive dialogue process to resolve all the issues affecting their relations.