How to package Kashmir?

Now, where do we go from here?
How to package Kashmir?
GK Photo

How do we package Kashmir as of November 9, 2021? A place where bombs and bullets have become a thing of the past and a bright future is beckoning it?, or is it a place still drowned in the violence that shackled its geography and demography to disturbed area syndrome and has its future overshadowed by all the darkness? Or, the place is in transition fighting its past and reaching out to its stable and peaceful future with a new determination? All the three could be true and untrue at the same time.

The date – November 9, 2021- may have no significance to the Kashmir watchers, but what it denotes cannot be undermined. This is the time when Jammu and Kashmir has seen and experienced its status as Union Territory for a little over two years, after having felt the pangs of losing a substantial area, more than the combined geographical length of Jammu region and Kashmir Valley on this side of the Line of Control, what is now a separate union territory of Ladakh. There is a pain, but there also is an inescapable question, why it happened. Instead of going in for introspection and looking for honest answers we have shrouded ourselves in conspiracy theories in which everyone else is guilty except us.

There was a loss of state and special status, which, it was told, is in the overall interest of the people and the rest of the nation - the integration of J&K was complete with the Indian nation. Now, where do we go from here?

There is an urge in the nation to see Kashmir as more than a tourist destination. Kashmir is beautiful, blessed with unmatched natural beauty, and the tourist footfall is inevitable. That being true, it is also true that there were times when tourists hesitated, a milder term for scared, to visit the Valley. It is now more than a tourist destination in the imagination of the Indian nation, for there is a belief that there exists no barrier between Kashmir and the rest of India in reaching out to each other. Rather, it would be more appropriate, in the lexicon of the investors and the powers that be, that there are no constitutional barriers that could hamper their movement and investment.

Kashmiris are hearing it day in and out that how well placed they are since August 5, 2019, and subsequently the day it became a UT on October 31, 2019, and the world is eyeing it as a potential investment haven. India signed memorandum of understanding with the Dubai government in Srinagar last month. This was described even by an all -time India-basher, former Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, as a “ success story for India.” This description is certainly music to ears of many in this country.

That, however, doesn’t obscure the need to understand, whether the same image exists in the minds and hearts of all the Kashmiris. It is an open-ended question and there are no easy answers available to it. There are certain sections, who live in a state of resistance to anything positive happening in Kashmir via Delhi, with skepticism. They don’t see their own place, the way it is being projected. They have a reason because gaps still exist in seeing Kashmir as Indian success story or the other way round. There is a flaw in this thinking. It is simply because of their prejudices that they spotlight real as also imaginary fault lines with their own place and the people to showcase Kashmir being a disturbed area. The steps toward peace and stability harm their narrative, so they are ready with a counter narrative in which all bad things are highlighted and the good ones ignored.

There is an irony as well. While they are happy that tourists are coming (to the Valley) in big numbers, reactivating the tourism industry. It must be a revelation to some that when in first fortnight of October, 2021, witnessed some of the terrible killings, most of Hindus and the non-local labourers, who ultimately started making way to their homes there were leaders more worried whether the tourists will leave the Valley, too.

There is a strong contradiction – the killings were seen as a side story. They wanted the tourists stay put so that more could come, and there was a restrained narrative on the killings. Their condemnation of the killings were not accompanied by the demand of accountability, as they knew where the source of the killings lay. But they remained silent.

So, the fault lies with the leaders, who want Kashmir to be seen as a place where the guns still roar and kill people as that substantiates their claims that the security situation has not improved.

Kashmir will have to look inward, where it stands, and what image it carries and what should be its image for the world outside. There are pockets of anger, which refuse to subside. There are also points of frustration. These need to be taken care of. Unless that is done, the two contradictory images would blur the real image. It has to be bright and Delhi should move beyond assurances. Kashmir needs better handholding to become partner in the image of better future in making.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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