A highly disturbing note came to light last week; 84,000 tourists visited Kashmir since August 5, 2019. But more disturbing was the fact that no one seemed to be taking note of this drastic decline in the tourist arrivals. This is bewildering, as this should have been a moment of awakening for all the stake holders. It was a manifestation of leaving the things to the natural course rather than making a sincere attempt to revive the sector that concerns almost all the people, particularly the image of Kashmir. And since there is a clear reference to the August 5, it becomes a responsibility of the Indian nation to correct all the fault lines of this sector at the earliest. In return the whole of the nation will gain and it will also help the nation to neutralise the negative impression on social media to which panic buttons are being pressed to put out the flames of what we call disinformation.
The 84,000 tourists in 18 months is a massive manifestation of the dented image of Kashmir. Indeed, there are certain pre-requisites for improving the image, but, for that some practical steps are needed, far beyond the roadshows. What is more worrisome is that there are not even calls urging tourists to visit the Valley. Kashmir is in need of a concerted national effort to build its image as a tourist destination
A tourist destination is not just all about the beauty of the place to which everyone gets attracted – it is a land of peace where people can enjoy holidaying in tension-free and fearless environment. It also serves as a bridge between the communities and the regions, and some one put it quite succinctly that Kashmir is known the world over, ironically in the current times, this is not for pleasant reasons.
Therefore, it becomes mandatory that a collective national effort is made to attract tourists to the Valley. This alone can offer a solution to so many problems plaguing the Valley and by extension that of the country. Read it this way, Kashmir is part of solution, not problem., and these solutions require something more than the voice-votes or ill-informed debates about Jammu and Kashmir, the state that has its own history and heritage, so diverse and rich that has no parallel.
This understanding of the things, as these stand today, would wake us up to the reality that once Kashmir’s image improves in the world view, many of our national problems would get automatically addressed.
Here I want to recall Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words that he had spoken at Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, Srinagar, on December 8, 2014. He had stated: “I want to make Kashmir the world class tourist destination” and he had made a passionate appeal to the people across the country to visit Kashmir. These words were from his heart, though he had spoken those at an election rally during the course of the Assembly polls – the last J&K saw and experienced as a state. Now the state has been dissolved into two union territories of J&K, and Ladakh.
The August 5, 2019, was a special day in the history of Modi government, for the BJP had fulfilled, what it called its long pending promise of doing away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Now when the arrival of tourists has dwindled to 84,000 since August 5, 2019, tells two stories: the perception of unimaginably high fears of tourists when they were asked to leave the Valley on August 2, 2019. The recovery of a sniper rifle was given out as the D-Day scenario for all the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims, something that had happened never before in the history of Kashmir. The tourists had left the Valley on their own after the turbulent times of street protests and natural calamities in 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2016 but never were they asked by the government to leave the Valley. The threat was imposed on them by the government.
Second reason, of course, was the curse of the Corona virus that affected the Valley like the rest of the world. Tourists dropped their plans to visit the tourist destinations. Kashmir also suffered this fate for almost entire 2020 before the snow brought some cheer and tourists flocked to the Valley to watch the white magic.
What needs to be understood is that this figure of 84,000 tourists since August 5, 2019, conveys an ominous message. This needs to be reversed. The tourist arrival from 700,000 plus in 1988 and 1989 had come down to few hundreds in the beginning of 1990s. Those were dark days of high violence, migration of Kashmiri Hindus and rise of anti-India sentiment. That was an era of anti-India frenzy
This message needs to be corrected. Kashmir alone cannot do it. The rest of the nation has to walk lockstep with it.