Read these two statements and draw your own conclusions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s observation during his “Mann Ki Baat” on Sunday, June 18, 2023, just two days before he embarks on his US visit – June 21-24- “nowadays there is lot of discussion about Jammu and Kashmir in our country. Sometimes due to rising tourism, at times due to the spectacular events of G-20.”
“Don’t underestimate G 20 meet in Srinagar. It was a test case for us. We will continue with our efforts to mainstream Jammu and Kashmir,” so said the India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, while addressing a gathering of college students and sharing with them Modi government’s foreign policy accomplishments.
The G-20 meet in Srinagar from May 22-24, that is about a month ago has become an anthem for the nation’s leadership to underscore that the things have changed in Kashmir. The idea is that changes have been acknowledged by the international community as 57 diplomats from 27 countries had attended the event, and returned with the pictures, selfies amidst the mesmerizing beauty of the place, which they had read as an area of violence, excruciating pain and limitless violence. There were no signs of what they had read, heard and seen on TV channels over the years. There is something fundamental to the TV image. The TV view captures attention and mental space – small things become big and it appears as if an incident of bomb explosion in some corner has swept across Jammu and Kashmir. These are inherent perils of TV images.
And when the G 20 delegates visited the Vale, they found the place was too large, flowing with the people whose hospitality is legendary. Kashmir has centuries-old ethos of welcoming people from outside, making them feel comfortable, and there have been instances when they risked their lives to protect their guests. This is what was on display during the G20 meet, which was preceded and succeeded by footfall of tens of thousands of tourists. The number of tourists is expected to cross 20 million – yes this number includes the religious pilgrims visiting Vaishno Devi shrine in foothills of Himalayas in Jammu region.
There is a special meaning to Prime Minister’s laudatory words about Jammu and Kashmir on the eve of his visit to the United States, where President Joe Biden, is waiting to roll out red carpet for him, host dinner besides discussing measures to stabilize the global order – disturbed by Russian-Ukraine conflict and China’s growing aggressiveness in South China sea, Taiwan Strait, and India is feeling the heat in Ladakh where PLA troops are menacingly close to the Line of Actual Control.
That the whole country is discussing Jammu and Kashmir is a statement that underlines that how the people across the country are looking at Kashmir with a different perspective. The windfall of tourist’ footfall since beginning 2022 in itself is making a grand statement that the country is acknowledging the peace-building capacity of Kashmiris. The word of mouth of the visitors – hailing the beauty and hospitality of Kashmir and fear-free atmosphere – has changed image of Kashmir.
G 20 was more than a meet on tourism and also beyond hope that travel advisories would be taken off by the countries whose economy and the word matters in the world. Their stake was in projecting the love for peace. This set of peace has revisited them, though not as much as it existed in 1980s before the troubles started in 1989, because they wanted it. G 20 was a success because of the people’s cooperation. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha who has been in charge of things since August 7, 2020, has come to know what Kashmir is, and how its aspirations can be met with infrastructural development and improving its image. Tourism is the best way to make over the image. G20 meet acknowledged these sentiments been able to establish the renewed relationship between Delhi and Srinagar.
Prime Minister is aware that there are questions lurking in minds of many skeptics about Kashmir. These questions found some articulation on the eve of G20 meet from China. Beijing had described Kashmir as a “disputed territory,” while explaining why it wasn’t taking part in the meet in Srinagar. It did not make any difference to the success of the meet, but China’s words cannot be dismissed outright. These need to be countered with substance. And the substance was provided by the meet itself, it needed an articulation in diplomatic terms, suiting India’s stature in the world. The US visit is an opportunity wherein all these articulations can be made without uttering the “K” word.
G 20 in Srinagar of May 2023 speaks for India about Kashmir in the international community. That’s what PM was messaging. And, that also substantiates Foreign Minister’s observation that G 20 in Srinagar was extraordinary. This theme will travel to the world. The meet has become a brand for Kashmir, and by extension for the country.
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.