Kashmir calling… beyond politics

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Kashmir calling… beyond politics

COVER BLURB: While the G-20 event delegates took home memories of a vibrant Kashmir, there are hiccups at home and around that need to be crossed to really discover this heaven

COVER STRAPLINE: The disinformation campaign and adverse travel advisories are a challenge

Headline: Of the G-20 takeaway & a hidden heaven

Blurb: The G-20 Tourism Working Group event concluded successfully at Srinagar. While delegates went home with beautiful memories, Kashmir has challenges to overcome to reach a space where its bounty can really be explored, beyond petty politics and selfish games.

THE third G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting has just concluded in Srinagar. The three-day event began on May 22 (Monday).

On their arrival in Srinagar, the delegates of the G-20 Working Group were welcomed with a rousing reception.

Besides the core meetings of the event, it was hemmed in with side events on film tourism besides, of course, the delegates and the hosts enjoying a shikara ride at the Dal Lake and visiting the Nishat Gardens. In its true essence, the Srinagar Working Group event was all about showcasing the beauty of Kashmir, the mesmerising nature surrounding it and the rich cultural ethos.

  • Accentuating the Valley
    This event was unique in many ways. Though the Srinagar event was the third for the Tourism Working Group, but it seemed that it wasn’t just another event. The efforts to project Kashmir in a big way showed throughout. The main event on May 23 was supposedly to discuss the Goa declaration of the Tourism Working Group but the UT administration was more vocal about bringing Kashmir into accentuated focus. There was apparently an understanding between the UT administration and the Sherpa@g20 Mr. Amitab Kant to have more about Kashmir on the table than discussing the Goa declaration. Amitab Kant and LG Manoj Sinha were on the same page throughout the event.

It was more than evident that New Delhi was very keenly monitoring the developments and one could observe that the central government was fully backing the UT administration and Sherpa @g20 to steal the show. It was Kashmir and Kashmir alone for two obvious reasons: one, to strengthen the narrative of peace; and two, to promote Kashmir as a world-class tourist destination. These two are obviously intertwined. That is the reason why the Tourism Working Group meeting was Kashmir-centric. Even as Pakistan went all out to mobilise support of its friends among G-20 member states, convincing them not to be a part of the Srinagar event, the administration put everything at stake to make the event a grand success. Though China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia chose to stay away from the Srinagar event, the administration from Srinagar to Delhi downplayed their absence and meticulously brought the discourse of peaceful Kashmir on the table. Union Minister Jitendra Singh, while talking to media persons on the sidelines of the Tourism Working Group meeting, went one step ahead on China boycotting the Srinagar event. He said that it was China’s loss, not India’s.

  • Adverse travel advisories, still a challenge

Meanwhile, the delegates of the G-20 member states were engaged in indoor and outdoor activities in a way that they left with loving and fond memories of a hospitable Kashmir. That said, it remains to be seen whether the Jammu and Kashmir administration has achieved something as far as promoting Kashmir as a peaceful tourism destination, or not. Though LG Manoj Sinha, in his inaugural address to the Working Group meeting said, that J&K would soon find a place among the top 50 destinations in the world and on the travel bucket-list of global travellers, it was not immediately known whether or not the G-20 member states agreed to lift the adverse travel advisories and encourage their respective citizens to visit Jammu and Kashmir. It merits a mention here that Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing a swelling record of tourists since last couple of years. However, the number of foreign tourists visiting Kashmir, is dismal, owing to adverse travel advisories of some western countries. Internally, the government has somehow pushed Pakistan’s Kashmir narrative to the margins but it remains to be seen whether the Working Group meeting in Kashmir could help dispel the wrong notions internationally. As of now, it can safely be argued that the Tourism Working Group meeting in Srinagar was historic and the government had at least checkmated Pakistan strategically.  Whatever the final recommendation of the Working Group to the G-20 ministerial group, New Delhi has achieved what it was out to achieve. It however, needs a lot of follow-up efforts to attract foreign tourists.

The new film policy of the UT administration has certainly set the ball rolling. Add to that, the modern infrastructure and ease of doing business, and these would certainly help promoted Kashmir as favourite destination for shooting films and could attract high-end tourists. Tourism, as envisaged by LG Manoj Sinha, is embarking on an exciting journey here and could be an appropriate response to terrorism.

  • Down with the disinformation campaign

The hiccups to Kashmir picking up on the tourism graph as soon as desired, however, are beyond the geographical jurisdiction of the UT administration. There is a concerted consistent disinformation campaign about Kashmir unleashed by Pakistan globally. Manoj Sinha, or for that matter his successor, can only burn midnight oil to promote and project Kashmir as a peaceful tourist destination; but the disinformation campaign about Kashmir has to be countered with the same spirit and intensity on the foreign soil. The problem however, has other dimensions too. There is a section of people within the country who have a different opinion. According to them, China and Turkey boycotting the Srinagar G-20 event is a “diplomatic disaster”. For them G-20 was reduced to “G-18”, thanks to the decision of holding the meeting in Srinagar. Then there are political commentators who describe the Srinagar G-20 meeting as providing a veneer of support to the facade of normalcy. Their narrative is based on the premise of prolonged suspension of electoral democracy particularly. The inherent drawback of a democratic society, to my limited understanding, is the blame game that people indulge in for selfish interests, not realising the consequences. And to be honest, it is not just about one political party. The entire political class – on the right, left or centre -indulges in such games to score proxy points. There are a few sensitive, and more senseless ones across the political divide.

The politics of the political class aside, a seasoned and a mature filmstar, Ram Charan, encapsulated the whole theme beautifully. Ram Charan said, “It took 95 years for the Indian film industry to get recognition internationally and it will take 100 years to explore Kashmir which still remains untapped”.

Let some good sense prevail upon thinkers and politicians and let them help in exploring Kashmir. Politics can wait.

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