By Arun Joshi
Just a few weeks ago, the Kashmir hoteliers had a standard answer for all those enquiring for room availability, “ sorry we are overbooked,” and would add with unhidden excitement, “ please try for next year.” This was in the beginning of April; the occupancy in hotels, houseboats, and guest houses was 100 per cent. This revived the hope for the good old days of Kashmir tourism when places would be crammed with tourists. The government was more interested in promoting tourism and attracting tourists from all over, and for a good reason; tourism in Kashmir serves several purposes all at once – normalcy for which it had been desperate over the years and post-August 5, 2019, when it lost its statehood and the special status this helps the government in boosting its narrative that everything has fallen in place in Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370.
It means that all impediments that stood between India and Kashmir stand removed, and the people of Kashmir have warmly embraced the changes.
The severity of the second wave of the coronavirus has undone everything , and things are far gloomier than ever before.
The Kashmir tourism industry could not be blamed for it, because they had no hand in the spread of the virus. The over-enthusiasm of the government to fill Kashmir with tourists from all over the country was at the roots of the disaster that struck Rs. 10,000 crore tourism industry. The government had lulled itself into the dangerous complacency that the situation and environment had improved to the level where nothing could go wrong. The government’s move was guided by the two considerations; one Kashmir is safe for visitors, the thesis being that it was free of armed militancy and they had nothing to fear from guns and bombs that once defined Kashmir. This was a valid premise as militancy had been brought under control to the extent that there were less and a smaller number of militants active in the Valley. In the 1990s, when the armed militancy was at its peak, their number was in thousands, now that number is staggering around 200, and most of them are inactive.
The statistics apart , there also is deepening disillusionment with the militancy in Kashmir. The instinct to survive in the corona times has overpowered the rebellious feelings , which existed and flourished in plenty not long ago. This had encouraged the government to re-flag the invite to tourists , through road shows in various cities across the country . The extravagant roadshows , lavish interaction with the tour-operators and other stake holders in tourism sector in the country, had become a standard hallmark to reinforce the point that Kashmir , rich with unbounded natural beauty and blessed with extraordinary hospitality , was much more than a tourist destination. Alongside , newer tourist spots like Doodhpathri, Lolab Valley and Tosha Maidan wee advertised in the same league as the well-known destinations like Pahalgam , Gulmarg and Srinagar’s Mughal Gardens .
In this amplified narrative of more than required normalcy , there was a twin objective behind it ; to give boost to the tourism-related economy on which more than two lakh families survive besides acting as USP of Kashmir . Secondly , it was sending an unequivocal message to the industrialists , especially those associated with hospitality sector that they should invest in Kashmir as there existed no barriers for them to buy the land in Jammu and Kashmir as all the barriers that existed between them and their purchase of the immovable properties and land had been demolished with the removal of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir until August 5, 2019.
It was politically tempting for the Government of India and J&K government to use the high-visible tourist footfalls in Kashmir to draw an extra validation of the revocation of the special status of J&K that paved way for the non-J&K residents to have an easy access to buy the property in Kashmir .
The Corona virus has taken away all the objectives as the tourists have stopped coming; the Valley has been recording high level of positive cases for Covid-19 . Now both the life and livelihood have diminished . And the tourist places are deserted as never before . Even the gardeners have returned home , and there is nothing but a deep pain. Kashmir tourism is without a future at the moment .
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express and The Tribune.
He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with the www.prameyanews.com