PM Narendra Modi's call to swap terrorism for tourism in Kashmir is necessary, but not enough

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion to the Kashmiri youth on Sunday to swap terrorism for tourism is a continuation of his Kashmir policy. Inaugurating the country’s longest road tunnel of 9.28 km in Jammu, Modi said, “Kashmiri youths have two options: Tourism and terrorism. For 40 years, terrorism gave you nothing but bloodshed, deaths and destruction. Had you chosen tourism, the world would have been at Kashmir’s feet.”

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

In fact, this policy of “tourism to fight terrorism” was enunciated by the Modi government two years ago.

Speaking at a tourism conclave at the famous ski-resort in north Kashmir's Baramulla district on 5 April, 2015 the union tourism minister Mahesh Sharma said, “We will combat terrorism by means of tourism... Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed have the dream of taking this paradise on earth to newer heights of peace and development and we will work towards that.”

The Prime Minister has now provided renewed emphasis to this policy.

However, it seems that the Modi government has not been able to impress this change of option upon Kashmiri youth inclined towards terrorism.  The official figures of tourist-inflow to Kashmir speaks to this rather unfortunate reality.

In 2014, there were 94,38,544 domestic tourists and 86,477 foreign tourists visiting Jammu and Kashmir. However, in 2015, the corresponding figures fell down to 91,45,016 and 58,568 respectively.

In fact, if we take into account the fact that the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has three distinct tourist regions – Jammu (mainly religious tourism centered on the famous Vaishnodevi temple), Kashmir and Ladakh – in all probability, the Valley, which under normal circumstances, should attract maximum tourists, has drawn the least.

According to a report in the Economic Times, the violence in the valley last year, brought down the number of tourist arrivals in the valley down to around 200 to 250 per day from around 12,000 to 15,000 per day earlier. Hotel occupancy was at all-time low in the peak summer days last year (this figure should have been normally the highest during the year).

According to the Economic Survey 2016 report tabled by Minister for Finance Haseeb Drabu in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in January, the number of tourist visiting the Valley in 2015 and 2016 was on the rise until July 2016, when the unrest started following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

“In 2016, the tourist season began in April and was in full swing up to 7 July. For the four remaining months, the situation was tense and resulted in almost zero tourists arriving in the Valley,” the survey said. This resulted in loss of business to hoteliers, restaurants, houseboats, handicrafts, ponywallas, transporters, shikar wallahs, amounting to a revenue loss in the second quarter of 2016-17 to the tune of Rs 751.97 lakh, compared to revenue realisation of Rs 936.89 lakh in the second quarter of 2015-16.

It is obvious that that there is a co-relation between terrorism and tourist inflow.

Terrorism implies increased psychological fear, dislocation of routine, bottlenecks in transportation systems, erratic power & water supplies – all the factors that restrict tourist inflow.

If the number of terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir increases, tourist arrivals will decrease. Studies show how during years terror incidents increased (1989 - 93) by 42.47 percent, tourist inflow in the Valley decreased by 76.81 percent; during transition phase(1994 - 98) when terrorism reduced by 17.52 percent, tourist inflow increased by 532 percent; during regeneration phase (1999 - 2003) when terrorism increased by 4.88 percent, tourist inflow reduced by 36.15 percent; during the descending phase (2004 - 08) when terror reduced by 27.2 percent, tourist inflow towards Valley increased by 5.34 percent.

There is a highly readable PhD thesis, entitled Impact of terrorism on Kashmir Valley Tourism by S Sundararaman (Pondicherry University), that argues that argues that tourism could be one of the “non-military tools” to eradicate terror from Jammu and Kashmir. This is the theory that the Modi government seems to believe in.

After all, tourism cannot be seen alone; it needs to be seen along with three related headings: Direct employment that sell goods and services directly, for example, hotels, restaurants, shops; indirect employment, which generally supplies goods and services to the tourism business; and investment-related employment in construction and other capital goods industries.

It is estimated that almost 50-60% of total population of J&K is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism-related activities. For instance, Kashmir’s small and medium industries are sustained by tourists to a considerable extent: Kashmir carpets, Kashmir shawls, Kashmir embroidery(Kasida), Wood carving(jewellery and cigar boxes), to name a few.

Interestingly, Sundararaman’s thesis also reveals another aspect that is equally vital to the promotion of tourism in Kashmir. And that happens to the increased presence of the security forces in the state. Contrary to what our liberal politicians and analysts will say, public opinion surveys conducted by Sundararaman reveal that the presence of security forces has a positive effect on tourist inflow into Kashmir.

An overwhelming majority of the respondents disagreed with the views that security checks adversely affect free movement of tourists within and towards the Valley, that too many security posts create a feeling of insecurity, and that infrastructure constructed for security reasons creates visual pollution.

On the other hand, a majority respondents strongly agreed with the opinion that in the present scenario, presence of security forces in the Valley is a healthy measure and is essential to encourage tourist inflow, as it generates the necessary confidence to the tourists that they will remain safe when touring Kashmir.

As the author says, “Analysis of both primary and secondary data with appropriate tools clearly exhibits the null hypothesis getting rejected. On understanding the opinion of the tourists and host community about tourism, terrorism, and presence of security forces and their effect on tourist’s inflow it becomes essential to rejuvenate tourism especially in Valley. Though both host community and tourists accept that presence of security forces is essential for more tourists’ arrival to Kashmir Valley, it is essential to give an in-depth look at options in designing tourism as Non-military tool in eradicating terrorism from Jammu and Kashmir.”

Be that as it may, any discussion on tourism in Kashmir needs to be accompanied by a not-so-pleasing fact-check.

Although almost 50-60% of total population of J&K is estimated to be directly or indirectly engaged in tourism-related activities, the fact remains that tourism accounts for only 6.98 percent of the state's GDP. In other words, despite being a leading “industry” of J&K, concrete steps of tourism’s economic impact on the state are still lacking.

Along with the factors of terrorism and relatively poor infrastructure, the reasons for this poor state of affairs should include, in my considered view, the lack of political will in the state. One often neglects the ever increasing phenomenon of Kashmir’s inefficient and corrupt ruling elites (politicians and bureaucrats included) depending on and enjoying the easy money that the state gets from the Centre year after year.

Take, for instance, the latest budget proposals of the J&K government: The total revenue receipts for 2016-17 are estimated to be Rs 51,460 crore, an increase of 25.8% over the revised estimates of 2015-16. Of this, the Centre's contribution — grants from the Centre are set to increase by 29.7%, from Rs 21,373 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 27,721 crore in 2016-17. The other component of transfers from the Centre is the state’s share in central taxes which is estimated to increase by 17.5%, to Rs 9,500 crore in 2016-17.

In other words, as much as Rs 37, 221 crore will be the contribution of Delhi towards the total revenue receipt of Rs 51,460 crore.

When as much as 70 percent of the money comes so easily, why will the people, least of all the derailed youth of the Valley, care about tourism? In fact, the answer to this will explain like nothing else the rags-to-riches stories of the separatists in the Valley in the last decade.


Published Date: Apr 03, 2017 04:58 pm | Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 04:58 pm

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