Fizzling Tourism  

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When Kashmiriyat Won
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CPEC And South Asia

Adnan Sami during his live concert at SKICC in Srinagar/(Image: Zahir Farooq)

The J&K Tourism is also releasing a big budget film to promote tourism of Kashmir with an aim to lure tourists and the contract has been awarded to a person who is known to the officials of J&K Tourism department. “This is all farce. The money, tourism officials are spending on promotion of tourism is going waste. It is a big scandal. This year they have earmarked crores of rupees for promotion. If it has succeeded, then why are people related to tourism industry crying. This is just a money game and tourism officials and bureaucrats are making huge chunk of money on so-called promotion of tourism,’’

Asem Mohiuddin

From the past few weeks, Kashmir’s bureaucracy has gone gaga along with their political mentors to portray Kashmir as one of the best peaceful locations where tourists are welcome and safe. The J&K tourism department after releasing a promotional five minute long video portraying Kashmiri people as gentle, hospitable, generous and welcoming to the tourists conducted a failed music concert of Adnan Sami on the banks of famous Dal lake on Saturday evening.

Hundreds of empty chairs and a poor public response followed by marginal media coverage is what left the poor management of tourism department embarrassed. It evoked more criticism instead brining fame to the ailing tourism industry of Kashmir although singer managed to enthral a selective few hundred audiences with his famous numbers.

The hospitable nature of people of the Valley is inimitable. Even at the peak of militancy, it was not the state government or J&K Tourism department but common Kashmiri’s like shikarawalas, houseboat owners, trade and travel agents and other local people associated with trade and tourism, who, at their personal risk, hosted both domestic as well as foreign tourists in Kashmir. This gave impetus to the State’s tourism till it reached a time when tourists started flocking to Kashmir and the annual arrivals number recorded more than a million tourists.

From the past two years, owing to the disturbance, the tourist arrival has registered a steep decline and those affiliated with the tourism industry are not only worried but have also suffered huge losses, especially after the killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen Commander, Burhan Wani, last year. The incident had prompted mass scale protests, killings and violence across the valley. Markets remained shut for five months at a stretch. It severely affected the summer as well as the winter tourism of the Valley as neither domestic nor foreign tourists showed any inclination towards the Valley or its famous tourist destinations.

In the name of attracting tourists, the officials in J&K government, especially those in the tourism department and well connected with politicians not only in Srinagar but also in New Delhi started drawing old plans to showcase Kashmir Valley as a peaceful destination by organising programs like concerts, junkets for outside traders and making films and videos. The films and advertising of this venture have been awarded to outside companies who are closely affiliated with political parties.

Prior to this concert on the same lawns of Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre – the J&K government hosted young Kashmiri singer, Abha Hanjura and invited large number of people, majority of them VVIPs and their family members to the concert. The aim of this show as per the officials of J&K tourism department was to portray Kashmir as a peaceful destination, where thousands of men, women and youth could participate in shows and concerts without any risk or threat. This is not the first time when such initiative was taken, earlier also, similar shows were managed by J&K government along with some PR companies, one such show was organised by famous Pakistani band –Junoon, though those shows and concerts failed to bring peace in Valley, however, the officials of tourism department and those associated with those shows earned huge amount of money in the name of peace.

Empty chairs at the concert left tourism department embarrassed/(Image: Zahir Farooq)

 

Those affiliated with music industry term the show of Abha Hanjura as ‘’pathetic’ as it portrayed Kashmiri music in a very bad shape. Some people were quite vocal and termed it a compete assault on Sufi numbers originally sung by the local artists. Known for her small Kashmiri video with a pop tinge – Oxus Boux,  Hanjura couldn’t do justice with the Kashmiri numbers which she performed in front of the local audience. It was only after Hanjura sang few of her songs that the audience realised that they had been ditched as it was neither a Kashmiri nor a pop show but wastage of time and money.

“Some excellent traditional artists – Kalash Mehra, Deepali Watal etc. could have made this show remarkable, had they been invited to perform. Sources said that huge amount of money was spent on the show of Abha Hanjura to give benefit to some event management companies and officials. Though the show proved to be a flop, however, J&K government and its Cultural department headed by chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti and Tourism department termed it as a big success. Few weeks after the Hajnura show, the department organised a concert of popular singer Adnan Sami, who is now an Indian citizen. He also performed on the lawns of SKICC before a selected audience of few hundred since majority of the invitees didn’t turn up to the show and left the chairs arranged for them empty.

Majority of the audiences in the show of Adnan were relatives of politicians, army officials, bureaucrats and influential businessmen. Again, this concert was aimed to reflect Kashmir as one of the peaceful locations where tourists can come and enjoy the hospitality and also attend music shows of prominent singers.

After these shows, whether the graph of tourists visiting Kashmir has shown any rise, only officials affiliated with the tourism department will be able to tell, however, on ground, there are no tourists and hotels are still empty. Famous tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgham and Sonamarg continue to crave for tourist arrivals. Ask any person affiliated with tourism industry whether these shows have done some good to industry – the answer will be a big no.

‘Yes these shows have done good to few blue eyed people and businessmen, rest of tourism industry is still waiting for the good days to return,’’ said a hotelier in Srinagar who has been waiting for tourists since the spring season this year. “The officials in J&K tourism department, in the name of promotion of tourism are earning huge amount of money. They are selling Kashmir everywhere for their personnel profit, not for tourism industry,’’ He added.

Aabha Hanjura Kashmiri rap singer was also invited before this concert at the sae venue by department to promote tourism./(Image: Google)

Even Adnan Sami’s concert has drawn sharp criticism from the members of civil society and journalists on the social media just like the concert of Hanjura was criticised. “What’s the purpose of holding this Adnan Sami show at SKICC Srinagar? Only a few hundred select audience, the so-called VIPs, politicians, Bureaucrats, Police, Military, Media, and their friends and family members have enjoyed and clapped on Sami’s ‘’ham ko bhi tu lift kara de,’’ but tens of thousands of ordinary citizens of zabarwan and vast residential areas surrounding were held hostage and denied movement to and fro from their residential places.

Such kind of shows and concerts, which are organised and promoted by the establishment to show case Kashmir’s peace, normality and natural beauty must be held essentially far away from congested residential locations where such kind of government sponsored activities do not put ordinary and uninterested citizens to any kind of trouble and inconvenience. One may ask questions like ‘’who has given them mandate for putting a huge population to trouble for their personnel pleasure? And what’s the hidden agenda behind holding such shows in Srinagar’s security zones? One thing is clear enough, such authoritarian decisions will only widen the gap between common people and the government and proportionately the anger against the politicians and the bureaucrats,” posted noted journalist and blogger Ahmad Ali Fayaz on social networking site Facebook.

The J&K Tourism is also releasing a big budget film to promote tourism of Kashmir with an aim to lure tourists and the contract has been awarded to a person who is known to the officials of J&K Tourism department. “This is all farce. The money, tourism officials are spending on promotion of tourism is going waste. It is a big scandal. This year they have earmarked crores of rupees for promotion. If it has succeeded, then why are people related to tourism industry crying. This is just a money game and tourism officials and bureaucrats are making huge chunk of money on so-called promotion of tourism,’’ said a hotelier from Gulmarg, wishing not to be named.

Locals say that the money spent on the promotion should be properly investigated as it is a big scandal. “For promotion of tourism, blue eyed officials are also travelling to far off places on government expenses. What they do in the name of promotion is to erect a sign board and go for sightseeing. Even they have travelled to countries from where not a single tourist has come to Kashmir. This is how turmoil is sold by bureaucrats with political connections,’’ he said, adding, that if government is sincere in tourism promotion first they should hold these officers accountable as there are many alternate ways through which J&K tourism could be promoted effectively. 

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