The attack on a Kashmiri trucker in Udhampur recently brought back memories of 2008 economic blockade and subsequent cry for an alternative route. To ease tension, President Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Rakesh Gupta, flew to Srinagar in the dead of night to normalize the tempers. He tells Riyaz Ul Khaliq that regional divide and religious politics is brainchild of a few politicians
Rakesh Gupta (RG): The reasons are more of political nature rather than related to people. Otherwise both businessmen and ordinary people from Kashmir and Jammu have a good history of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence. But certain politicians are out to create division in the society for sake of votes. These politicians divide people on the basis of religion and region. They make Hindus fight with Muslims and so on. But as JCCI president I condemn all such acts. We must not hurt or provoke each other’s sentiments.
KL: What is the nature of business relation between Kashmir and Jammu? Generally, it is believed that Jammu is manufacturer and Kashmir is a consumer.
RG: Well, it is a fact that manufacturing activity is more in Jammu. But Kashmir has horticulture, floriculture, apple industry, saffron, and handicrafts. So it would be wrong to say that Kashmir is entirely consumer and Jammu manufacturer. In fact both Kashmir and Jammu are dependent on each other. And we are both sellers and buyers at the same time.
KL: So, what could be the quantum of trade between the two regions? Can we ever quantify it?
RG: No, I don’t think so! We can’t. It falls in the department of Industries domain. And they are worst when it comes to getting things done. The business, both in Jammu and Kashmir has suffered a great deal, because of inefficient and non-transparent functioning of this department.
A recent World Bank survey regarding “ease-to-do-business” lists J&K at 29th spot out of 32 states in India. Given the amount of corruption in our system new entrepreneurs are disheartened even before they start their businesses.
KL: What has been the impact on business (trade, manufacturing) after the September 2014 floods?
RG: People are in a miserable condition after the floods. They still wait for the relief package from Government of India (GoI), because the state government has nothing to offer. Being a migrant myself from PAK, I can relate with their suffering and pain. We migrated in 1947 and there is now (in 2015) GoI is talking of rehabilitating us! What good is it going to do now? We had to sleep under the open sky. My parents worked as labourers to sustain their family despite coming from a royal family in PAK.
The same thing is happening with flood victims now. It has been more than a year now but no relief has been given to them. Both state government and GoI are watching mutely.
There should be some subsidies from the government so that the business community can get back on its feet.
KL: What has been the impact on trade because the people are not cash rich right now?
RG: People are entirely dependent on banks or whatever aid GoI or state government will be giving. This cash deficit in the society will have long term effects on the trade. Government must announce income tax holidays or excise holidays for traders.
KL: What are the steps that JCCI is going to take to prevent repetition of 2008?
RG: We must understand that no religion can be wiped out by the other. Thus we must learn to respect each other’s religion and choices. We must find ways to co-exist rather than fight with each other. That is the only way forward.
KL: But commuters feel insecure from Banihal to Madhavpur while going out or coming in to Kashmir.
RG: After the recent attack on a Kashmir bound truck in Udhampur, I made it a point to visit Srinagar to speak on behalf of people of Jammu, and particularly the business community. But before coming here, I was continuously in touch with the DG Police. And I am happy that most of the culprits have been arrested and booked under PSA (Public Safety Act). As the head of Jammu business community (JCCI), I condemn such acts.
Police must get to the bottom of the incident and reveal who are the real faces behind it. Government must make these names public so that people should know who the real perpetrators are. I as JCCI president can only assure that such incidents don’t happen in future. But it is government’s duty to ensure safe passage of goods and people on this route. There should be regular patrolling of highway.
Kashmir is a complex place; you never know who is behind such attacks. There are so many agencies working: political and security agencies. We never know who does what!
KL: The beef issue recently created crisis in J&K and its being emotively used by different sections at different levels from both the communities. Cow slaughter under the law is illegal but not the moment of bovine purchase. The bovines are being sourced from the Punjab, Haryana even from Jammu but the purchase moments are triggering attacks. By an average, every fortnight a Kashmiri truck is being burnt down, what could be done on this?
RG: It is a very delicate issue and needs to be handled very delicately. The controversy which came up in the past days, I condemn that. We need to respect each other’s religions. If somebody is eating beef, that is his/her Imaan (religion). As a Hindu, I have nothing to do with it. But, eating and provoking by way of inviting people to a beef party, no one will either digest or permit. The person (Er. Rasheed), should have been behind the bars ideally. We must not see such person as Hindu or Muslim. They just want to divide the society by their provocative actions.
KL: What should we do to the moment of bovine purchase?
RG: Deputy Commissioners must identify if it is nomads’ movement or the animals are being taken for slaughter. That is their responsibility. Once that is taken care of, nobody on earth will either burn a vehicle or suspect anyone.
KL: Since KCCI and JCCI have met formally after a very long time, there might have been lot of discussion going on behind the curtains. So what is it going to be in coming days?
RG: Well, it was first a daring step. Daring (word), I used because there are not many problems when I take a decision as JCCI president but in Kashmir, one has to explain and justify every act one does. There are many forces acting in the valley who don’t want situation to be normal. Like some (Kashmir based) trading body said that the road to Jammu is not safe. I think we should always come out with positive statements. If you say, road to Jammu is not safe, we can say road to Kashmir is not safe. It is going to damage the entire thing. We need to restore the trust deficit; a lot is to be done and I advise any such organisations that they should desist from issuing such statements and have a positive mind.
KL: You said that you will be part of protection of J&K’s special status. What is the motivation for you to say that?
RG: I am a citizen of Jammu and Kashmir and it is my duty to preserve my identity. If our ancestors like Girdari Lal Dogra, who is equally liked by people in Kashmir, have got special concessions from India at the time of accord to preserve our culture, identity, and tradition, we are duty bound to keep it safe. If these special elements are diluted then our culture, identity, and traditions will die too. So we must protect our special status by any means. Even if we have to sacrifice our lives for it!