Imagine Muslim traders in Azamgarh district of UP or Aurangabad or Malegaon in Maharashtra deciding to constitute their own chamber of commerce. The outrage it would invoke across Hindutva and secular camps needs little imagination. In the fractured state of Jammu and Kashmir where such institutions are already apart on regional lines, Kashmiri Pandit entrepreneurs recently floated their own chamber, disregarding both Jammu as well as Kashmir Chamber of Commerce.
Even before last year’s Amarnath land row and economic blockade that sowed deep distrust between the plains of Jammu and valley of Kashmir, both regions had separate bar associations, chambers of commerce and traders federations. Even off late, Jammu and Kashmir Bank would come out with two separate calendars for the two regions. But these divisions were mostly regional rather than communal till last year’s land row, when Shiv Sena and RSS backed goons targeted Gujjars and others owing to their religions affiliations forcing Poonch, Rajouri and Doda trade and bar associations to think whether to continue affiliations with the Jammu-based institutions.
Last week Kashmiri Pandit entrepreneurs assembled in Delhi with the active support of Punjab Haryana and Delhi (PHD) Chamber of Commerce to draw another nail into pro-verbal harmony by launching their own chamber of commerce. They even demanded that they be recognised as sole recognised body of business community in the state.
Inaugurating the Kashmir Economic Summit organised by the newly launched Kashyap Progressive Commerce and Commercial (KPCC) Foundation former union minister and state Congress unit chief Prof. Saifuddin Soz, however, shed some tears at the divisions amongst people of Kashmir. He called on organisers to adopt inclusive approach, suggesting that such conference discussing economic reconstruction should have been held in Srinagar with local participation as well.
While describing the KPCC an institution dedicated to serve the interests of displaced Kashmiri fraternity (Pandits) in commerce, industry and professions, the organisers asked the state as well as central government to recognise them as the representative body of the business community of the state. The conference also demanded greater collaboration and support by the government to drive growth in the state.
The summit, however, concluded that “terrorism and unrest” over past two decades was an aberration and Kashmiri Pandit entrepreneurs were yearning to rebuild the state. But the organisers had no answer why they cannot work with Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and other trade bodies to participate in the growth of the state.
At the end of the day-long conclave, which was also attended by Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and National Conference president Dr. Farooq Abdullah, they identified the areas for investment as – natural beauty, weather-environment-climatic conditions, potential of winter sports and tourism, natural flora and fauna, handicrafts & carpets, et all. “Focus on education and IT will drive increased participation of the younger generation in the reconstruction of the state,” said the concluding points.
Abdullah in his own inimitable style asked Pandits to seize opportunity to return to their homeland as even separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani were asking for their return. “Seize this opportunity lest these separatists change their mind,” he said.
Langate MLA Engineer Abdul Rashid who participated in the deliberations reminded that Pandits were never targeted because of their religion. They unfortunately became targets because of their political leanings so did hundreds of Muslims as well owing allegiance to pro-India parties, he said.
Drawing parallels between minority Muslim population living in fear and desperation in the state of Gujarat, Rashid said Kashmiri Pandits were received with enthusiasm back to their homes. He mentioned instances where Muslim neighbours performed last rites of those Pandits who have stayed back. In contrast, he quoted certain reports where in the Mehsana region of Gujarat, village panchayats are allowing Muslim to return to their homes only after securing an affidavit that they will not construct mosques, bury their dead or even don’t call for ‘azan’. Recently a whole Muslim village of 80 families were forced to migrate just because they had demanded a portion of village land be earmarked a burial ground as they had to go 30 miles to perform last rites of their dead.
Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand asked Pandit entrepreneurs, to constitute a cell or a small committee to interact with the government and provide a list of incentives they want for setting up units.
Main highlight of the conclave, however, was a Kashmiri Pandit expatriate offering to invest in thermal and renewable power projects provided the state government also chips in with a minor booty. Owner of Australia based multi-billion dollar Perdaman Industries Vikas Rambal, offered to finance a major part of the upcoming Rs. 4000 crore 1000 MW thermal power plant at Udhampur. Perdaman Industries is currently developing a US $2.5 billion urea manufacturing plant in Western Australia.
Rambal is investing over Rs 500 crore in India in the next three years in areas ranging from solar power to wind mill to food park and plantation of jatropha curcus. “We have already signed an agreement with the Madhya Pradesh government to get 5,000 hectares of land near Gwalior for growing jatropha seeds for bio diesel plants,” he said.
Rambel, a chemical engineer who has earlier worked with Bharat Petroleum called for burying the immediate past, which led acrimonious mass exit of Kashmiri Pandits from their abode in Kashmir Valley. He said his company was ready to invest 75 per cent in any power venture provided the state government chips in with the rest 25 per cent.
“I want government to share some burden to bring security to the project,” he said. He, however, added that for any investment peace was a pre-requisite and called on politicians to work for the return of calm and harmony. Originally from Habakadal in Srinagar, Rambal’s father Perdaman Krishan Rambal (1940-2006) was a geologist. He later moved to wholesale pharmaceutical and export business.