Congress general secretary, Rahul Gandhi’s Kashmir visit to revive the moribund economy of the state has upset the two prominent bodies representing business and industry of the valley who termed his visit as an attempt at ‘politicization of business.”
There was much fanfare surrounding Rahul’s two-day visit which began on Wednesday. Over the last two days, national media jubilantly put out stories that Rahul had ‘created a bridge’ with the youth of valley. However, the press statements issued by Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Federation Chambers of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) were clear indications of the apparent failure of Rahul Gandhi and India Inc to boost the confidence of industry bodies and rejuvenate the stagnant economy of Kashmir debilitated by 23 years of violent conflict.
“These delegations have always been used for gaining political mileages. Many prominent industrialists have several times in the past also made huge promises to invest in Kashmir but have never turned back after their picnic trips over here,” FCIK said.
“We regret politicization of the Kashmir business that has been desperately trying to stay apolitical in a state sharply divided on ideological lines. Kashmir Chamber wants to make it clear that it will not be supportive of any initiative that lacks active participation of the local stake holding organizations and groups at the level of decision making. Kashmir has remained open to innovative ideation on new economies, ventures and enterprises. But the business will not accept any arbitrary decision taken without the participation of the local organizations who are the prime movers of the state economy and continue to be so,” KCCI said.
For the officials managing Mr Gandhi and his business delegation, it was unusual that a business leader like Ratan Tata at 74 will skip his breakfast with the CEO of J&K, Omar Abdullah, to ensure he was in time at the University of Kashmir. There were a more than carefully selected 700 boys and girls and a section of the faculty waiting to listen him.
“It is a step forward to be able to have a conversation with a great wealth of human capital that exists in Kashmir,” Ratan Tata told reporters in a tented enclosure outside University’s huge convocation complex after the close door interaction was over. Flanked by Rahul, he said: “What Mr Gandhi has done is not to open a window but to open a door.” The doors, he added, I think have been opened, today only.
In the convocation complex when Rahul began the proceedings saying prosperity leads to stability, it was Tata who made a point: “It is prosperity that leads to stability.” For this Tata is willing to move a few steps. He made it clear that India Inc has to do something “in Kashmir, with Kashmir and for the people of Kashmir” to bring in prosperity.
Tata took almost half a dozen questions. Apparently impressed by the talent, willingness to get engaged and capacity, Tata said he will do his best to create more job opportunities. He hinted at setting up a placement cell within the campus to take care of the human resources that the huge, diversified TATA empire requires. But he skipped responding to a particular question: “We have three inherent strengths – handicrafts, horticulture and water. What can you do to either of the three especially when people believe it will be water that could be the real factor behind the next world war?”
With Rahul emphasizing over “building trust”, bridges on long term basis, the other business leaders were supportive of doing whatever is possible. Deepak Parekh, for instance, said the HDFC network currently on an expansion spree is doing better in the state. “We can create a centre within the university so that the students who graduate are trained in the requirements of the finance market,” he said. Kumaramanglam Birla said the company is doing better in Kashmir and the group will do whatever is required.
Deepak Bajaj was happy to see the company ubiquitous footprints almost everywhere while he was leaving the Srinagar airport. He announced that he will consider setting up an assembly unit in Kashmir to serve the market that is already with the Bajaj group. Azim Premji was stuck up in Germany and could not make it but has promised Rahul and his hosts in Srinagar that he will definitely make it next time.
For some time, Rahul has been working with the new generation Kashmiris, mostly in business. He engaged a section of youth in the University through NSUI amid fierce resistance from the campus. He has been holding meetings with the young businessmen of Srinagar that, today, angered the larger business community including FCIK and KCCI.
Rahul’s delegation had more than 90 minute luncheon meeting at Taj Vivanta with the local young business leaders that Omar also attended. “For us it was something that we might not have been able to manage even if we go to the World Economic Forum,” Sheikh Imran, one of the little business tycoons said. “It was a huge confidence boost, a dream come true and we are sure that whenever the India Inc will look at Kashmir, they will definite take us along in JV and whatever”. Imran was impressed by Tata’s keenness to engage Kashmir. “He had to fly to Tokyo and to US but still he spent one hour and 45 minutes with us.”