Srinagar / Jammu: Businesses on both sides of the communal divide in Jammu and Srinagar (J&K) agree the shutdown resulted in losses of at least Rs15,000 crore. But for one side, it’s been a matter of “self-respect,” while the other says the economic blockade could lead the valley to “starve”.
Eye of the storm: Trucks stranded on a highway at Purani Mandi in Jammu last Tuesday, during a protest sparked by the dispute over a piece of land near the Amarnath shrine. Photo: PTI
The two-month-long crisis in J&K, sparked by a dispute over a piece of land near the Amarnath shrine, was marked by a self-imposed shutdown in Jammu and economic blockade of the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.
Local businesses “have stopped calculating losses” from the self-imposed strike since June, Annil Suri, chairman of the Jammu-based Federation of Industries, told Mint. “We are now in mourning — the industry has been shut for one month, most banks have been closed. We have lost our market and our vendors.”
In the same breath, Suri said he spoke for most local businessmen who felt the economic loss was worth it. “How does it matter if we lose thousands of crores? It is a matter of self-respect of Hindus that is linked to the Amarnath shrine pilgrimage. If we do not resist now, the next generation will curse us. We refuse to be slaves anymore.”
Suri spoke the language of Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, or SASS, that has been at the forefront of the Amarnath pilgrimage dispute and is backed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
As the SASS stoked religious feelings in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, allowing mobs to go on rampage, preventing trucks from entering the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, and burning ATMs, the separatist agitation in Kashmir took a new militant turn.
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told Mint in Srinagar, before he was arrested last week, that “something snapped” when Kashmiris found Jammu was fuelling the economic blockade.
“We felt locked in, suffocated, inside the valley. We felt as if we had nowhere to go. That is why there was such a huge response to the Muzaffarabad chalo call (To Muzaffarabad) and to slogans such as mandi, mandi, Rawalpindi (the market is in Rawalpindi, a major city in Pakistan),” the Mirwaiz said. “If the people of Jammu do not allow trucks into the valley, then we will starve.”
Haseeb Drabu, chairman of the Rs58,000 crore Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd, the only national bank that remained open throughout the crisis (even State Bank of India was shut), admitted that he was taken aback by the strength of the emotion in Kashmir as a result of Jammu’s so-called economic blockade. Drabu estimated a loss of over Rs5,000 crore in the Kashmir Valley alone, including losses totalling Rs400 crore from spoiling of fruits such as pears and plums.
SASS chairman Leela Karan Sharma denied the economic blockade against the Valley, arguing instead that Jammu had suffered losses amounting to Rs10,000 crores.
“For the first time, the people of Jammu have shown to the rest of the country that Kashmir is the gateway to terrorism. We don’t mind the economic loss,” Sharma said.
But Suri, as he shifted between singing paeans to SASS and acknowledging the economic loss, admitted that “Jammu had lost the track, we have moved back 10 years. A lot of businessmen had been looking at investing in Jammu, as a result of the 10-year package of incentives which is valid till 2012, but all those plans have been shelved because of these conditions.”
Drug, copper products and chemical manufacturing, Suri said, were among the worst-hit. Some units, including those making mosquito coils or plugs had already withdrawn. Health care and consumer goods firm Dabur India Ltd had shelved its expansion plans in Jammu, he said.
While SASS denies any hand in preventing truckers from leaving Jammu, the fact is that trucks crossing into J&K from Punjab at the Lakhanpur border post and Lower Munda tax collection post were a fraction of what they used to be until the crisis over Amarnath began in mid-June.
According to Prabodh Jamwal, editor of Jammu-based The Kashmir Times newspaper, after SASS supporters beat up Kashmiri drivers and a couple of them died, most of them still refuse to undertake the road journey. Meanwhile, in Jammu, transporters joined the strike.
“Nobody is looking at Ladakh’s fate,” said Jamwal, pointing out that it is only between April and October that food and essential supplies can be transported to Ladakh, that lies beyond the Kashmir Valley. This year, however, because of the late snow and reconstruction of roads from Sonamarg to Zojila and Wanla to Drass, trucks for Ladakh began moving out of the Jammu plains only in the first week of June.
By the third week of June, said Jamwal, the crisis in the Kashmir Valley over Amarnath had begun and in the first week of July, Jammu had retaliated with its economic blockade. As the city shut down, earnings from the Vaishno Devi shrine and temples at Katra dwindled, from Rs50 crore a day to almost nothing.
To make things worse, the power grid at Glading that supplies Jammu broke down, causing losses of Rs5,000 crore, said Jamwal.
“The state has suffered so much. It will take months and perhaps years for Jammu and Kashmir to return to a semblance of normalcy,” he said.