Jaipur/New Delhi: At Jauhari Bazaar, otherwise a busy market in the walled city in central Jaipur, trader Harban Singh is not sure when he will pull up the shutters of his electrical shop. The bazaar, the epicentre of serial bomb blasts that rocked Jaipur, was virtually sealed a day after a series of eight blasts ripped through this desert city.
“If the market stays closed for a week, it will set the trade back by a year,” claims the 53-year-old Singh. Nearby, two ragged men sleep on the roadside pockmarked by blast debris, capturing the mood of a city slowly limping back to normalcy after Tuesday’s suspected terror attacks that killed atleast 60 and injured 150.
It is not just local life in the pink city that has come to a standstill. Jewellery, handicrafts and tourism businesses, catering primarily to foreign tourists, are gearing for a massive slump in the months ahead as jittery travellers and buyers—both from India and abroad—delete Jaipur from their travel itinerary. Summer is vacation time for the Indian middle class while winter brings foreigners visiting the tourist Golden Triangle of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur.
Children look on from behind a locked gate in the curfew-bound old city in Jaipur on Wednesday. Police imposed a day-long curfew to prevent any retaliatory violence (Photo by: Mustafa Quraishi / Mint)
“There is a general sense of hesitation and apprehension. It is a temporary phase, but normalcy (in business) is at least two months away,” suggests Sanjay Khandelwal, a gem exporter and supplier of precious metals. Khandelwal, who also sells to chains such as Tanishq, estimates his revenues will be hit by at least 20% in the coming months, but declined to quantify the losses beyond that.
“We are gearing up for the global gem exhibition in Jaipur around end of August where buyers from the US, Europe and Japan were expected. Now, that could be a dampener,” added Khandelwal, lamenting the timing of Tuesday’s attacks, especially when the industry had just begun to recover from an appreciating rupee.
For others at Jauhri Bazaar, home to more than 300 sellers, each said to average sales of about Rs1 lakh a day, business could be closed for more than a week with losses totalling Rs30 crore. “Kam se kam dus din mandi band rahega (the market will be closed for at least 10 days),” said a small-time grocer.
Tour operators and hotels claim they have already begun feeling the pinch.
“For two months, very few people are going to come over. Cancellations have begun and those (tourists) in the city, are cutting their stay short,” says A.C. Maini, patron of Hotel Association of Jaipur and owner of a three-star hotel. The reservations are already half of what they were three days ago, and they could dip to 25% by Thursday, he said.
Others, however, sought to downplay the impact. “This is a passing phase and this is no longer a Jaipur-centric issue. It (bomb blasts) has become a global phenomenon. Life goes on,” maintains Apurva Kumar, chairman of business lobby Confederation of Indian Industry’s Rajasthan unit.
Blasts in Jauhari Bazaar, Chandpol Bazaar, Sanganeri Gate—old city markets with rows of bangles, jewellery,bulk grocery and cloth shops squeezed next to each other with small homes above— could only be an attempt to paralyze the commercial nerve centre, said several shopkeepers. The city’s administration had clamped curfew in 15 areas of the city from 9am to 6pm, and could extend it further.
In New Delhi, the Congress Party-led ruling coalition said it had alerted the state administration, run by the main opposition political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Union minister of state for home affairs Shriprakash Jaiswal said there were alerts from the central intelligence agencies about a possible terror strike six months ago when terrorists struck at the sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinudding Chisti in Ajmer.
“The agencies had warned the state government that there could be more such attacks within the state. However, there was no specific input to pinpoint that the attack would be on Jaipur,” said the minister stressing the Centre was willing to provide any possible assistance sought by the Rajasthan government. He said on Wednesday that no arrests have been made in connection with the blasts yet.
New Delhi has repeatedly accused Pakistan of fomenting and supporting terrorist activities on Indian soil, a charge Islamabad denies. Jaiswal refused to name any specific country as the possible perpetrator behind the bomb blasts.
Asked about the status of investigations into last year’s terror blasts at Benares, Ajmer and Faizabad, the minister said that there were leads in all these cases. “However, it may be said that we are yet to reach the final stage of investigations in these cases as the thread leads to foreign countries,” he claimed. The minister remained non-committal when asked about whether a terror outfit based in Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad, could have been behind the blasts.
Jaiswal said that there was a need for a federal investigative agency, which could investigate cases that have inter-state ramifications. The Centre has been trying to bring state governments around on this proposal but has faced resistance from many states, he said.