The future of Kashmir will be decided by its youth, people who are aged between 16 and 26 years now, says a grim businessman in Srinagar. With New Delhi having marginalised the mainstream leaders, he adds, new leaders will emerge from the young.
“Unfortunately, they are now more radical,” he adds ominously. The large pro-India sections in the population, including businessmen and traders, have all shifted overnight to the anti-India camp, he claims.
The businessman denies his own life has been affected much by the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5. But it is, he says, as if an umbilical cord has been severed. “We did not go with a Muslim Pakistan but now Hindu India has made us think why we should have had remained with it in the first place,” he adds, predictably refusing to share his identity.
Even businessmen who agree to speak on record, are bitter enough. When the group of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) came visiting last month, the Government invited a delegation from Jammu Chamber of Commerce & Industry to visit Srinagar and hold discussions with the MEPs.
“But the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) was not invited. It is difficult to see it as an oversight. Most of our members feel we were snubbed because we are Kashmiris and New Delhi felt we could not be trusted,” exclaims KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq.
Businessmen in the Valley, he admits, are both bitter and feels betrayed. “I had personally taken the initiative to encourage Kashmiri youth to look ahead, to take bank loans and set up businesses. I now feel guilty, having pushed so many of them into this abyss,” adds Sheikh.
The clampdown during the last three months have ruined businesses, leaving businessmen to wonder how loans would be repaid, employees retained and raw materials purchased. “ We are yet to assess the total loss but the figure bandied around is a loss of Rupees 10,000 Crore,” offers a KCCI member.
The fledgeling IT industry has been brought to its knees by restrictions on the use of Internet. And it is not just the IT industry alone. The carpet making industry of Kashmir has also come to a standstill. An estimated 50,000 people engaged in weaving carpets have been rendered jobless.
With only post-paid mobile numbers functional, buyers in the rest of the country and abroad are unable to connect with weavers, share designs or place orders. And with uncertainties related to production, delivery and export, the orders, industry leaders apprehend, could move elsewhere.
A dejected Sheikh Ashiq says all efforts put by him and his team to build Kashmir’s economy had been nullified by one stroke of the Centre.
Separatists in the Valley, businessmen admit, have been given fresh oxygen and their number has swelled. “The Abdullahs, Muftis or Sajjad Lone—how are they different now,” asks a businessman, adding, “In a way it is a blessing in disguise.”
“We have to reinvent ourselves,” he adds philosophically as we take his leave.