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Some people wait for a lifetime for a moment like this, and that moment is finally here for Kashmir. In Srinagar, the air smells victorious.
More than the event -- the G20 Tourism Working Group meeting under India's presidency -- the residents know it's a big win for J&K. It's a chance to showcase their best after three decades of terrorism, which was uprooted after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in 2019.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is due to host the Tourism Working Group meeting of G20 members from May 22-24, which is part of a series of meetings ahead of a G20 Summit in New Delhi in September.
Last year, the J&K tourism industry recorded a footfall of 1.88 crore people from across the world. The Gulf countries, the US, and European nations are making a beeline to invest in Kashmir. The builder of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai's Emaar Group, is already building a $60 million shopping and office complex while projects worth $181 million are in the pipeline. Now that's a number to envy!
New Delhi's decision to host the G20 meeting in Srinagar has also greatly encouraged J&K to outperform itself, a chance to redeem the status before militancy from across the border ruined it.
In India's ongoing 75th year of Independence, 75 new tourist destinations were launched in the Union Territory, including some border villages, all pristine and breathtaking. Since then, tourism has been woven into all aspects of life. The concept of agro-eco tourism took shape; nature walks in cities, culture walks, and food walks helped businesses across sectors to take off.
Faced with resistance from Pakistan and China initially in convening the G20 meeting in Srinagar because it is "self-serving", Kashmiris are thrilled to be in the international limelight. Terrorism and conflict sent them to sleep on empty stomachs, but the Centre's promotion and developmental works have brought peace and prosperity.
The G20, an international congress of 20 major economies, builds a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $82.8 trillion, accounting for 74 per cent of the world's total GDP. Such public exposure could be the beginning of a complete 180-degree transition for J&K.
In March 2022, the first-ever consignment of GI-certified Kashmiri silken carpets worth a whopping 40,000 euro was exported to Germany. And now that delegates from Germany, a member country of the G20, will be visiting Kashmir, it is exciting to imagine the magnitude of business they will bring in.
J&K is already leaps ahead of its projected growth rate from the pre-2019 era. All the telltale signs of a potentially robust economy such as new highways and roadways, multispeciality hospitals and research centres, universities and vocational centres, and clean water and gas access to every last village - are all at play in the Union Territory.
The summit will be an excellent occasion to leverage strategic alliances and partnerships, attract foreign investment, and grab global attention. It will also be a curt reply to our immediate neighbour in the West who has always portrayed J&K as a damsel in distress.
Naya Kashmir is rooted in a target-oriented citizen-centric government - a regime of the people, by the people. It will be a self-sustaining economy within a few years. The JK Economic Survey 2022-23 report stated, "J&K is expected to grow at 8 per cent as against 7 per cent at the national level during 2022-23 at constant prices. At current prices, the GSDP of J&K is expected to record a growth of 15 per cent which is at par with the national level."
J&K doesn't need saving, the delirious elements of the society need to come out of the reverie. Their state is akin to how seasoned addicts are denied their favourite choice of addiction. The addiction of victimising J&K globally while being unable to appraise their own condition.
Tourists and foreign delegations such as the ones who attended the International Sufi Conference in January 2023 were pleasantly surprised after having arrived here. In heightened emotion, some guests agreed that Kashmir has joined the ranks of places like Istanbul, Cairo and Rome in their historical richness and in having something for everyone who visits her.
The G20 meet will pave the way for increased regional stability and development and cultivate better understanding among the participant countries. It's a chance for Kashmir to tell its story, its truth. A chance to finally make use of its geostrategic location and multi-talented demography, which had been waiting on an opportunity to showcase its capabilities.
The thrill among the locals is palpable. The Valley of Kashmir is decked up in her bridal attire and the future looks bright.