Describing free and independent media as an essential pillar of a vibrant democracy, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Friday urged the Fourth Estate to play a proactive role in helping the state tide over the challenge posed by negative perception about J&K, which impedes its huge potential in tourism sector. The Chief Minister said this in an informal conversation with country’s top names in media which had converged on the summer capital as part of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), a think-tank of news and entertainment media, for the Board of Directors (BoDs) meeting here. During the interaction, he also spoke at length on several issues including dialogue with Pakistan, cross-LoC trade & travel, intolerance, alliance with BJP, NITI Ayog, tourism and development. President IBF & CEO, Star India, Uday Shankar, Vice President IBF, Puneet Goenka, Vice President IBF & Chairman India TV, Rajat Sharma, Vice President IBF & Director Bangla Entertainment Pvt Limited, N. P. Singh, Treasurer IBF & GM South Asia, Discovery Networks, Rahul Johri, Director Eenadu, I. Venkat, Group CEO, Viacom 18 Media Pvt Ltd, Sudhanshu Vats, MD, South Asia Turner International, Siddharth Jain, Chairman TV Today Group, Arun Purie, MD, UTV Entertainment Television Ltd., Siddharth Roy Kapoor and Member Finance, Doordarshan Rajeev Singh were present on the occasion. During his interaction, the Chief Minister said the foremost challenge on the internal front was to bring the three regions of the state together. “My alliance with the BJP demonstrates my resolve to gel the three regions of the state following the fractured verdict in 2014 elections,” he said, while noting with concern the inability of the successive government in the past to connect the regions. The Chief Minister also had a word of caution over the threat posed by certain fringe groups to the country’s rich diversity and multiculturalism. “The agenda of development cannot take a back seat to the politics of hate propagated by a fringe minority which relishes media attention. We need to shrink their space by simply ignoring them,” he said. Excerpts from his interaction with IBF members: On Indo-Pak relations: “Relationship with Pakistan has a direct bearing on J&K. Political uncertainty hampers state’s development. I strongly believe that all issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved amicably by engaging in a meaningful dialogue. I set the tone during my earlier tenure from 2002 to 2005 when we had a decade-long peace in the region. On internal front, we favour dialogue with all shades of opinion. Sajad Gani Lone is one example. The government’s Agenda of the Alliance also favours dialogue with those who have ideological differences with us. We will continue to explore this option” On forming alliance with BJP: “I had the option to form government with the support of Congress and NC but that would have negated the verdict of one important region. Despite ideological differences, I chose to side with BJP to lend credence to the decision of the people, which had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in Jammu, just as we had emerged as the single largest party in Kashmir. I met the Prime Minister couple of times and saw how focussed he is on development of J&K” Cross-LoC Trade: “It is the biggest confidence building measure between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately this CBM, which has several emotions attached to it, was in a state of limbo for the past several years. I am a firm believer that people-to-people contact and trade across several points will help address the trust deficit across the region. Our development indices are far better in comparison to those across the Line of Control” On intolerance: “The threat posed by certain fringe elements to the country’s diversity is worrisome. Dadri incident in which Akhlaq was lynched by an irate mob is very unfortunate. Back home, Zahid Rasool Bhat became a casualty of hate politics, but I am happy that despite extreme provocation the people demonstrated great maturity and did not fall prey to the evil and nefarious designs of these enemies of the state who want to destroy the centuries-old harmony exhibited by the people. The peaceful conduct of Amarnath Yatra year after year is ample testimony to the secular credentials of the people of my state” I am happy that our Legislative Assembly set a great precedent by unanimously adopting a resolution in both the Houses of the State Legislature that condemned violence in any form and sent out a clear message of peace and tolerance to the rest of the country” On NITI Aayog and Centre’s financial assistance: “The Planning Commission has been replaced by NITI (National Institute of Transforming India) Aayog. Hopefully the new system of financing will ensure us of our share in Central taxes. The Centre has been generous in continuing our status as a special category state which allows us to source funds on 90:10 basis.” Kashmir Accord of 1975: “The Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1975 is an important event. It revived the democratic process in the state and created space for politicians of different shades, including me. It also dealt a blow to those who believed that J&K was remote-controlled by New Delhi. I am thankful to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for exploding the myth by ensuring free and fair elections in 2002 which strengthened the democratic institutions and allowed parties like PDP to emerge on the political canvas of the state” On Tourism: “It is my dream to make J&K world’s no. 1 tourist destination. Perception is far from reality. Can’t reverse the trend without media’s help. We need to work together and change the negative perception so that people travel to J&K without any inhibitions. My government is also working towards removing the travel advisories imposed by certain countries. We are upgrading the infrastructure and targeting high-end travellers and framing packages for family and weekend visitors. Gulmarg is an all-season destination with add-on facilities like heritage golf course, cable car and high-end villas. We will create similar facilities at Pahalgam as well. Kashmir is already a known tourist destination. We are now diversifying and promoting golf tourism and hospitality sector in a big way. We are also focusing to make Jammu an independent leisure destination, which will spur arrivals besides the huge influx of pilgrim tourists, who come to pay obeisance at Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. Ladakh region has its own USP. It attracts a lot of foreigners and I am hopeful that over a period of time we would be able to project it as an ideal adventure tourism destination in the country I have travelled to Mumbai a couple of times and asked filmmakers to rediscover Kashmir. In fact not only the Mumbai Film industry, I urge the top broadcasters of the country to shoot their television serials / soaps in Jammu & Kashmir, which offers an appropriate location for every idea. We promise to revive the tourism sector, which continues to play a critical role in state’s economy”.
2015 Kashmir Despatch