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Posted at: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2019, 7:36 AM (IST)

A leaf out of Chinese book

Saba Naqvi
Saba Naqvi
China claims to have solved its Uygur Muslim problem through tourism. The BJP is apparently trying the same model in Kashmir... the greatest achievement of India was to have been a pluralist, democratic state. We are dismantling it.

Saba Naqvi

During a recent trip to China, I picked up several copies of China Daily at the wonderful Beijing Foreign Language Bookstore on Wangfujing Street, the happening high street of shopping in the Chinese national capital. There was a heatwave on in Beijing with temperatures hitting 38 degrees and so what fascinated me was a story in the July 19th edition of China Daily that I brought back with me to Delhi. The headline was ‘Cooler Xinjiang lures tourists beat by heat’. The context to the story was the domestic Chinese summer holiday season (economic reforms have led to a huge tourism boom inside China from small towns and regions where wages have gone up). I will now quote some lines verbatim from the story. “The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has emerged as a popular destination for travellers looking to beat the heat.”

The figures quoted in the story were as follows: for the first time, Urumqi, the region’s capital, was included among the top-10 domestic destinations for summer holidays. There is something called the China Tourism Academy that stated that a destination suitable for beating the heat should have temperatures between 18 and 28 degrees Celsius and Xinjiang met the requirements. The story quoted various Han Chinese travellers as saying how much they loved it there.

The region’s tourism secretary spoke of the mountains, the monuments, the new tourism infrastructure, the Baiyun international ski resort and the grand canyon in the region. He claimed that the region received 151 million visitors in 2018. The photograph accompanying the story showed happy, smiling, dancing locals at a monument in Kashgar (that falls on the historic Silk Route and does indeed evoke the imagination). The caption went as follows: tourists and staff of the ancient city of Kashgar in Xinjiang Autonomous Region dance together. The scenic area received more than 3,10,000 visitors in the first half of 2019, a year-on-year growth of more than 90 per cent! If we go by this report, China has solved its alleged Uygur Muslim problem with tourism.

That seems to be the fantasy of the BJP regime that revoked Article 370 after locking down the people of Kashmir and taking away their communications link. At some point, the locals could be let out to dance and pose for the cameras. We have already seen some evidence that appears to be scripted. A photograph of NSA Ajit Doval sharing a meal with Kashmiri locals has been distributed  on social media and sent to me several times with remarks such as ‘wonderful moment’, ‘Kashmiris celebrating’, ‘breakthrough by Modi government’. All of this while most Kashmiris remained under curfew, inside homes, cell phones blocked. 

None of us knows the exact details of how China subdued Tibet and more recently Xinjiang. We know it is an authoritarian surveillance state that has, however, achieved giant economic leaps forward and pulled millions out of poverty. A professor in Peking University told me that the Chinese have been “reset” into losing old class distinctions to ensure the development is for everyone and the state is not prejudiced on the basis of the region, but against religion. Those who wanted to assert distinct religiosities, such as the Buddhist Tibetans and the Ugyar Muslims, fell foul of the regime. In the view of the Chinese, though, these problems are mostly settled.

The greatest achievement of India, way behind China in economic growth and global clout, was to have been a pluralist, democratic state that accommodated and celebrated diversity. We are dismantling it, apparent in the manner in which we got rid of Article 370 in the shroud of secrecy after upping the number of military boots on the ground in Kashmir. It all suggests the Chinese model, particularly the declared intention of building highways and tourist destinations. China has done the same in both Tibet and Xinjiang (the Israelis have never tried to present Gaza as a tourism site).

Authoritarian instincts cannot be contained in one region. It’s all interconnected. The day after Kashmir was cut off and 370 scrapped, security was beefed up by the administration in Aligarh Muslim University after they heard that students wanted to have a debate on the implications of the scrapping Article 370. It’s infectious. Does anyone see India being an efficient authoritarian state? We can, however, quite easily be a backsliding democracy and an inefficient wannabe China.

Meanwhile, it’s tragi-comic to see several national dailies carry reports and opinions that suggest both the possibilities every single day since 370 went. Scenario one: terrorism could go up in Kashmir and indeed spread across India because the Valley will be kept under a military boot. Scenario two:  tourism will boom, we will all be skiing in Gulmarg next winter and sailing down the Dal Lake in summer. Never mind that the Indian economy is sinking, jobs are going. Kashmir will boom — with guns or tourists?


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