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Violent Valley now turns a haven for MPs

New Delhi, June 10: For once, the leaders have shown the way.

The recent conclave of Congress chief ministers in Srinagar seems to have dispelled fears about visiting the militancy-riven Kashmir Valley.

At last count, as many as five parliamentary standing committees have been to the state capital since Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her 15 party chief ministers spent three days there late last month.

In terms of numbers, that could work out to at least 75 MPs.

Till last year, hardly any parliamentary panel would have dared plan a trip to Kashmir.

The standing committee of the home ministry, headed by Pranab Mukherjee, did visit the Valley last year. But the visit apparently took place after persistent prodding by party colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had just taken over as state Congress chief.

Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna, who was there at the conclave, had last visited the Valley 38 years ago. As for his peers, five of them had been there at least 15 years ago.

Among the five standing committees that visited the state were those on science and technology, railways, energy and industry.

Azad, who is a member of the standing committee on energy, said 24 MPs visited the Valley yesterday as part of the panel’s members.

He expects more such committees to visit the state in the near future. The parliamentary standing committee on civil aviation has already scheduled a trip.

If things go according to plan, a big visit is coming up soon. According to informed sources, the last week of this month could see President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam touch down in the Valley for three days.

If he does make it, Kalam would be the first President to visit the Valley since Jail Singh went there to attend the funeral of Sheikh Abdullah over 20 years ago.

Of course, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the other big gun to have visited the Valley in recent months — in April.

All these are good news for Kashmir’s tourism industry, which till militancy struck over a decade ago accounted for 25 per cent of the state GDP.

Common people, too, seem to have taken the cue from the politicians.

If Sonia and her folks could accept chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s invitation to hold the conclave in Srinagar, they, too, could plan a visit.

According to figures with the state government, approximately 14,000 tourists visited the Kashmir valley in May — a 100 per cent increase over the corresponding figure for the month last year.

The famous house-boats in the Dal Lake — around 1500 of them — are now readying for the return of happier days. In May, the occupancy rate was nearly 75 per cent.

The Shikharas, too, can be seen idling on the lake till 10 in the night. And why not, when the leaders are leading the way for their followers to return to the paradise on earth'

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