Beginning with his ancestral textile business, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani expanded his interests to electronics and tourism sector. Elected as the president of one of Kashmir’s most prestigious business organisation, The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Wani narrates his success story and also talks about the current situation in Kashmir in an interview with Nabeel Aijaz Ghani.
NA: Talk us through about your early years and your interest in business.
MA: I did my schooling from Mission School and then joined SP College. After completing my graduation, I joined my ancestral textile business and within few years I expanded my business to electronics and home appliances. I have also tried my luck in the tourism sector and have set up hotels and restaurants.
NA:. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCC&I) is one of the prestigious business organisations in the valley. How did you reach the top position?
MA: Well, I have been with this organisation for as long as I can remember. It took me almost 20 years to reach this position. Initially, I was elected as Treasurer and then Joint Secretary General. Before being elected as President, I have been Secretary General, Junior Vice-President and Senior Vice-President. I have climbed all the way to be where I am.
NA: Tell us something about your organisation and the principle it is based on.
MA: KCC&I is one of the oldest apex trade body of Jammu and Kashmir. It was constituted in 1924 by the prominent businessmen of Kashmir and was incorporated in 1937. It is a non-profit organisation established to promote the interest of the trading community in J&K.
NA: Having a conversation with you, I cannot help but ask about your take on the current uprising in the valley.
MA: The past five months have left not only us but the entire valley in deep shock. Speaking as the President of this organisation, we have had losses in the past – financial ones, of course. But in the past five months, we did not consider those losses. The people who were killed and others injured and blinded, that was the loss we unfortunately suffered. We have expressed our concern on the current situation many times through print and electronic media. What happened was very unfortunate.
NA: How would you like to address this situation?
MA: Well, this problem has been there for the past two and a half decades. We have always suffered. All we want is that the Government should address the situation. We want them to start the dialogue with the real stakeholders so that the issue is resolved for good.
NA: So you are in favour of dialogue. Should it be conditional or unconditional?
MA: Absolutely. Dialogue is the only remedy. We have asked the Government to start an unconditional dialogue with the real stakeholders.
NA: Recently, the unified Hurriyat leadership called upon all the stakeholders for the discussion on the current scenario. Did you participate in that?
MA: Yes, we have always accepted their calls for the meeting; be it from unified Hurriyat leadership or from the Government. We want this issue to be resolved in a peaceful manner.
NA: Did you support the strike calls by the unified Hurriyat leadership?
MA: Whenever the unified Hurriyat leadership announced, their schedule or calendars, we actively supported them because we want the Government to address the Kashmir issue.
NA: Besides the uprising in 1989, 2008, 2010 and now in 2016, how badly has the business been hit? Where do you stand?
MA: There have been losses whenever things go wrong. In the past five months, the business sector has had a drastic downfall; the worst hit being the Tourism and Handicrafts sector. It will take a very long time to recover.
Talking about the uprising of 2008, it did not go in vain as the order that declared the land to be provided to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board was revoked. Similarly, in 2010, the Government asked us to start Cross-LoC Trade and reopened the trade relationship with Pakistan. Our very own organisation was asked to start that trade.
NA: So far, what did you achieve in this current uprising?
MA: Well, we cannot say much about the current uprising but we do hope that the issue is resolved.
NA: Have you drafted any future strategies to tackle such kind of situation?
MA: Basically, we do not want this kind of situation to happen again in future. That is why we have repeatedly been asking the government to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible.
NA: Due to current uprising, many big entrepreneurs shifted their business to other states permanently. What is your take on that?
MA: It has been reported that some businessmen have invested outside or completely shifted their business but we do not have any evidence as such. There is no proof but even I have been hearing such rumours.
NA: Recently there was news about interest subvention. Tell us about how the Government is helping you?
MA: People who had taken loans from the banks prior to the month of July had to serve interest eventually. The first quarter was to be served by the end of September this year. People could not pay anything as official curfew was imposed for almost five months.
By the end of first quarter, we had asked the government to restructure the loans. If not, then these loans would have been automatically converted into NPA (Non-Performing Asset), due to which these people would never get loans from any financial institution.
The government did restructure these loans but we also asked them to provide interest subvention. The government needs to provide some subsidy on the interest as they had imposed curfew officially for about five months.
NA: Talking about the recent demonetisation, Kashmir was least affected. What was the reason?
MA: The real reason of the nil effect of demonetisation was that Kashmir was shut during those days and the curfew was imposed. In such a situation, people were ready to face the worst. Whatever savings people had were used during the shutdown days for day-to-day needs.
Now the effect of demonetisation is surfacing. In spite of the fact that shops are open, the business is nil. The rate of buying is low.
NA: You are in touch with The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Have they suffered any losses due to the current uprising in Kashmir?
MA: Most of the Jammu industry is dependent on Kashmir. Not only Jammu but all the neighbouring states like Delhi and Punjab faced similar problems. Our closed shutters had a very bad impact on their business too.