Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday recited a Kashmiri verse during her Budget 2020 speech. The tribute to Kashmir is significant after the government’s move to end special status to Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.

The verse was meant to convey that everything in the Budget is for the nation. “Our nation is like a blossoming garden, like the blooming lotus on Dal Lake, like the warm blood of the youth,” Sitharaman quoted a translation of the poem by Pandit Dinanath Kaul. “My nation, your nation, the world’s most loved nation.”

As she was reciting the verse, an MP from the Opposition benches shouted: “Farooq Abdullah”. The National Conference MP and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has been held in custody for months and has not attended the House since August. His detention under the Public Safety Act was extended by three months on December 15. At the moment, he is confined to his Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar.

The Congress criticised Sitharaman’s recitation, which it claimed was a compensatory move. “Narrating a poem on #Kashmir will not compensate $1-billion trade loss, 1 Lac Job Loss in private sector since August 5 - Is Budget scripting a solution to economic mess or is it merely a script of poetry & dialogues?” tweeted party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill.

Tourist arrivals in Kashmir fell after the Centre abolished its semi-autonomous status on August 5, 2019. Tourism accounts for 7% of the state’s gross domestic product.

In 2018, Kashmir had received 316,434 tourists between August and December. In 2019, this number fell to 43,059 for the same period, a decline of 86%, showed tourism department data accessed by IndiaSpend. In July 2019, Kashmir received 152,525 tourists but August 2019 saw only 10,130 arrivals and most of them in the first few days of the month. This number further fell to 4,562 in September 2019, and grew to 12,086 in November 2019.

There have been 144,500 job losses in Kashmir’s tourism and handicrafts sector – mostly dependent on earnings from travellers – since August 5, 2019, as per an estimate of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Overall, commercial losses in the state caused in the aftermath of the August 5, 2019, decisions have been pegged at over Rs 15,000 crore and total job losses at 496,000, as per KCCI estimates.

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