As the ‘poster boy’ of the ‘United 21’, Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad swept prized post in Kashmir’s century-old trade body in the recent polls. As buzz faded and brouhaha erupted, many asked: Will the new elected body driven by the ‘unity’ slogan deliver on business front?
By Imtiyaz Hassan
Some watchful traders in town recall it a fine-drawn version of a Wall Street showdown, where the contenders were at their swaying best.
At vanguard of go-getting promotions and fierce lobbying to sweep the leadership ladder in Kashmir’s oldest trade body were the motley group of rookie entrepreneurs and seasoned traders. They were driven by the ‘flip the system’ motto in the run-up to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) polls.
It started from a manicured garden, where they took turns to speak about the ‘much-needed overhaul’ in KCCI. The campaign soon made it to the social media, where the candidates were presented and promoted as the ‘mascots of change’. They introduced themselves as the ‘United 21’—a conglomerate of young and experienced traders, hogging much of the campaign limelight, due to various permutations and combinations.
But before being passed as some ‘clandestine agenda’ driven business group, a well-known trader in Srinagar appeared on a Facebook-fuelled teaser to make their motives clear.
“This is the group where young businesspersons make majority and decision-making,” said Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad of Alkhuddam Group. “These young persons have zeal to contribute positively for the society and for the wellbeing of the business fraternity.”
For ‘United 21’ camp, Ashiq was running for the top post. As someone who earlier held the reigns of the chamber, he was no novice standing in that curious and commotive contest.
His aides say that the man was pushed for the trade leadership as per the larger agenda: ‘To help business community to grow and come out of hardships.’
It might sound quite proverbial or poetic introduction of any new office entrant, but this kind of prelude is being hailed as the need of an hour given the larger backlash on Kashmir’s economy in general, and the business community in particular.
But his detractors trash that argument and denounce him as a “promoted” person, given his proximity with a certain political ideology. But being a “thick-skinned” trader, the KCCI top merchant quips, “I ain’t fan of my naysayers!”
By the dint of this attitude, he recently returned as KCCI chief after 42 basic members of the trade body contested for 21-member executive committee in the 1300-member chamber.
During its 84th annual general meeting attended by 300 members at SKICC, Ashiq was elected as one of the six executive members.
He stood third with 537 votes, following Abdul Wahid Malik (551 votes) and Javid Ahmad Tenga (546 votes).
He was unanimously chosen as president by the highly powered Elected Executive Committee (EEC), while his ally Nasir Hamid Khan was elected as the new senior vice-president, Abdul Majid Mir junior vice-president, and Farooq Amin of Kamal Masala fame became KCCI’s new secretary general.
During his previous stint as KCCI president, Ashiq is being “remembered” for getting insurance companies to disburse Rs 2,800 crore to traders affected by the 2014 floods. His interventions in the creation of Pashmina bank and LoC trade are equally hailed among his top feats.
But now, Ashiq is expected to play a different ball game, given the larger economic dent suffered by the Kashmir business fraternity due to some unpopular decisions taken by the ex-finance minister, Haseeb Drabu.
As his mandate in the ‘decisive’ chamber, Ashiq is expected to promote business, economic relations, bilateral trade, investment and technology transfer.
After heading KCCI, Ashiq said that he’s looking forward to play his fiddle to heal the faltering economy of the state through business collaborations, joint ventures, marketing tie-ups and strategic alliances across Kashmir and outside as well.
His role in reducing GST on carpets from 12 to 5 percent has already put his new stint under “some sanguine” watch.
“Business community has faced a lot due to the overwhelming situation in Kashmir,” Ashiq said. “The community needs an economic boost to overcome from this depression phase. And this where, I would like to play my part.”
While his tenure is expected to provide some relief to traders, his camp ‘United 21’—the conglomerate of 21 veteran industrialists and first generation entrepreneurs—will have a ‘big say’ in the chamber, given the numbers in their favour.
Interestingly, the contestants had divided into two groups – ‘United-21’ and ‘Credible-21’ – competing against each other for the 21-member executive committee in this year’s KCCI elections.
The camp with the highest number of votes forms the executive committee of the 1300-member chamber. ‘United 21’ ended by winning 12 seats, while its opponent ‘Credible 21’ bagged nine seats.
Soon after becoming the new office-bearers in the trade body, the ‘United 21’ batted for unity in Kashmir Inc. “Our focus and agenda is to unite Kashmir’s business community,” said Nasir Hamid Khan of ‘United 21’, Ashiq’s deputy in KCCI. “The disunity has already led to the division among the business community.”
The camp is urging government for special multi-level interventions to negate the effects of disadvantages, natural and situational, that commerce and industry of Jammu and Kashmir had faced.
“Our priority will be to work for the betterment of Kashmir’s trade and commerce, which ultimately will give impetus to our economy,” Ashiq makes no bones about his role as KCCI’s new mover and shaker.
This story first appeared in November print issue of The Indus Post.