As Indian consulate in Dubai announces that the Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group International will set up a food processing plant in the disputed region of Indian-controlled Kashmir; activists and scholars have described the move as “aiding settler colonialism in Kashmir”.
On Thursday, in a statement, the Indian consulate said that Lulu Group had signed a memorandum of understanding after meeting with a delegation from Jammu and Kashmir, during an ongoing UAE-India Food Security Summit in Dubai, a London-based online news outlet Middle East Eye reported.
According to the report, the initial MoU would be worth $8m and create 300 jobs. It has also been reported that Lulu would be looking for land for its processing plant in February 2021.
With the annual turnover of $7.4bn, Lulu Group International is a massive enterprise of almost 200 hypermarkets in 22 countries across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Asia and Europe.
However, the announcement has fetched a wide criticism from Kashmiri activists and scholars who say the Lulu Group involvement in Kashmir would render them complicit in India’s “settler-colonial” project in the region, which has accelerated since August 2019, when the government of India abrogated Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and divided the state into two union territories.
In October 2020, the Indian government amended land laws in Kashmir, effectively granting non-Kashmiris the right to purchase land. This development reiterated previous concerns that GoI had plans to change the demographics in Kashmir, the report mentioned.
“While Lulu enters the Kashmiri horticultural industry on the cusp of Indian government’s settler colonial policies, the Indian state is busy destroying the Kashmir’s own hard won horticultural economy – by destroying orchards, limiting Kashmiri traders mobility and cutting communications,” Middle East Eye quoted Mohamed Junaid, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as saying.
“It is unlikely that Lulu is unaware of what India is doing, which makes its investment moves in Kashmir not just suspect but also complicit.”
“Since 2019, the Kashmiri economy has been in a free fall due to India’s undemocratic moves. The pandemic has only accentuated the effects of India’s lockdowns and communication blackouts already in place in the region,” Junaid added.
Over the past decade, the report said, GoI has grown increasingly closer to Israel and the Gulf countries, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Pertinently, Indian army chief is this week flying to Saudi Arabia underlining the extent to which ties have improved between the two countries.
The report added that the group’s chairman and managing director Yusuf Ali, is close to both the Emirati and Indian political establishments.
In 2019, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to UAE, Ali, according to the report, committed to investing in Kashmir in response to the Prime Minister’s call to invest in the region.
Quoting the Gulf News, the report said that Ali said he would be dispatching a team to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to hire staff and source products and raw material towards importing Kashmiri produce to the UAE.
However, Kashmiris have repeatedly argued that the Indian government was using development as a ruse to shift the “demographics and colonise the region”, the report said.
“Kashmir has always been open to investment, but the problem is that the decision to allowing it or what kind investment Kashmir needs is not in the hands of a democratically elected government in Kashmir,” the report quoted Junaid as having said.
The report quoted Junaid further saying: “The Indian government unilaterally decides it for Kashmir, and this news is meant to suggest that the decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy is good for Kashmir, when in reality it has been an unmitigated disaster”.
According to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, the estimated economic losses since August 2019 is $5.3bn including half a million job losses.
In Kashmir, Horticulture contributes almost $666,000 annually to the Kashmiri economy, the report mentioned.
Quoting JK Govt’s stats, the report said that 3.3 million people in the region are directly or indirectly associated with horticulture.