Islands Tourism Festival
Staying far away from the Indian mainland deep in the Bay of Bengal, farther from the country and at a stone’s throw away from Indonesia and Myanmar, the local Islanders of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands had no mode of social/public entertainment, other than the enormously gorgeous natural surroundings and a few under-developed tourists’/picnic spots around Port Blair, the capital.
With the advent of the nineties in the last century, the handful of below-par cinema theaters that ever existed closed down as they couldn’t sustain with the exorbitant operational costs as against the feeble turn out of viewers owing to a petite population in the Islands. Satellite television or ‘cable TV’, as we know it, had already made way into the Islands around the late eighties making the matters worse for their survival.
The Andaman & Nicobar administration, under the visionary leadership of Lt. Gen. (Rtrd.) Tirath Singh Oberoi, the then Lieutenant Governor of the Islands, began organizing an annual exhibition in the historic Gymkhana Ground at Port Blair with the name – “Islands on the March” during the late eighties. The intention was to showcase the development activities of various departments under the Administration and also the future projects to be taken up for the benefit of the Islanders with notable emphasis on promotion of tourism in these Islands.
A number of cultural and entertainment programs were organized during the annual exhibition in which the local Islanders including the high-spirited tribal population of Nicobar were encouraged to participate with immense fervor. The tourists visiting the Islands used to have the phenomenal benefit of enjoying the ambiance as well as exploring a great deal about the unique history, cosmopolitan culture and remarkable tradition of these exemplary Islands.
Under the most competent headship of Vakkom Purushotthaman, the subsequent Lt. Governor, one of the best administrators that these Islands have ever seen, the exhibition underwent a conspicuous metamorphosis in the early nineties, with the venue shifted to the police ground near the Veer Savarkar airport and the nomenclature also was shuffled and the event renamed from the erstwhile “Islands on the March” to “Islands Tourism Festival”.
Thanks to the glossy influential leadership of Vakkom, who had earlier been the Speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly for years together, more and more funds began to be allocated for the annual gala and the Islanders were treated for the very first time, with the best of talents & celebrity performers from Bollywood and other high class cultural troupes from multifarious corners of the country, right here in the Bay of Bengal.
It was made sure that the culture, art and tradition of these Islands were promoted by way of the annual gala and that tourism, Islanders’ welfare and development received the premium impetus. The festival was to be used as a potent innovative medium to highlight these attributes of the Islands before the visiting tourists, primarily, and the media at large.
Come the 21st century and the only annual state-level festival in these Islands underwent another transformation, and this time it was for worse, thanks to the change of hands and heads at the administrative leadership, which made sure that the best golden era of development in the history of the Islands came to a screeching halt after Vakkom was replaced by his successors.
The ITF has now been left to nothing but the theater of the absurd fabricated by the infamously inert Andaman & Nicobar Administration... A categorical farce and nothing else...!!! It has, in fact, been reduced to a brazen exhibition of the A & N Administration's paucity of brain and utter indifference towards the local residents of the Islands.
There’s almost nothing to do with the display of development of tourism or the current tourism related activities and initiatives in the grossly neglected pristine Islands, which if potentially utilized could give a gung-ho competition to the neighboring countries like Thailand & Malaysia, which have been doing a tremendously commendable job of promoting their tourism potential in the name of the “Andaman Sea”.
The very first attribute of the only annual exhibition or “Tourism Festival” as the administration relishes calling it, which haunts me, is the very name. Why is it called the “Islands Tourism Festival”, at all, when most of the participants in the various cultural programs/performances & exhibition stalls are invited from the mainland India? I think it’s an absolute thoughtless misnomer!
I mean, if it was truly meant to be an Islands' Tourism Festival; which it is supposed to be at least in the name of organizing something entertaining yet meaningful for the sake of the luckless Islanders of these vulnerable and disaster-prone Islands and the welfare thereof; then most obviously and befittingly, most of the participants/performers ought to be from amongst the Islanders and about the Islanders.
On the contrary, the administration, now invites mostly substandard performers from the mainland India not to present anything related to the Islands’ tourism or the amazing cosmopolitan culture, but to present various other cultural arts and acts that are not related to the Islands’ tourism development in any manner, at all.
Gone are the days, when the Islanders used to be treated with the likes of the famous Bollywood singers Kumar Sanu, Abhijit, Suresh Wadkar, Meenakshi Seshadri, Johny Lever, and Baba Sehgal and so on.
Artistes from South Zone Cultural Centre, East Zone Cultural Centre, Song and Drama Division, Kolkata and many other troupes are invited to take part in the Islands Tourism Festival every year and paid handsomely to the tune of 2.5 to 3 lakh rupees per troupe apart from the free up and down travel fares and accommodation at Port Blair, whereas the Islanders’ troupes are paid to the tune of a measly defamatory sum of 3000 rupees per troupe only.
And on top of it all, the participation of the local indigenous tribes is drastically thinning, year after year, despite the fact that the buoyant Nicobarese tribe is immensely talented and their cultural performances are a real treat to watch for anyone from anywhere in the world. The proud fact that Full Birth, one of the Nicobarese tribal youth has been India’s National Cycling Champion, seconds my contention.
The only silver lining in the cloud in this year’s ITF, which began on January 7, 2010 and wound up on January 15, 2010, was that the “Andaman and Nicobar Administration, after a long hiatus, have come out with a comprehensive tourism policy document, which seems promising, but the distrust that it has created for decades may be the toughest stumbling block in its implementation”, as reported by the Light of Andamans.
“The Tourism Trade, as the press statement claims to have been involved in its preparation, seems to be totally indifferent towards the approach of the tourism department. Their univocal feeling further shows how the whole system runs and also the people behind it. Without a total change in mindset, nothing drastic can be done by the policy.” - (LoA)
“The Tourism Policy is not going to bring about any miracle overnight. Small steps that one takes towards the goal define how the projects and dreams are going to come true within the timeframe. The website of tourism department is in shambles. It was last updated a decade ago. The information it contains are obsolete. The Island Tourism Festival it features was held in 2002. Do you really need a policy to update the information on a website? At the same time, hundreds of small and amateurish websites developed and hosted by small tour operators and auto rickshaw drivers is the face of Brand Andaman on the internet. As Vivek Rae, CS mentioned in his speech at the inaugural function of Island Tourism Festival, the media campaigns are all spontaneous reactions without any strategy.” - (LoA)
In a nutshell, the fact that these serene historic coral Islands have an encouraging coastline of 1912 sq km and umpteen number of striking virgin beaches to complement it with, there are stupendous prospects of development in the field of tourism and other related sectors, but the issues, nevertheless, remain unaddressed, plainly because there's a supreme lack of intent on the part of the doers - the brazenly sluggish administration.
And to add to the long-standing misery of us Islanders, the political leadership whom the Islanders themselves elect, are either squarely incompetent or too busy trying to make sure that they don't miss out on their chunk of fortune. And that has been the customary response, of their glorious predecessors throughout the entire country, to coming to power for a full five years a term.
Well, where are we heading…?