South Asian Insider
The dangers in Delhi’s Kashmir plan
Haseeb A Drabu
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has convinced an overwhelming majority of Indians that it has reclaimed Kashmir. Journalists are getting goosebumps watching the official Independence celebration as if it was done for the first time. That it has been conducted for the last 70 years, in the same place and in the same fashion, is seemingly a matter of trivial detail. What matters is that Kashmir is seen to have been conquered and Kashmiris “vanquished”.
While this in itself is significant, it feeds into the meta-narrative of undoing Jawaharlal Nehru’s “historical blunder”. This, despite the fact that it was under Nehru’s watch that the seed of Article 370 had been taken out. The BJP has now blown the husk away. What is even more interesting is how the BJP is following the footsteps of the Congress in seeking to assuage the feelings of the people of Kashmir after having disenfranchised them.
Circa 1954, immediately after substantially eroding the constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, a series of development initiatives followed. Goodies were doled out to all sections. The procurement price of paddy was increased by 35%, its sale price reduced by 18%, and amount of ration per head increased by 25%. The landed cost of rice of 89 paisa per kilogram (kg) was subsidised 60% to be sold at 37 paisa per kg. This subsidy was later to become an albatross around the neck of the Kashmiris. Almost every working day, a new cooperative society was set up and each one of the 280 cooperative societies were given Rs 10,000 a piece, a total of Rs 28 lakh.
Universal education throughout the state, from the primary-level up to the graduate-level, was made free. Along with the abolition of educational fees, special educational facilities like mobile schools for Gujjars and Bakerwals were provided. Not only human beings, even animals were taken care of; imported studs, pedigreed bulls, stallions and rams were supplied at the block-level for better breeding.
Sixty five years later, little seems to have been learnt. The development carrot is again being dangled to dampen the pain and anguish caused by the political stick. The Constitution (Application to J&K) Order 2019, which abolished the special status of J&K, is being followed up with the strategy of using money to buy loyalties. The tried, tested and failed model of corruption as a mode of cohesion is in operation yet again.
Circa 2019. Exactly as in 1954, a politically-motivated, socially-corrosive and financially-damaging public expenditure policy is being implemented. It is expected that by dispensing largesse, people’s attention will be diverted from their disenfranchisement and disempowerment.
It is not autumn quite yet, but the trees are already shedding; not dried leaves but fresh currency. The grassroots of democracy are being irrigated with cash; Rs 366 crore has been directly transferred to the panchayats. Sarpanchs and panchs have been given honorariums of Rs 2,500 and Rs 1,000 per month respectively. More than 2,000 people have been hired to keep accounts in panchayats. A remuneration package — the highest in the country — for urban local bodies has been given to mayors, deputy mayors and councillors.
Anganwadi workers and assistants have got a 25% hike in salary; the stipend of court assistants is up 66%; and village level workers have got a 500% hike in allowances. The honorarium of 30,000 special police officers has been increased, and the hardship allowance for police personnel has also been raised. An additional 40,000 people have been enrolled for old-age pensions. An apple procurement policy at a substantial premium to market prices has been announced, and National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (Nafed) has earmarked Rs 5,500 crore for this.
The state government has become the employer of last resort. Over 4,000 teachers have been recruited in schools, and 30,000 rehbar-e-talim (learning guides) have been regularised. This, despite the fact that the student to teacher ratio in J&K at 16:1 is not only better than the national average of 24, it is even better than that of China at 19:1. Gujarat had a student to teacher ratio of 32:1 and Bihar is at 57:1.
There is no development angle in any of this. If anything, all this will make Kashmir economically more insular, operationally more vulnerable, businesses more dependent on the government, and the government even more fiscally fragile. The unstated idea is to give some money to every stakeholder and buy his acquiescence. A few years from now when the context and the compulsions of such socially-regressive and fiscally-disastrous decisions will be forgotten, Kashmir will be castigated for systemic corruption, and Kashmiris for being pampered pelters.
Tailpiece: A verse of Robin D, a journalist-poet from Kerala, sums up the sentiment of Kashmiris towards the largesse rather evocatively;
“Fools/ Even as I point towards the moon/ How come you stare at my finger tip? Pardon us, master/When we see the blood stain on your hand/ How can we enjoy the moon?”
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