Corruption, in Kashmir, is a political concession. People and politicians enjoy it with complete approval of the system.

In 2005 Jammu and Kashmir, in a study by Transparency International—a non-governmental world body (NGO)—was declared second the most corrupt state after Bihar. By now it must have qualified to number one slot because corruption here is not limited to government administration only. It is equally rampant in social and political life as well. Bribes are paid here to buy loyalties. It is rather a political concession that people and politicians enjoy with complete approval of the system they live in. That is why no heads rolled, and no faces frowned when former Army Chief General V K Singh made stunning disclosures about political corruption in Kashmir, last month. He said ‘politicians in Kashmir have been receiving money since 1947’.  Gen Singh himself, as army chief, is reported to have paid Rs.1.19 crores to Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir for ‘destabilizing or stabilizing’ Omar Abdullah’s government in 2010. Former army chief was candid enough to acknowledge (in interviews with TV news channels) for having paid money to Kashmir minister to ‘organize protests to counter separatist leaders ’.

National Conference initially raised some hue against Gen Singh’s revelations. Its legislators, on October 1, moved a privilege motion against him in the state Assembly and wanted him to be summoned to the House to explain his position. The motion got overwhelming support in the House. Speaker Mubarak Gull said that former army chief would be summoned in near future but the House later contented with chief minister Omar Abdullah’s assurance that he, in a written communiqué to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has sought time-bound probe into Gen Singh’s ‘allegations’. The opposition PDP President and legislature party leader Mahbooba Mufti made an interesting observation during debate on the motion, which in a way corroborated the assertions of General Singh. She said that message should go from the House ‘ki hum aagay bikne ke liye taiyaar nahi hien (For future, we are no more ready for sale).

But it was indeed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who got the real import of former army chief’s expose’. He was worried more about image than substance. “I firmly believe that nobody has caused this kind of damage to the mainstream political institutions in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947,” he said during the debate. His concern was not beside the point. Abdullah family (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Mohammad Shah (son-in-law of Sheikh) and Omar) has ruled Jammu and Kashmir (in different phases) for over 33 years since 1947. It was but natural for him to feel the pain that Gen Singh’s pinch caused. “Lal Kitab (Red Book)”, a booklet compiled in early 80s, catalogued acts of corruption committed by Sheikh Abdullah and his family. The booklet, with documentary evidence revealed that in the very first cabinet meeting Abdullah held after his return to power in 1975 allotted prized government land at Gupkar to his family and relatives. The booklet said that Abdullah amassed wealth and assets to the tune of Rs.20 crore in and outside the government. Former JK Governor Jagmohan, in his book, My Frozen Turbulence In Kashmir, concedes that after 1977, Sheikh Abdullah acquired unlimited powers, and corruption acquired new fangs and depths in Kashmir.

Quoting from Abida Hussain’s book—Life of Sheikh Abdullah—Jagmohan further adds “Sheikh Abdullah and his family were persons of modest means before he came to power as chief minister. Today, his known immovable assets are estimated to be worth more than 20 crores of rupees. This phenomenal accumulation has taken place within a short span of time, from 1975 to 1981. His assets are mainly in the shape of illegally-occupied government lands of the highest commercial value in the state and a series of palatial buildings that have come up over these lands. Needless to add that these buildings have been constructed with money and materials obtained from all sorts of dubious sources from contractors working with government departments”. (Frozen Turbulence—page 205)

Ironically, Sheikh Abdullah was accused of receiving money from Pakistan as well when he was campaigning for “plebiscite” in Jammu and Kashmir. After his removal from the government in 1953, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (in 1955) launched Plebiscite Front seeking right of self determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Plebiscite Front’s political ideology was similar to that of present-day All Parties Hurriyat Conference. PDP senior leader and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig claimed that it (receiving money from Pakistan) was confirmed in a White Paper on Kashmir issued by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, in 1977.  Abdul Rasheed Kabli, then leader and MLA of the Janata Party (1977), on one occasion put the figure at Rs.7.86 crores Sheikh Abdullah, according to White Paper, had received from Bhutto.

Corruption in Kashmir was formally institutionalized in Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad’s regime, who took over the reins of government after Sheikh Abdullah was toppled and jailed on August 9, 1953. Bukhshi ruled the state for 11 years (1953-64). New Delhi threw open the doors of its treasury and sent in bags full of money to bribe people and politicians in order to stem resentment and anger in the wake of Abdullah’s arrest. A culture of subsidy (on food and ration) was introduced to woo common people. It made corruption a rightful thing with people and politicians at all levels competing with one another in accumulating wealth. “Union government, by and large, turned blind eye to the existence of corruption in Kashmir” (Jagmohan–My Frozen Turbulence In Kashmir—page 203).

Corruption touched new heights during succeeding governments of Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and Syed Mir Qasim as well. Sadiq, who ruled Kashmir for six years (1965-71), in person had clean image but the largesse from New Delhi continued to flow to placate and appease people. In return, government of India got huge political and constitutional concessions. It was during this period that the offices of Prime Minister and Sadr-e-Riyasat were closed down to pave way for introduction of chief minister and governor’s offices in the state. Congress, as party, was formally launched in Kashmir and Sadiq became the first (Congress) chief minister of the state.

Treasure troves were also left open for close aides of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as well. Many of them deserted Abdullah in late 60s and early 70s to join the mainstream politics and government. Senior Plebiscite Front leaders—Ali Mohammad Nayak, Mubarak Shah, Ghulam Qadir Mir along with many other middle-rung leaders—participated in elections against Abdullah’s call for boycott. Common perception, though not supported by any substantial evidence, is that some members of Abdullah family were also wooed that paved way for 1975 Indira-Abdullah Accord under which Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah returned to Indian political mainstream to become the chief minister of the state.

How money power was used to topple Farooq Abdullah’s government  and install his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah as chief minister in 1984 is a common knowledge in Kashmir. Corruption assumed the status of culture, more particularly at administrative level, after Farooq Abdullah returned to power following an agreement with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

The rise of militancy in 1989 gave a new flip to the distribution of government ‘charities’ in Kashmir. It opened for all and sundry. Buying loyalties took the centre-stage of institutional functioning. Militants, their over-ground helpers, Imams of mosques, religious leaders, political activists, journalists, sports persons, social and human rights activists and village heads got the attention of state institutions. Many a militants and political activists operated under direct sponsorship of the state agencies. Ikhwan and Muslim Mujahideen were two dreaded militant groups operating in tandem with security forces to combat militants. Awami League was state-sponsored political outfit. Hundreds of people among common masses got engaged as ‘informers’ by police and security and intelligence agencies

A former officer in Social Welfare Department said that hundreds of NGOs under different names and categories came into existence and were registered with different government departments. All these NGOs got generous funding from the government with no or little accountability. The newspaper publications witnessed a mushroom growth. From half a dozen in 1990, the number of daily and weekly newspapers shot up in hundreds. Where from funds flows for them is an enigma. In 2011, it was revealed that 362 Madrasas (religious schools) across Jammu and Kashmir also got government funding. Kashmir witnessed a surge in sports activities as well. General V K Singh has emphatically said that organizing sports activities was one of the main functions of army’s Goodwill project.

Common impression in the valley is that government worked on many separatist leaders as well. Many of them are seen as beneficiaries of, both, Indian and Pakistani largesse. Despite their claims of separation from Indian mainstream, they enjoy every facility—passports, visas, foreign trips and security—from the government.

“I don’t see any section of Kashmiri society corruption-free”, says advocate A U Mir adding “government is encouraging corruption in Kashmir with a design”. “People are paid or punished for their political beliefs”, he elaborates.

Last year, a huge corruption scandal got exposed in Kashmir Cricket Association which is headed union minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. It was alleged that an amount of Rs.24.64 crores, which was funded by Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) for promotion of cricket in Jammu and Kashmir since 1996, had been swindled by the cricketing body. Nobody, not even the BCCI, took note of the scam. The same BCCI is known for actions against some high profile Cricketing officials like Lalit Modi. But it discreetly slept over the scandal in its Kashmir chapter. Farooq Abdullah had got away with another sensational scandal earlier as well.  A senior National Conference activist and a family loyal of Abdullahs, Syed Mohammad Yousuf had revealed to have paid Rs.1.18crores to Farooq Abdullah in lieu for providing a Legislative Council seat and a ministerial berth to two senior National Conference activists–Abdul Salam Reshi and Mohammad Yousuf Bhat . Syed yousuf died within 12 hours of the expose in the custody of Police Crime Branch.

In 2008, independent MLA Shoaib Lone (on the floor of the House) accused then Congress President and education minister Peerzadah Mohammad Saeed of taking bribe of Rs.40000 from him to grant a transfer of his sister, who is an employee in state education department. Peerzadah was asked to step down as Congress president but allowed to continue as minister. He is presently also a cabinet minister. Senior Congress leaders and ministers Taj Mohiuddin and Sham Lal, last year, publicly engaged against each other over allegations of corruption in their respective ministries. Senior Congress vice president and former minister Abdul Gani Vakeel wrote a letter to Congress national president Sonia Gandhi (which he released to media later) over corruption practiced by Congress ministers in Kashmir. But it all went on unnoticed.

A journalist-friend has an interesting explanation over no-action against corruption in Kashmir. “Corruption is a political concession in Kashmir. It keeps the flock together. Doing away with it would mean people turning their backs on you” he says “which is least in the interest of New Delhi”.

Also See:

India Corruption Study – Transparency International
J-K ministers paid money to win hearts: VK Singh

JKCA members demand chairman’s removal
Did Gen VK Singh’s secret Army unit try to topple J&K govt, siphon funds?
Public Safety Act is a Draconian Law in Jammu and Kashmir
The Mythical Dayan Of Kishtwar & The Eating Away Of The Indian State
Politics And The Cricketer From Jammu & Kashmir

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