In the concluding chapter of Vinod Rai’s “Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper” the former CAG invokes the following passage from William Shakespeare:
Brutus: There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures. (Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224)
The chapter, entitled “Excellence, Accountability & Probity” sums up the “course correction” that the author prescribes for the ailing Indian democracy that was ravaged by an epidemic-sized malady of institutional corruption and trust-deficit during the just concluded UPA’s decade of decadence. Rai’s book “Not Just an Accountant” first “interprets” the “maladies” that have afflicted the nation, and then proceeds to write the prescription for bringing them under control and, hopefully, eradicating them.
This article, however, is not an attempt to review the former CAG’s labors and to pronounce judgment on them. Rai’s invocation of Shakespeare’s passage directed my attention to another natural flood that recently raged through the state of Jammu And Kashmir, leaving in the wake of its unprecedented fury, a trail of destruction and devastation incomprehensible to human senses. That the loss of lives was only about 300 was nothing short of a miracle, considering the scale and scope of the devastation. The loss to property has been estimated at Rs. 40000 crores (at least that is what Omar Abdullah asked for from the Centre), and even if such a staggering amount were immediately made available by the Central Government, it would still take an enormous amount of time and manpower to repair and rebuild the shattered lives. With the winters around the corner Kashmir is destined to enter a period of “discontent” from which its emergence as a healthy whole appear rather dismal.
But, all is not lost. The TV channels brought the images of the destruction live into the homes of the people of India, who have responded with alacrity and generosity to the various cries of help. The role of the armed forces in rescue and rehabilitation has, unfortunately, been politicized by vested interests. It is possible that some pockets may not have received as prompt a response as was required, but when you have a calamity of this proportions hitting from all sides, it is difficult for any agency to draw an absolutely perfect PERT chart that can optimize rescue efforts. We must also remember that the available manpower and materials limit the rescue operations. The continuous bad weather during the early days of the catastrophe also hampered the efforts of the rescuers.
What really was heartening were the many stories of the civil population mounting their own rescue operations, reaching distant and stranded people, using makeshift rafts fabricated from whatever could be used for the purpose. Not all of them would have found a scribe to pen down their heroics, and most of them were not doing it for the purpose of publicity. These were people motivated by humanitarian impulses, reaching spontaneously out to complete strangers and bringing relief and succour to them. People stranded on rooftops without food and water for days were reached by these Samaritans and provided with whatever minimum that they could bring to them. Of course, there were also the stories of exploitation by some unscrupulous elements that charged astronomical sums for a bottle of water, or a boat ride. But, by and large, these were in a minuscule minority, and only helped put the humanitarian efforts of the rest in proper perspective.
The floods of 2014 have given Kashmir an opportunity to look back at its recent past and reflect on all that has happened in the valley since the 1989 uprising. Kashmir has been in the throes of a constricting ideology that has squeezed every bit of mutual accommodation and acceptance from its sensibilities. The muted cry for azadi has increasingly become strident and shrill. Pakistan, taking advantage of this situation, has created a religious divide among the people of Kashmir, while local demagogues like Geelani have furthered its agenda. I have always been intrigued by this slogan of azadi.
What exactly does it mean for the people of Kashmir? Azadi from what and from whom? Isn’t Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution of India giving the state freedom to do things that would be considered as criminal in the rest of India? Doesn’t Article 35A of the Constitution of the state of Jammu & Kashmir give it powers that are exclusive only to it?
There is a lot of hue and cry about the presence of security forces in the state. But they were not always there. Even after 1948, 1965, and 1971 when India fought three wars with Pakistan, the presence of security forces in Kashmir was only at the borders or in their barracks. It was only after the 1989 insurrection and the targeting of the minority Pandits by the militants that the security forces had to be brought out from their barracks and deployed in the streets. But even that could not prevent the Pandits from fleeing the valley, as it is impossible to safeguard each and every life. So, what is this azadi we keep hearing about?
Kashmir is perhaps the most pampered of all states in India. It is a state that is economically and financially heavily dependent upon the center for survival. Its productivity levels are abysmal, and it does not raise enough money to even pay for the salaries of its bloated and inefficient bureaucracy.
According to Arun Shourie “the per capita assistance to Kashmir is 14 times that to Bihar, it is 11 times that to Tamil Nadu, it is 6 times that to a beleaguered state of Assam.” V. Shankar Aiyar, writing “The Great Sop Story” in India Today of 14th Oct. 2002, says: “For all that talk of autonomy or azadi the fact is that Jammu & Kashmir cannot sustain itself without the Centre’s support.” According to him 3.48% of people of Kashmir are living below the poverty line, as against 26.10% across India. This, he avers, is because of the extraordinary amount of financial assistance the Centre gives to the state. Kashmiris have been surviving and living a rather luxurious life compared to the rest of India solely due to the largesse bestowed upon them by a munificent Centre. The statistics in Aiyar’s article make for very disturbing reading.
To my mind, the Kashmiris’ demand for azadi is nothing but a desire to merge with Pakistan, purely out of religious affinity. Having driven the minorities out of the valley through murder and intimidation, they would now like to become a part of an avowed Islamic state. However, I also believe that there are some among the young and educated Kashmiris who are aware of the actual state of Pakistan’s economic decay and desperation. Apart from the feeling of belonging to an Islamic country, Pakistan has nothing to offer to the young Kashmiri. Kamila Shamsie’s “Burnt Shadows” brilliantly encapsulates the alienation of a young man who has not been brought up in a constraining religious environment, and his story culminates in a predictably violent end. Kashmiri Islam is a product of a thousand years of synthetic evolution. I am sure a quarter century of Wahhabism will not be able to destroy and demolish the edifice created by this millennia-old synthesis.
Recently, the Bollywood film Haidar has come for a lot of praise and criticism, depending upon the lens that has been used for viewing. The story, written by a self-confessed Kashmiri separatist, Basharat Peer, comfortably living in far off New York, is an attempt to superimpose the tragic story of Hamlet on the current state of siege in the valley. Without going into the cinematic merits of the movie, I felt that the superimposition was too labored. Hamlet’s tragedy is never the tragedy of Denmark. It is the personal tragedy of a prince who is a psychological mess. The blood-spattered ending on a white carpet of snow in the film leaves the viewer as cold as the weather it depicts.
The dance-drama enacted in the movie in front of the Sun Temple, known in the valley as Martand, has come for a lot of criticism from Hindu viewers. The gigantic figure of Satan (Shaytan) is shown to have taken possession of the temple, which has offended the religious sensibilities of some Hindus. In my opinion, this scene actually reflects the true state of affairs in the valley. Satanic powers have overtaken the discourse in Kashmir and not only the visible symbols of the Hindu faith have been violated, but also the Sufi sensibilities of ordinary Kashmiris have been attacked and subjugated. The tragedy of Kashmir is much larger and more poignant than the tragedy of Hamlet, or his poor cousin, Haidar.
The tide, therefore, has come now in the affairs of Kashmiris, and if they can take it at the flood, it may lead them “on to fortune.“ No matter how much assistance the Centre gives to alleviate the hardship, it will eventually depend upon the people of Kashmir “to take the current when it serves.” Fears of an outbreak of an epidemic were looming large on the horizon. Mercifully, the situation seems to have been brought under control and the state has not reported any such outbreak. Perhaps, here too the Gods are sending a message to the people of Kashmir. Elections to the state’s assembly will be held in November this year. The separatists will certainly give their usual call for boycotting them and try to shut the state down during this exercise. They know that they have practically no support from the people, but they manage to stay relevant by disruptive and destructive methods. Their handlers from across the border provide them with material and human support to create mayhem and to frighten the people. If they truly had popular support they could also have participated in the electoral exercise. But they know that reality will expose their hollowness and, therefore, they will hide behind the stone-throwers.
There is a new dispensation at the center; a palpable new hope across the country that things may actually change for the better. There is no reason why Kashmir should not benefit from this change. But, for that, the people of Kashmir have to rise to the occasion and vociferously reject the calls of the separatists. They must exercise their franchise and use their vote to demand governance and accountability from their legislators. In the past elections have routinely been rigged and engineered by the state, the center, and the separatists, to favor some political dynasties. These dynasties have failed in delivering justice and equity, keeping the people dependent upon handouts as if they were beggars.
Corruption has been monumental and all the wealth has become concentrated in a few hands. The present elections give an opportunity to the people to reject these political tyrannies and to elect a truly representational legislature. For this they have to come out in large numbers and use their vote judiciously. I am certain, the Election Commission will ensure that voters are not intimidated and are allowed to cast their votes freely. But, for it to be a success, the people will have to leave their prejudices and inhibitions behind and participate in this massive exercise of the largest democracy in the world.
By: Vijaya Dar