“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Aatif shows the way

(Mr. Aatif Ahmad Mehjoor, 25, was born in Srinagar. He received his primary education in London and Srinagar, with the final two years at the Burn Hall School. He attended Ernest Blevin College London in 1999-2001, King’s College London in 2001-2004, and the University of Oxford in 2004-2005. A lawyer by profession, he has received academic awards from the Arts and Humanities Board for Post-graduate Study, and the Judges & Silks Award for Highest Honours in the LLB. He is an Associate of the Securities and Investment Institute, London, and Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn. His personal interests are: financial markets & investment, Kashmir, cricket, and ancient history & archaeology.)

Achieving the goal of self sufficiency

In my previous article for this newspaper, I highlighted how dependent Kashmir has become on Central Government funding. A quick glance at the figures I quoted is enough to bring home the abject nature of our dependence. Our government spent Rs. 17,354 crores in the financial year 2007-08 but it relied upon the Central Government to finance 55% of the expenditure. If this funding were to disappear, our economy would suffer terribly and thousands would become jobless.

Many readers in their feedback asked me what the solution was to our economic dependence. The purpose of this article is to suggest some steps that all of us can taken, in the hope that, collectively, we might be able to reduce our dependence by some significant measure. My aim is not to suggest a solution. It is simply to start a debate about the small ways in which each of us, acting at an individual level, can endeavour to remove the excesses present in our society.

The steps that I suggest for individuals can only work if all of us act in tandem. If there is cheating, then the whole effort fails. In order for these steps to be properly implemented and to yield results, there has to be a mass campaign of moral education by those who influence public opinion, such as elders, religious figures, teachers, officials and other persons in positions of authority or influence. Any person who falls within these categories should seize any opportunity he/she has to persuade people to take the steps advocated in this article and to impress upon them the importance of reducing our economic dependence.

As with all moral prescriptions and exhortations, there is bound to be some element of hypocrisy both on the part of those issuing the prescriptions and those preaching them to the masses. However, hypocrisy does not have to be a disability. That we might be personally guilty of the sins that make us dependent should not stop us from engaging in a serious, collective effort to create the moral conditions that make it impossible for these sins to flourish. It should not stop us from engaging in moral persuasion in order to inculcate the moral values that are needed to uproot corruption and dependence on external aid and foster hard work and enterprise.

I therefore put forward some basic steps that all of us can take as individuals. The first, and the most important, step concerns our livelihoods. What jobs and vocations should we seek? If we seek government jobs, we must realise that the money we earn has to come either from taxes or from the Central Government’s coffers. The more jobs we seek from the government, the more dependent we become. We may pay a bribe to acquire a government job because of the security it offers and the status it confers. But we must weigh these benefits against the subjugation which results from our dependence on government jobs.

There are thousands of exceptionally bright, able graduates in Kashmir who deserve suitable employment where their skills can grow and their talents bloom. These graduates must realise that the only way they can realise their potential is by emigrating to countries where their skills are in demand. And their parents should be willing to let them go. If our skilled labour is unable to find employment in the private sector, it should be encouraged to migrate to the Middle East and to the West. Not only will we get skilled professionals but our economy will also benefit from the money they remit to their families.

We must also encourage entrepreneurship and not look down upon the pursuit of business opportunities. Not everyone can be a doctor or a civil servant. And doctor and civil servants do not produce the goods that make an economy strong and vibrant (although they are no doubt essential to a society in other ways). On the other hand, we must be proud of our entrepreneurs who have at least established a semblance of an industrial base in the valley – businesses such as Khyber or FIL Industries. Enterprise is now becoming popular with graduates. This is good news but it needs more encouragement and social acceptance. We also need to channel our resources into those industries which boost our internal production and reduce our dependence on imports. Sheep farming and other agri-business sectors are in urgent need of attention. It is shocking that despite having vast pastures for grazing, we still have not managed to acquire self-sufficiency in meat production.

The second most important step we can take is to pay for what we consume. This means paying for the actual amount of electricity or gas used. If we do not pay our government for the electricity that we consume, our government still has to pay market prices for it. Someone has to foot the deficit that arises from our refusal to pay the full price (a deficit that is recorded as ‘transmission and distribution losses’ in the power budget): this someone is currently the Central Government but it does not have to be. It is shocking to see how much electricity is wasted in Kashmir. The reason why our government is compelled to transfer power projects to the NHPC (the Central Government’s power company) is because our government is unable to raise enough capital to invest on its own in power projects. If all the money our government has spent on electricity (i.e. on footing the deficit) had been invested in power projects, then we would now be exporting electricity. Our government cannot set up power projects unless these projects yield a profit – that can only happen if we pay the full price.

The third step we should take is to reduce excessive consumption. The most conspicuous example of this is during weddings, when tonnes of meat and other food items are wasted. We must also reduce lavish expenditure on houses, cars and gadgets. These products are not manufactured within the valley and have to be imported, thus augmenting our dependence. There was a time when the people of Kashmir consumed products in moderation. Weddings were celebrated with modest feasts and people did not splurge money on food, cars, clothing or other imported items the way they do now. Part of the reason for the explosion in consumerist culture has to do with the easy wealth many people have acquired. However, it is not that difficult to counteract these tendencies, especially if social morality is directed at disapproving excessive consumption derived from ill-gotten gains.

The three steps I have suggested can only work if everyone incorporates them into all aspects of daily life – practice, observance and persuading others to adopt them. If there is be an end to economic dependence, it can only come about if there is grassroots social change. We cannot wait for the government or some external agency to take care of things. The change has to begin within society and each individual has to feel a sense of duty to bring about the change.

(Greater Kashmir)