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

Arjimand’s commentary should normally start a dialogue on the role of economy in public empowerment and possibly a path to political autonomy, but in reality it will be ignored just like other harsh realities surrounding Kashmir

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 38, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. His books include: ” Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy”, and “Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?”. Arjimand is a consultant in international development, and a contributing editor with Greater Kashmir.)

Begging Bowl Syndrome: Who Bells the Cat?

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah talked some frank economics on Thursday at Tangmarg. While emphasising the need for economic self reliance of Jammu & Kashmir, he advocated revenue generation investment. Candidly enough, he said tourism would not fetch the state the much-needed revenue, even though private entities do get some benefits. In veiled words, he also warned of a possible time when the state may not have even the money to pay salaries to its employees.

Omar also said that he seems uncomfortable almost begging for funds from the central government every year. To him this dependence is supposed to go.

So far so good. But the moot question is: how would this economic dependence actually go? It is a profoundly political question if J&K’s this growing dependence is as a consequence of its intrinsic economic weakness or it is a manufactured one.

Good intent alone does not deliver the desired results. In recent years, National Conference has seldom articulated an economic vision that would seek to address this dependency syndrome. Its political mobilisation and campaign has barely reflected a strategic course that will address this issue.

It is possible that the National Conference does not wish to make the agenda of economic self-sufficiency a formal political manifesto. Beyond the National Conference, this question is relevant to People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Sajjad Lone-led People’s Conference (PC) and other parties as well. What do these parties actually plan to do to end this growing dependence? And a more immediate one: what vision will these parties unveil facing the electorate in 2014?

In recent years, all the three parties have articulated the need for the control and management of the state’s water and power resources by the state itself. These are the only three parties that have articulated their economic visions in their political vision documents as part of the final resolution of J&K issue. However, there is a dearth of a comprehensive economic agenda dictated by the needs and the challenges of the present times. So will these parties be able to chart an economic agenda for 2014 elections derived from their political visions? National Conference has not produced any economic vision for the state meeting the needs of the present times since its path-breaking Naya Kashmir Manifesto. The challenge with the Naya Kashmir Manifesto is that it is heavily socialist in its outlook and that some of those visions for economic and social development do not quite meet the requirements of the present times. But some aspects do provide some space for adaptation.

Let us take the Article 23 of the manifesto, for instance, which provides for “a planned economy for ensuring rapid economic growth and social justice.” This Article also exhorts the goal of self-sufficiency and enhanced state income. Will National Conference be able to adapt that vision to the present times?

Some other visions of this Manifesto, like the Article 24, which calls for nationalising heavy industries, sounds outdated. National Conference must embrace a vision where it has to be seen as a facilitator for the private sector to participate in all spheres of economic activity.

Similarly, the Article 32, which sees public, private and cooperative sectors as distinct, and often mutually exclusive, is a redundant idea because it calls for preference for the public and cooperative sectors. In today’s times the state cannot think of economic self reliance without making the private sector the front runner in running the state’s economic activities.

National Conference would also need to revisit the Article 37 of its political vision, which has preferred nationalisation of goods and passenger transportation of the state’s major routes.

In sharp contrast, PDP’s Self Rule Vision and Sajjad Lone’s Achievable Nationhood both look more in sync with the needs of the contemporary times. What, however, remains to be seen is how these two parties will be able to chart an economic agenda or 2014 as derived from their larger political visions enshrined in their vision documents.

For instance, PDP’s Self Rule envisages the establishment of a “common economic space” through a Preferential Trade Agreement within the geographical boundaries of Greater Jammu & Kashmir. Self Rule’s second vision is making Greater Jammu & Kashmir a free trade area, which it plans to term as “Regional Free Trade Area”. It also seeks an agreement to eliminate tariffs between the two pats of J&K while they maintain their own external tariff on imports from the rest of the world, including India and Pakistan. PDP is also interested in an elaborate regime for the “rules of origin” for trade between the two sides.

How PDP adapts this grand vision to the cross-LoC trade will be an area of interest for the 2014 elections. It will also be interesting to see how this expanded cross-LoC trade will help enhancing the state’s overall revenue. Although the Self Rule vision also proposes co-circulation of both Indian and Pakistani currencies, that idea may not fit in the requirements of 2014.

Sajjad Lone’s Achievable Nationhood shares a lot of commonality with PDP’s Self Rule vision. But, again, its larger vision for J&K’s final resolution will have to adapt to the needs of 2014. People’s Conference will have to demonstrate how it will translate its vision for reducing the state’s economic dependency.

While Achievable Nationhood in its vision for the “new state of affairs” considers an economic union of the two parts of J&K, it will also have to elaborate how it will approach the present cross-LoC trade for creating what it calls a separate customs territory with free movement of goods, services, capital and labour between the two parts. It will also have to demonstrate, as a beginning, how it will consider removing “internal trade barriers and the harmonisation of the external trade barriers”, as what Achievable Nationhood actually contemplates.

PDP’s Self Rule vision contemplates relegation of some fiscal spending responsibilities in J&K on some supra-national agency, but the question is: would 2014 be the right time to imagine its merits?

People’s Conference, on the other hand, identifies the elements for such a scheme by recommending joint development of banking and insurance sector, common banking norms and regulations, harmonised fiscal policy, cooperation in investment, joint exploration of natural resources and energy sector. But will all these ideas make sense in 2014. If not, how best can these two parties adapt these ideas to the needs of the present times?

It is true that these larger visions of these three parties basically identify the contours of a final resolution of J&K issue. But a question for 2014 will be relevant: without the necessary economic breathing space, would it be prudent for them to wait for the final resolution for making their ideas to work or they will adapt to end this politically crippling dependence?