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

Arjimand views recent changes and transfers of government officials as desperate firefighting exercises

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. 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.)

Doles and Reshuffles

Indecision and a lack of confidence in one particular action symbolize a problem. Beyond the acceptable norms for checks and balances, if such a situation is a chronic characteristic of a supposedly democratic political system, it points to a serious crisis.

Band aids to long-festering political wounds, surgical checks and balances and governance instruments suiting a particular political order make the line between democracy and autocracy fade. That is what economic ‘doles’ and frequent administrative reshuffles – designed to suppress a political yearning in Kashmir – symbolize.

In his book ‘Kashmir and the British Raj, 1847-1947’, Robert A. Huttenback, while recounting the state of governance under the autocratic Maharaja rule, reproduces the interesting valedictory note from Sir Albion Bannerji, who served Kashmir’s autocratic ruler Hari Singh as Foreign and Political Minister. The note, which came at the time of his resignation from the state administration, evokes a sense of déjà vu even sixty three years after today.

The note from Sir Albion read, “…there is no touch between the Government and the people. No suitable opportunity for representing grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhauling from top to bottom…It has at present little or no sympathy with people’s wants and grievances.”

New Delhi and the state government have again sought to buy peace of submission in Kashmir the old-fashioned way – promise new jobs, a paltry unemployment allowance and a rock and roll of civil servants. All this has never worked.

The problem with these measures is that they, like always, will severely impact the quality of governance and work culture in Kashmir. These measures drastically cut its people’s productivity. The net result is again a governance chaos and lack of proper public services and jobs to the people.

The irony is that this situation then goes to feed the larger political discontent. So, rather than helping New Delhi and governments in Srinagar, these measures – coupled by the atrocities of the tight military control – strengthen a common man’s belief that this political system needs to change.

Shuffle and reshuffles of public servants in an administrative system are, of course, inevitable. Jammu & Kashmir’s history is replete with out-of-rule-book administrative reshuffles and ad hoc governance systems. So are the ‘economic packages’ that are intended to buy peace, submissive subjects and domination. But do these tools work in quelling the Kashmiri quest for political sovereignty and dignity?

The frequency of the government’s repeated administrative reshuffles points to a serious governance and political malaise in this state. In particular, Omar government’s regular monthly shuffles and reshuffles of civil and police officials since he assumed power point to a serious crisis.

To those who are watching the state’s developments from the outside, these measures appear as desperate firefighting exercises in an environment of public non-cooperation and governance dysfunction. The latest changes in the police and civil administrative systems are political statements, even as the chief minister wants us to believe the contrary.

Seen from another angle, such actions also point to a lack of transparent performance and delivery benchmarks of public servants. These also raise questions about unbridled political discretion in making changes that have implications for the political, security and economic well being of the state. Such reshuffles also point to a crisis within the state administrative system – with the civil and police administrators seen with constant suspicion and questions raised on their own political ideology.

One of the most surprising in the recent set of changes has been the decision of the government to ask for the resignation of Jammu & Kashmir Bank’s chairman Dr Haseeb Drabu. This decision has come at a highly inopportune time. At a time when the state is facing economic mayhem – with loss of jobs, a bottom-low investment climate and bearish trade and business confidence – such a drastic step was very avoidable.

The shifting of Khursheed Ahmed Ganai from the position of the Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary to Principal Secretary Planning and Development Department raises questions too. So do the shifting of Kashmir’s Police chief.

In J&K’s context, it is normally assumed that such decisions do not come without the consent of the political and other decision makers in New Delhi. If performance and personal integrity are key benchmarks for people to remain at key public positions, then there are little reasons why Dr Drabu should be asked to leave. If the reasons are political, then it is likely to set a very bad precedent.

Dr Drabu’s deep understanding of both the financial and development sectors has been crucial to the state, in view of the acute linkages and inter-dependence of the state’s banking and financial sector with the developmental processes happening here. A change which could impact business confidence and financial achievements is most likely to impact the social and economic development goals of this state.

It is possible that in the shorter term such changes are easy to manage for the mandarins in Srinagar and Delhi. But it is also time to introspect: are such band aids and disparaging checks and balances sustainable in the longer term?

These desperate fire fighting exercises deeply impact the quality of governance in this state. Such use of unbridled political discretion breeds corruption and unaccountability. All this finally brings us to the point that addressing the issue of Kashmir’s diluted political sovereignty cannot be postponed for long. A time has come to address the people’s sensitivities about their identity, end military control, ease economic and logistical suffocation, facilitate global economic networking and create greater economic opportunities.

And governance dysfunction and political instability would be automatically addressed. If not so, the algebra of these ‘packages’ and reshuffles will defy reason and logic with each passing day to brazen levels. And the line between democracy and authoritarianism will diminish completely.