Ever since the Centre unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories under the J&K Reorganization Act 2019, Jammu and Kashmir is not only witnessing unrest, uncertainty, suppression of civil rights and assault on its distinct political identity, but also an enormous governance disaster. In fact, this disaster started in the middle of 2018, when the state legislature was suspended and the erstwhile state was brought under central rule. It is something that has really got unnoticed in the din of the terrible political disasters that BJP has brought to Jammu and Kashmir.
When the BJP government implemented the so-called J&K Reorganization Act 2019, the reasons that it gave were the “deteriorating security situation in the Valley” and along with what it called the “hampered pace of development” in the state. In the first place, these reasons were themselves questionable. The BJP cannot escape blame for them. The reasons it gave are a result of its own follies. They are the ones who were in power at the centre since 2014 and were also a ruling partner in the state government until 2018 and afterwards ruled the state through Governor’s rule. The Centre had already adopted a muscular and security-centric approach which had yielded nothing. They are also to be questioned on the “deteriorating security situation” and the stalled passage of development and a general neglect of the welfare of the people of the state since they were in the power.
Nothing seems to be changing on the ground despite all the rhetoric and falsity being circulated. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse for the people of the state. The fundamental political and economic rights of people continue to be violated. There is no sense of dignity and the basic right to life appears to have been under the constant threat with the increasing military siege and huge administrative apathy and indifference. The internet is still blocked for most practical purposes, except in 12 districts, and that too with restrictions. Political activity is a no-no for the Kashmiris, who have not been given the right to support parties of their choice. While the Centre takes foreign visitors on tours repeatedly, the governance record has become pathetic. Of late, the administration failed to clear roads after snowfall, and the common people in the valley are facing tough times with the cruel Himalayan winter having arrived prematurely and thereafter intensified. The bubbles of “permanent” and “out-of-the-box solution”, which the BJP leaders and their apologists continue to brag about, have rapidly gone bust.
For a common Kashmiri in general and for its youth in particular, the basic right of a dignified life appear to become more elusive by the moment. The repressive conditions are such that currently Kashmir is witnessing an uninterrupted state-sanctioned lock-down of its educational institutions. People are living in fear and uncertainty.
All this is happening while the BJP government is busy implementing its fascist policies. However, the greatest fear haunting the common Kashmiris right now is the increasing exploitation of the state’s resources given the BJP’s proximity with big profit-earning corporates. Just like the rest of India where BJP wantonly adopts neo-liberal policies and appeases its corporate friends, the apprehensions are increasing as already many of the policy measures suggest. After the abolition of the highly tyrannical Dogra feudal monarchy in J&K through the popular movement of 1940s, the legacy left by such leaders like Sheikh Abdullah ensured that there are mechanisms in place in the form of Article 370 which protected the rights of the people of the state especially the peasants and the working class.
All those guarantees now seem under threat. In an illustration of classic neo-liberal exploitation, all the eyes are on the state’s resources while the people’s suffering is being deliberately neglected. Some of the corporate friends of BJP are already asking for the state’s land. The proposed privatisation of the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Department (JKPDD) which has already been met with protests by the employees and casual labourers is seen to be in the offing. And even though it has been denied by the administration, its being split into four separate units has spooked employees. It is noteworthy that Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with water resources and electricity generation, which till now was being managed by the NHPC, is one of the key revenue generating sectors. It is here that the corporates do not want to miss the chance for laying their hands on it. And if reports are to be believed, more such steps are being adopted which will effectively hand over the resources of the state to the big profit earning corporates.
Inspired by the progressive vision of Naya Kashmir Manifesto, Jammu and Kashmir had one of the earliest and finest constitutional provisions in the country which ensured universal free education and healthcare. It had greatly benefited huge sections of the deprived communities in the state. However, the greatest threat to this particular provision is the neo-liberal policy of privatisation and lack of funds for the state-owned schools, colleges and universities which is adversely impacting the quality of education. Recently, a new policy has been put in place for the colleges and universities in the state while the erstwhile system of appointing contractual lecturers has been done away with. In its place, an extremely arbitrary policy has been put in place which will allow the government to hire lecturers on a “need based system” for a pittance of Rs 250 per lecture.
All such measures will have a terrible effect on the people of the state as they are being deprived of quality education while paths are being cleared for the corporates to invest. Already, in many instances, land has been allotted to the big corporates for the establishment of expensive schools which are out of bounds for the majority of the masses. One such school, owned by one of the big corporates in India, has recently come up in the heart of the world-famous saffron fields outside the town of Pampore. It is noteworthy that previously the state laws prohibited any sort of construction inside these fields where one of the world’s most rare and fine spice is cultivated. Handing over the state’s education and healthcare to the corporates will only sharpen the class divide and relative deprivation in the state and no way benefit the common people as is being falsely circulated day in and day out.
In this, the roles of the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor, his advisors and the state bureaucracy starkly come under the scanner. Having fully yielded to the political positioning of BJP, they frequently boast of “winning the hearts of Kashmiri people” but on ground nothing has been done to alleviate their problems and suffering. The state bureaucracy continues to be a party in implementing BJP’s callous agenda in the state while forgetting their constitutional and professional obligations. In this scenario, the people of the state are facing problems from all corners as there is also a stagnation happening on the front of livelihood and addressing of everyday issues.
The L-G’s administration, with its apathetic bureaucratic raj, has failed to address the issues of the people. The governance in Kashmir on the ground is totally invisible and there is absolutely no accountability in the absence of the people’s representatives who continue to remain incarcerated unlawfully. In this harsh winter with its freezing temperatures, basic amenities such as electricity and water have disappeared into thin air. Barring a few elite localities in Srinagar city, in much of urban and rural Kashmir, electricity is provided for less than 10 hours a day. District hospitals and Primary Health Centres in the hinterland are facing acute shortage of both medicines and medical/paramedical staff. Due to the heavy snowfall in the Valley, public infrastructure has got badly exposed. The response of the administration was pathetic to say the least. Anganwadi workers, daily wage workers, casual labourers, and contract workers are facing difficult times because of unpaid wages and uncertainty about their jobs.
After the blanket ban on political assemblies and protests, struggling people are scared to come out on the streets for their day-to-day issues. The highly exploitative SRO-202 [special recruitment rules] are badly hurting the newly-appointed employees. This order makes the newly appointed employees to work in the far-flung areas on ad hoc terms on a basic stipend for their first five years of service.
There is confusion over the reported dissolution of vital state institutions such as the JKPSC and JKSSB. On the issue of providing livelihood and employment to minimise relative deprivation, the L-G’s administration, like the previous dispensation, has failed miserably. Alienation and unemployment among the educated youth is growing to an all-time high. The state’s economy continues to witness a sharp decline with the key sectors of the state’s economy—horticulture, tourism and handicraft are declining all the time. In particular, no attention has been paid towards horticulture and tourism, which are in terrible distress. There is also an agrarian distress of sorts after apple farming once again suffered losses owing to political unrest and untimely snowfall during the harvesting season for the second successive year.
Not a single step has been initiated either by the central government or the L-G’s administration to compensate the farmers. Till date, not a single official has visited orchards to take stock of the damage. It is worth mention that apple farmers are already reeling under heavy-interest bank loans while the prices of fertilisers and spray oils are always shooting up.
Kashmiri people continue to face the brunt of repressive policies. It is time popular opinion in the rest of India wakes up to this before it is too late.
Basharat Shameem is a blogger and writer based in Kashmir. The views are personal.