“Of the Rs 80,000 crore PM’s package, a good chunk of money has already been released for Jammu and Kashmir.” This is the latest assertion that came past week. So the ordinary people here have once again been bombarded with huge financial figures. A standard catch-line accompanying these whooping sums informs that this money is, and will be used for their betterment, progress and development. Although there is nothing unique about such pronouncements, however, what is new is the increased resonance of financial matters in the popular domain post-2002. With state and the central governments ever-busy in complimenting and praising each-other — state eulogizing centre’s “generosity” and latter showering admiration on the former for its vigour and “reformative measures”, common people are certainly hard-pressed to comprehend if there is actually anything worth praise in whatever the governments have done here thus far. Indeed there can’t be a bigger challenge to an ordinary Kashmiri’s imagination and creativity than finding and locating the areas where these visibly mammoth sums have been invested to bring about any betterment in the life situations of common people.
Money has been, and is no doubt being invested, but its benefits are confined to a limited coterie of people who plan, sanction and execute various projects, more on the paper and less on the ground. For a place which is continuously refusing to budge from being one of the most corrupt states, no amount of politically loaded financial rhetoric is going to bring about any change unless and until something is done to stop the pilferage of public funds. This obviously needs a massive political will, which won’t be there unless the political leadership itself is willing to be corruption-free.
Talking peace through economic development is OK and it makes a lot of sense, at least in theory. Developmental economists say that political freedoms without concomitant economic freedoms are meaningless. Certainly one could cite countless examples to substantiate the point, biggest, for instance, being the Maoists’ challenge within India. Although these tribal people, at least on the paper, enjoy all political freedoms as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to any other citizen of the country, but still they are up in arms against the state. Why? The major reason being state’s failure in ensuring other freedoms — that go beyond the political realm — to its tribal and poor populations. While the country has been progressing, the fruits of this progress have not reached all, and certainly not to the poor. Instead the windfall of power and wealth has remained confined only to a minuscule minority of the ‘bold and the beautiful’ – corporate giants, big businesses and political and bureaucratic elite.
In a country of almost billion-and-a-half people, the gap between the rich and the poor, elite and ordinary is increasing with each passing day. Constitutionally speaking, the President of India has same rights as an ordinary tribal from Kalahandi in Odisha or some remote tribal hamlet in Chattisgarh has, but practically speaking, they are certainly not the equals. Economic freedoms enjoyed by the rich empower them to cherish and benefit from the political freedoms. Take away economic freedoms, as is the case with many tribal poor, political freedoms become meaningless and situation rife and inviting for conflict.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir too is no different. If for the sake of an argument, one is to discount big political reasons that propel the conflict here, there still are so many other reasons which are life-blood for political turmoil in the state. However, for some reason, the political executive seems not at all interested even in talking about these causal factors, leave aside initiating measures to address them. This is why despite a loud rhetoric about money, the condition of the ordinary have-nots here has not changed much, nor has there been any visible headway towards ending their economic unfreedoms.