Put money where mouth is
For quite some time now people here are being bombarded with huge financial figures. A standard catch-line accompanying these whooping sums informs them 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 discourse, with both the 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”. In such a situation common people are certainly hard-pressed to comprehend if there is actually anything worth praise in whatever the governments have done here. Indeed there can’t be a bigger challenge to an ordinary Kashmiris’ 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 the common people. Take the instance of Jhelum dredging. For the past few years people were told hundreds of crores have been invested in its dredging, but last week’s flood situation laid bare all those claims – about amount and extent of dredging, as well as the costs incurred on it!
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, of which Kashmir has all along faced acute shortage.
Talking peace through economic development is OK and it makes a lot of sense, at least in the 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 the state’s failure in ensuring other freedoms -- that go beyond the political realm -- to its tribal and poor population. 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 Orrisa 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.
Unlike any other country, India does not live by its Constitution. It is the money that matters. Money has emerged as the most absolute and ultimate lever of power. So talking peace alone won’t suffice the need unless government knows how to put this money where the mouth (read need) is. “Figures won’t lie,” but as the adage suggests “liars will figure” is exactly the case here because the governments are yet to move beyond the rhetorical adventurism. Instead of wasting time in sharing meaningless figures, it will be better that government attaches a high priority to inclusive social policies and accordingly invests there so that the wider population has a reason to believe that the state is actively honoring the spirit of peace and freedom through development.