Absolutism v/s Absolute Mess

A disaster happens when an event overwhelms the resources of a particular place. In Kashmir, where the administration is mostly on auto-pilot, even routine matters cannot be handled properly. Under such circumstances it is quite expected that even a minor event becomes overwhelming for authorities. First it was the snowfall, something not unexpected in winters, and in any case technological advances in meteorological science have made it possible to forecast such occurrences well in advance. In spite of that, the snowfall caused a major disruption in the functioning of various services suddenly, pushing the local population a couple of centuries into the past. It was followed by the rains which are again an expected weather phenomenon during this part of the year. But these rains too have now assumed the status of a disaster. Roads are waterlogged, and the precipitation has also done its bit towards the disintegration of road surfaces. Accumulated rain water conceals open drains and huge craters, and travelling is fraught with danger, with every possibility of risk to life and limb.  Authorities, as usual, have been found missing at a time when their presence was much needed.

          What is more, authorities are not only found absent when it comes to making peoples’ lives easier but even when they are present it is only to add to the woes of the people rather than minimizing them. It seems that the only role the local government has is that of maintaining ‘law and order’, which remains a euphemism for keeping the local population on a tight leash. But for the presence of the security apparatus and the frequent sighting of red-beaconed cars accompanied by security vehicles which appear hell bent upon running you over, one could have thought no one is in charge. Ministers as well as bureaucrats who are responsible for the executive functions of the government are mostly concerned with their own interests and that of their masters. Rather than being about service, these individuals and their institutions are more about power and authority, which most of the time is abused rather than used as a means to serve the people.

          Perhaps, this is to be expected considering that our bureaucrats are the descendents of the bureaucratic machinery set up of the British who were governing India. The primary job of these functionaries was to look after the interests of the British in India rather than that of addressing the concerns of the masses. In fact, for the common man these functionaries were part of the oppression and exploitation by a foreign power and hence to be feared rather than held accountable. Even with changing times, and the advent of supposedly democratic governance, the character and functioning of these bureaucratic individuals and institutions has remained fundamentally unchanged. Whereas this is true of the whole of the Indian subcontinent, it is especially true of Kashmir where, given the Indian hegemony in the region, the dynamics of power are still the same as they were in India during British times. Thus it is not surprising that in spite of being an ‘area of conflict’ Kashmir remains a prize posting for the Indian bureaucrat.

          In a democracy, a civil servant would be just that, someone at the service of the public, but given the circumstances here, a civil servant lords over the population which ultimately is just a population of serfs. Accountability of these functionaries is a far-off dream. So far as they are concerned, even approachability is difficult because of the much trumpeted ‘security considerations’. These ‘security considerations’ have sometimes been stretched to the point of absurdity like when some years ago the bureaucracy was asked to declare its assets for the information of general public many refused to comply citing these very ‘security considerations’.

          If the bureaucracy remains a model of the institutionalized oppression and exploitation of the British, political office appears to be a direct descendent of aristocracy.  Indeed hereditary succession is not the only similarity between the state heads of today and the monarchs of old.  Life-styles of these present day rulers would make the monarchs of yore look like indigent paupers. It does not stop at that. Since the stability of these ‘rulers’ is dependent on many factors it has given rise to the culture of cronyism which again exists to the disadvantage of the common masses. The absolutism of monarchy has thus given way to an absolute mess. In Kashmir this is even more evident, because elsewhere, there is a possibility, or at least a semblance, of accountability towards the electorate. But no such thing exists here because elections are either contrived, and even if they are free and fair, the choice is so limited that it ceases to be a choice at all.