No Relief in Sight

The Jhelum couldn’t have chosen a worst time to vent its rage. Winter looms large before Kashmiris, promising more miseries for people made homeless, as well as for those returning to their damp and damaged houses. It is also that time of the year when the state bureaucracy winds up in the Valley for its move to the summer capital. The ruling coalition is in its last throes, and bedraggled even without the floods because of its drubbing in parliamentary polls. Topping it all is the political party in power at the centre, a party not exactly friendly, and sworn to changing the discourse on Kashmir by reducing the focus on the Valley and its inhabitants.

The floods couldn’t have come at a more ill-opportune moment for the Kashmiri people.

          A whole month has passed since the city of Srinagar was laid to waste by floods, and its posh residential areas, commercial and tourist hubs, hospitals and administrative set-up reduced to shambles. The waters have receded, but that does not mean the end of the troubles of the sufferers. In fact, it is just the beginning of a long and arduous trek back to normal life. The ‘shock and awe’ aspect of the initial days of the flood having diminished with the waters, and the fickle attention of the media having turned towards other ‘breaking’ news’, the journey back to normalcy is going to be a lonely one, with very little of the focus it ‘enjoyed’ in the beginning. The devastation will take years to recover from, and with every passing day, it becomes more apparent that even immediate concerns of the people are likely to remain unaddressed for long.  A large section of the people is struggling for bare existence. It is particularly tough on children, and the old and the sick, and in the coming days mortality attributed to the floods is likely to rise.

          The J and K government has been overwhelmed to the extent that it has gone into a state of apathy from which it seems unable to emerge. While the government was conspicuously absent, citizens took matters in to their own hands and managed rescue and immediate relief in a highly commendable manner. By the time the authorities came out of their stupor the initial crisis was over. If the state government failed in its ability to prepare itself for the disaster, it proved to be even worse when it came to rescuing stranded people. The failure continued in its efforts to provide immediate relief. The huge bureaucratic machinery, which is more about perks and privileges than any real work, was completely grounded, and for  the most part ,continues to remain in that state. Steeped in corruption and inefficiency, with officers manning important positions not because of any special ability but because of cronyism and nepotism, the bureaucracy is barely functional at the best of times and the flood has been just one more reminder of how redundant those high sounding portfolios really are.

          Also, the ruling coalition has its own existential dilemmas to worry about. The partners in power, never really cosy, are staying together just to scrap the barrel. With their marriage of convenience nearing its end, they are more into petty bickering rather than acting as a joint force to tackle the problems of the common man whom they supposedly represent. If anything, party honchos are only compounding people’s problems by their petty vote-bank politics, favouritism, and even pilferage, in the distribution of relief material.

          As for New Delhi, it has been far from forthcoming. In fact, if the flood can be good news for anyone it appears to have been so for the ruling party at the centre. Not only has it come as a big opportunity for it to discredit the state government and the already beleaguered parties that make it up, it might yet prove to be actually useful for the saffron party so far as its Kashmir agenda is concerned. That is what probably explains the efforts of the central government to downplay the whole tragedy and block international aid. Kashmir, even in its devastated state, remains an ‘internal matter’ and there seems to be no relief in sight for the people of this jinxed paradise.