Welfarist or Populist?

Welfarist or Populist?
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In reality, a thin line differentiates “welfare” from “populism”. In theory, both are defined by clear lines of demarcation, but in the world that we inhabit contemporarily, the lines are increasingly blurred. From Donald Trump in the United States to Modi’s India to parts of Europe, the tide of populism has increased. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, going by the slew of measures that the administration has taken, especially in the formulation of the Budget 2018, suggests that it is not immune from this broad trend. Without going into the intricacies, minutiae and details of Budget 2018, which editorial space does not permit, the thrust of the Budget, according to the rhetoric of the administration, is “people oriented”. It may be pertinent to note that the past year’s budget was held by the administration and its chief protagonist, the Finance Minister, as “system’s oriented. While, conceptually, Budget 2017 might have aimed at reengineering the state’s systems through the instrument of the Budget, but yet again, in reality, it made no difference to the people of Kashmir, who continued to be at the sufferance of bureaucratic inertia and systemic torpor. It is not clear, given the past, how things will turn out this year. Past extrapolation suggests a yawning chasm between indicative intent and actual economic reality. Now, returning to Budget 2018, given the structures of the administration and the gulf that actually defines rhetoric, intent, performance and reality, and the structural conditions that obtain in the political economy of Jammu and Kashmir, it appears to be populist than welfarist. In the final analysis, any given budget is not about debits, credits or even balancing the debit side with the credit side, but it is about political economy, that is, roughly speaking the nature of production and consumption in a given society and where and how power relations impinge on these. Historically, the budgetary process in Kashmir has hardly touched these dimensions but has been defined by the ingress of the mere economics and accounting of budgets. Moreover, outlays, spending and related functions of the budget cannot operate in isolation of the systems of a given society and its economic health. Both these are rather decrepit in Kashmir. For instance, unemployment is the biggest economic challenge in Kashmir. How can outlays create and generate employment in Kashmir and affect the trade cycle under conditions of conflict and isolation from other economies and economic systems. Mere schemes can only make a dent but this would be in the nature of ephemera and even illusion. To get out of the economic morass that Kashmir finds itself in, nothing short of an economic revolution is needed. Budget 2018 merely fiddles and tinkers and the grandiosity of its architects can only flounder on the rocks of reality.

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