Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The importance of being Azad

I am not surprised at the recent outbursts of chief minister of J&K. He is perhaps only stating the obvious. Ghulam Nabi Azad has called Kashmiris corrupt. He says they feign fasting during Ramadan, a charge carried by Economic Times [Apr 20, 2008], a much respected newspaper published from New Delhi but subsequently denied by the CM’s office. Another salvo italicizes that a lot of people have amassed an awful lot of wealth, which is mostly ill-gotten and illegal. Azad adds that were he were to open these files [which are apparently lying on his table], most people would find themselves behind bars.

Truth be told, the chief minister has stated nothing utterly shocking. The Transparency International (TI), one of world’s leading Corruption Perception Indexes (CPI) -- in its 2007 report -- ranked JK, at number two, amongst Indian states, in terms of petty corruption. It is there for all to see. For many years now corruption has systematically ruined the state and pervaded onto its very moral fiber. Despite the Islamic faith, which everyone in the valley seems to carry on his/her sleeve, faithlessness hangs around their no-so-fair necks. From Taxi-drivers at Srinagar airport to the corpulent babu in the city civil secretariat, everyone is out to fleece you. So Azad is not entirely wrong to suggest what he is suggesting.

My problem emanates at another level. Rather than threatening to drop names and open some clandestine file, Azad should lead from the front and go ahead and open the damn files. Stem the rot. Book the offenders. Let those charged prove their innocence in the court of law. If found guilty their properties should be swiftly sealed off and auctioned. Rather than going on and on about the fabulous wealth that all Kashmiris have allegedly made during the militancy years, he should get cracking on bribery and graft. May be he can start from his own office in civil secretariat where everyone and is dog is thoroughly corrupt.

Rather than looking at the solution, which I am sure is not entirely unachievable, Azad is trying to be pontific. Does it not highlight Azad’s cynicism rather than his competence? Is he a local pope or an elected administrator? Or plain cynical. In hindsight all the King's men [read Delhi's cronies] become haughty, aloof and preacy once they reach Srinagar. They behave like satraps of Delhi's northern-most outpost.

Azad should just zip his mouth and stop scoring petty political brownies. He is mostly considered a rank outsider. Originally from a far-flung village Soti, in Kishtawar [that falls in Doda district of Jammu], he is nephew to the ex-director of education [Kashmir] G. R. Bhat. The old educationist -- because he disliked his surname or may be he was a poet of some stripe -- dropped Bhat and took the last name Azad. Ghulam Nabi followed suit. Azad has been outside the valley for more than three full decades. That explains the extend of his disconnect.

In reality most people in Kashmir struggle hard to make a living, just like any other Indian state. And not everyone is corrupt. You'll find honest, kind people like everywhere else. The malaise of corruption began in the violence years. An immediate side effect of the armed struggle was a systematic breakdown of the official machinery. The fear of law was simply gone. Vanished into thin air. In Kashmir – even in 2008 – people are really not too scared of cops. They are often referred to as Poonda – in a rather derogatory sense.

With their traditional avenues of income – tourism, farming, handicrafts -- dried up, and limited alternatives available, the ambitious kinds resorted to making a quick buck. The demographics had clearly changed by now. A majority of pro-India politicians and their lackeys and kin began the plunder. They stashed away large parts of the money that came from the government of India. The separatists – most of Hurriyet and ex-militant commanders and their stooges made hay with the easy money that Pakistan smuggled into Kashmir. Ordinary people spoliated each other.

Morality is herd instinct in the individual, Friedrich Nietzsche, the German thinker-philosopher averred in the 19th century. May be it holds true in the 21st century Kashmir. Indeed someone needs to step forward and tell the truth. Rip open the can of worms. But only words won’t help. Deeds are needed. Azad could be sincere but his efforts belie him. He comes from a party that is often called the fountainhead of corruption. It is full of sycophants and me-too’s. He has never talked about corruption in his own party. Isn’t he part of the appeasement polity? Isn’t he part of the same corrupt cliché’, notwithstanding his personal integrity? Why does he want the security forces in Kashmir to carry on with special powers till the year-end elections? [There is consensus emerging in the centre, calling for stripping some of the military’s more harsh powers in the state]. What will fundamentally change at the end of this year? Does he want a rigged election again? Isn’t then he too morally shallow?

In any case no state, like no home, is completely perfect. There are always problems areas. In our culture, as head of the family, a father would rather try to fix the problem because he has got the authority. He can criticize his folks, rap them, throw them out. But he won’t go about town saying my family is evil. My boys are bad and my wife is a compulsive liar.

And he cannot afford to say that he is immune because he has been away all the while.

Azad at 59 can’t afford to be insensitive to his compatriots.