The farce of ‘for public consumption’

By K.N. Pandita

Political heavyweights usually plan their election strategy well in advance to sidestep the urgency of rushing through the process at the eleventh hour. Past experience has taught all prospective candidates and parties to choose the right time for getting activated.

In a sense Omar Abdullah is much ahead of time in his election strategy to ride the tide for his party.

His recently held long and serious meetings with the highest echelons of power structure in New Delhi may not have elicited a definite ‘ yes ’ for all that he has proposed. Nonetheless, he has conveyed to them in his suave and subtle manner that the option of money power to run the government of militancy affected State is irreversible.  

Omar has enlisted several proposals under the label of developmental projects/works for the State to justify his demand for several billion rupees financial support and aid to State’s developmental programmes. This is apart of the centrally sponsored and financed projects under different schemes schemes. As a federating unit of the Union of India, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has the right to seek as much of financial assistance as is possible and utilize the funds for proper purposes meaning all round development.

The tenor of Omar’s interface with the highest level of ruling coalition in regard to his vision of development of the State reveals his ambition for special financial status as well for the State side by side with its constitutionally approved political status a la Article 370.

He virtually wants the centre to finance all development projects and accompanying reforms just because in his own words “the State has not the capacity to do so.” This is a subtle way of saying that if the State is to continue to be a federating unit of the Union, so the Union has to provide her developmental funds most liberally.

Every State of the Indian Union would want the centre to finance their developmental schemes liberally. This is a matter of right. J&K also enjoys that right and it should not be grudged or brushed under carpet.

The old axiom is that rights go with duties, and if there are not duties then there are no rights. The logic of contemporary financial convention is that one who provides funds has a right to ask about the utilization status of funds provided and something more.

Omar has made a strong case with the Prime Minister that grants sanctioned in favour of J&K should not be governed by riders or conditions. His argument is that conditions lead to constraints and constraints end up in inordinate delays in completing the projects.

But the ground situation hinges on a different set of facts. We know of a number of centrally sponsored projects for J&K which did not carry any strings yet could not be completed even when deadline for completion was extended twice or thrice. Therefore riders and conditions are not the real cause for delay in completing a project.

Secondly, riders and conditions set forth by the Planning Commission are not exclusive to J&K State. These are part of financial convention drawn by the funding source for all aid receiving entities.

In the past, J&K has been the recipient of financial aid for some specific projects from international lending agencies like World Bank. This aid is never without strings and conditions, and the State government did not have the conditionality problem with them.

In a number of cases the CAG has not given a good picture of delivery system at various state departments, especially in schemes sponsored by various union ministries through schemes and programmes bearing one or other nomenclature. Conditions and strings should not scare a state into pronouncing imaginary constraints provided it has functional workforce with implementation aptitude. We have not heard any other State seeking circumvention of procedures and formalities. It has nothing to do with the phenomenon of militancy behind which, most of the time, the state would like to find shelter. But if identifying conditions and riders is something of public posturing then this posturing is simply farcical.

We can take the prognosis to political domain for clarification. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s known stand on Indo-Pak relations vis-à-vis Kashmir question is that Kashmir is a political issue and the two countries should talk about it.

Let us agree for the sake of argument that Kashmir is a dispute and a political issue. Let us also agree that as a matter of principle of international diplomacy, disputing parties should talk about the dispute and thrash out the angularities.

The question is what is National Conference’s definition of Kashmir as a political issue between India and Pakistan? What does the NC and its leadership expect as the outcome of India and Pakistan talking about the issue?

Is not NC fully aware of what Pakistan wants from Kashmir and what her intentions about Kashmir are? Weeks before the transfer of power and declaration of independence in August 1947, Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader deputed a trusted delegation of NC seniors to Mr. Jinnah saying that NC would agree to State’s accession with Pakistan if the latter accepted some of its conditions. These were never accepted and Kashmir never acceded to Pakistan.

Pandit Nehru, as Prime Minister of India offered a no-war pact to Pakistan which General Ayub Khan turned down threadbare. Is that not a clear signal to Omar Abdullah of what Pakistan wanted or wants about Kashmir?

Days before his death in 1964, Pandit Nehru prompted Sheikh Abdullah to visit Pakistan and offer the Confederation formula to Pakistani President General Ayub Khan, the confederation of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Ayub Khan again turned it down and the Sheikh returned crestfallen. Was that not a signal to NC leadership of what Pakistan wants to do with Kashmir? Pakistan did not accept J&K as an independent entity to be confederating with the two countries. What more should convince Omar Abdullah about what the outcome of Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir would be.

Apart from all this, NC has been in regular touch with saner elements in Pakistan ever since the eruption of armed insurgency in Kashmir. An important NC leader, a former MP, is reported to be not only interacting constantly with Pakistani counterparts but also paying frequent visits to that country to carry forward NC-sponsored Track II diplomacy. This emissary must have been briefing top NC leadership regularly about the perceptions of Pakistanis of Kashmir dispute and its solution.

Despite all this, Omar’s intermittent reiteration of the rhetoric of Kashmir a political issue seems meant for public consumption. If it is so, it is absolutely farcical and explicitly dangerous. This is not going to help NC build bridges of understanding among the people of the State. That is what we mean by saying that the culture of statements for public consumption is farcical and all responsible political leaders should distance themselves from it. NC is a political party of historical significance. It cannot and should not be treated at par with other nascent groups who may as well indulge in public consumption tactics, albeit to the detriment of the masses of people in the State.

Link: Omar Abdullah on en.wikipedia.

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