Jammu & Kashmir: How votes devour rights

19 Aug, 2014    ·   4618

Shujaat Bukhari writes why governments in power must shun the appeasement policy of garnering votes on populist measures

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
After the parliamentary elections in which his party National Conference as well as Congress tasted a drubbing, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is yet to put a breaks on showing “magnanimity” in addressing people’s grievances. For more than five and a half years of his rule he showed disregard to the demands of different sections of society. However, the rout in the Lok Sabha elections made him to even reverse his own decisions, thus showing that they lacked application of mind. However, the populist measures announced regularly since the results were out seem to have not only tilted the balance but are proving to be costly.

In order to resurrect his party’s position, Omar Abdullah has been trying everything from reversing the recruitment policy to enhancement of retirement age and many other sops. This is purely done to attract the voters who showed that they were not happy with his performance. He may list his achievements of building bridges, opening colleges, ITI’s and hospitals but the feel of governance is missing. Politically also he could not infuse confidence and trust among the people and he could only be judged by the mishandling of murder of two women in Shopian, killing of 120 people in 2010 and his failure to save Afzal Guru from the gallows. From the day one he assumed office he would repeatedly assert that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) would go during his tenure but now he is citing examples of those who could not scale Mount Everest but did not give up.

The pro-people announcements made by him might have brought relief to sections of people but the decay that will eat into the institutions will have a longer impact. Opening Tehsils and Niabats in almost every mohalla and degree colleges, which are less than the worth of a middle school, does not augur well for the state and its financial health. This needs further discussion taking into consideration all the pros and cons.

However, the latest announcement made by the chief minister on August 15 is about giving reservation to Paharis and Other Backward Classes. This is purely to lure these sections ahead of elections which are just three months away. The reservations are coming at a very high cost the general public has been paying now for long time. Since Supreme Court of India has put a cap of 50 percent on reservations, the state had been utilizing 43 percent till now. But with this announcement the quota will be complete and for majority of population, which is outside the ambit of reservations, it will be just 50 percent.

Rise in the number of educated unemployed youth among the general category people is a major concern, particularly in Kashmir. And to give away more to those who are apparently under-privileged will add to their frustration.

It is good to carve out space for those who cannot generally compete in the open merit categories but the pattern with which it is being done has come at a huge cost. Paharis are already struggling for Scheduled Tribe status and the state government has recommended the same to Government of India. In turn the GoI had asked them to conduct a survey. A committee headed by Peerzada Mohammad Amin, head of Sociology department at Kashmir University, has been working on that and it was proper that the state government would wait for the recommendations and press the same with GoI. Merging them with ST quota would have left some space for the general category people. As on date, 22 percent are reserved for backward areas, 8 percent for Scheduled Caste, 10 percent for Scheduled Tribe, 2 percent for Other Social Castes and one for those living near the Line of Control. One fails to understand the logic in giving reservation for Other Backward Classes as they already come in other reserved categories. The biggest damage was caused by the same government when it failed to pass the bill to ban the inter-district recruitments.

One cannot be against reservation to empower the downtrodden but the rationale behind such reservations is untenable. A reserved category candidate who gets admission in a professional college continues to get the concession until his or her retirement like in appointment, in promotions and other benefits. Another curse is that the reservations are not extended to deserving people now. Those who reap the benefit have not even seen their so called “birth places” but get education in premier institutions like Burn Halls, Presentations Convents and JNU’s and also get the benefit of reservation again pushing those who continue to live in places like Gurez, Machil, Tanghdar, Uri and Teetwal to the background. Also, after completing their degrees under these “special categories” they do not look towards that soil which is evident from shortage of doctors etc in these backward areas. It is ironic that doctors from Srinagar are forced to serve in these places and those who benefit on these “tickets” are enjoying in Srinagar.

The governments in power must shun the appeasement policy of garnering votes on such populist measures. Those elected to the assembly from the areas where general category people live must muster courage to oppose such decisions. If the educated youth in urban areas are suffering for lack of jobs and proper rehabilitation, such steps are responsible for that. It not only leaves them far behind but also leads to socio-economic imbalance in the society. Unfortunately the meritorious candidates are forced to work under their juniors as they jump to the higher posts only because of reservations. Reservations must be enjoyed judiciously and those who benefit from this should first serve their own people in far flung areas and not prefer to live in cozy and luxurious houses in Srinagar and Jammu. Simmering discontent among the youth should be seen as writing on the wall. Politicians need to be responsible in safeguarding the interests of all the people and not do anything in frustration to save their sinking boats.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir