Author : Ayjaz Wani

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Nov 01, 2019
After a change in its constitutional position, Kashmir now needs administrative transformation

Within a week of his appointment as the first Lt Governor of the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Girish Chander Murmu, a senior IAS officer who worked closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat, was administered oath of office on 31 October in Srinagar. His appointment came after the abrogation of Article 370 by New Delhi on 5 August 2019 and bifurcation of state into two Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. According to New Delhi, the amputation of Article 370 will help the ‘integration’ of the region with the rest of India and pave way for its economic, political and social progress. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while addressing a rally in Jind, Haryana, on 16 August asserted: “I want to tell the country that after removal of Article 370, whatever has been the stumbling block in the development and progress of Jammu and Kashmir has now been removed.”

As iterated time and again by New Delhi, the abrogation of Article 370 was deemed as an inevitable technical necessity to politically transform the state, that has long been marred by centrifugal tendencies and violent insurgency since the past 30 years. The decision to cripple Article 370 was also believed to be the magic wand that will – almost as a natural consequence – fully integrate the region with the Union of India. However, now that the Article 370 is history, the Centre seems to have miscalculated its options. After nearly three months, the biggest question that remains is how to restore the diminished faith of the people in the democratic structures and administrative machinery of the newly-formed Union Territory. Therefore, while Mr Murmu assuming office as J&K’s first Lt Governor will fulfil the technical requirement of enforcing the region’s “constitutional” transformation, the desired goals of the region’s progress as well as its ‘integration’ with India will remain elusive. The latter will need urgent and sweeping administrative transformation of J&K.

Since 1953, New Delhi used corruption as a strategic tool for political appeasement in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years, corruption became an institutionalised phenomenon and both – the local political elites and state administrators – indulged in rampant embezzlement of funds. Historically, since 1947, the state witnessed an unending spell of arrested development owing to a sluggish, inefficient and corrupt administration that was completely indifferent to the cause of the region’s socio-economic development. Deeply entrenched systemic corruption and inefficiency have for decades undermined the authority of the democratic institutions and created pervasive anguish and frustration among the masses, especially the Valley’s youth. While the state was thrown into a state of anarchy, the all-encompassing corruption and governance apathy gave a free hand to external and internal forces to foment disturbance. For decades, the common people were subjected to constant fear and extortion, while the rich and influential political and administrative elites exploited the situation for their own gains. Institutionalised corruption and nepotism contributed to the social unrest, giving rise to violent insurgency spread by Pakistan-backed terror organisations and organised crime networks.

Satya Pal Malik, the outgoing Governor of J&K, addressing the Kargil Ladakh Tourism Festival 2019 at Khree Sultan Choo Sports Stadium on 22 July 2019 said that terrorists should gun down those who have looted the country and their state. Malik later explained, "Whatever I said was in a fit of anger and frustration due to rampant corruption.Many of the political leaders and top bureaucrats are steeped in corruption here, they are criminals.” More recently on 23 October, he also accused the intelligence agencies for not giving correct information to both the centre and the state governments. Malik said, “After coming here, I did not took inputs from intelligence agencies as they do not tell the truth to Delhi or us. I spoke directly to 150-200 youth and tried to identify those in colleges and universities who do not stand up for the national anthem. I spoke to them and those in the age group of 25 to 30 years, whose dreams have been crushed, who have been misled and are angry do not want Hurriyat, mainstream parties, Delhi government or autonomy because they are being told that the way to paradise is by getting killed.”

The impact of rampant corruption and nepotism in (J&K) – is also felt in other parts of India, clearly indicating that it is not merely a problem confined to the border State, but has emerged as a threat to national security. The “fake arms licences case”, across six states of India, is a testimony to this dangerous phenomenon. These fake licences can be easily used by terror organisations across India for target killings and causing large-scale civilian casualties. The “fake arms licences case” highlighted the police-bureaucracy-criminal nexus in J&K. With corruption almost becoming second nature to the political elites and administrators, the immediate casualty in J&K has been effective governance and justice. This has undermined the trust of the Kashmiris in democracy and shattered their faith in the legitimacy of politico-administrative setup, posing a direct challenge to peace operations.

A survey done by ORF in 2017-18 shows that since 2008, poor governance has been a major contributing factor for the unrest and revolts by nearly 64 percent of the people of the Valley. ORF’s findings have been corroborated by similar exercises conducted by other agencies. According a CMS India Corruption Study 2017, J&K topped the list of corrupt states in India. The study revealed that 84 percent of the people surveyed perceived increased corruption in public services. The administration in J&K for long also been accused of misusing Central grants and other financial irregularities. A report published by The Hindu states that J&K received ₹1.14 lakh crore (10 percent) of all Central grants given to states over the 17-year period of 2000-2016, despite having only one percent of the country’s population.

Against this backdrop, though New Delhi has been able to ‘technically’ transform and integrate J&K with Union of India by abrogating Article 370, doubts remain over the decision’s effectiveness in bringing about the desired results in the context of socioe-conomic development and integration. Therefore, as India’s newest Union Territory gets its first Lt Governor,  Girish Chandra Murmu must borrow a leaf from Kautilya’s philosophy of Arthashastra to curb administrative apathy and corruption. Kautilya favoured mass transfer of the administrators from one place to another by not giving them enough time to manipulate the system. In the case of J&K, the present crop of administrators should be shunted out from their positions in the respective administrations of the newly carved Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. Both these new and sensitive geopolitical and geostrategic entities must be infused with a new set of capable, honest administrators with a high degree of integrity and without any vested interest.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, “The members of the cadres of Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service for the existing State of Jammu and Kashmir, on and from the appointed day, shall continue to function on the existing cadres”. However, the Bill added that the “Central government shall have the power to review any of its orders issued under this section.” This provision will create more hurdles for the Lt Governor to rollout a corruption-free and effective administration, which is an inevitable and urgent requirement to achieve the larger goals of integrating the region with the Union of India by restoring the faith of people in the democratic structures and administrative machinery.

After 5 August 2019, J&K has moved towards its new Constitutional order. However, it continues to be administered and governed by the same old bureaucracy that is steeped in corruption. Therefore, if the government is serious about its stated goals behind the abrogation of Article 370, it must give the new Lt Governor a chance to select 100-150 of the best and honest IAS/IPS officers who have the potential to stand up to the expectations of the people of Kashmir and deliver on good governance. New Delhi had singled out Article 370 as being the biggest hindrance to development and good governance in J&K so far. Therefore, now that the biggest hindrance is removed, it is the duty of the Centre to change the perception of the people and win over their confidence through good governance and administration. Otherwise, the abrogation of Article 370 will at best remain nothing more than yet another political gimmick to merely effect the ‘Constitutional’ transformation of the state and incite right-wing nationalistic sentiments in the rest of the country. At worst, far from bringing about mitigation of conflict, it will only further aggravate it.

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Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani (Phd) is a Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at ORF. Based out of Mumbai, he tracks China’s relations with Central Asia, Pakistan and ...

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