The Curate’s Egg

How does one find the excellent parts of a bad egg?

Two late 19th century satirical magazines, Punch and Judy had wide popular readerships in late Victorian Britain. Judy published a cartoon in one of its issues that became a metaphor for obsequiousness. It showed a Bishop commenting to a young curate at the breakfast table that his egg was bad. The curate flustered, but displaying due humility, replied that it was good in parts. A few months later Punch put out its version of the same theme. It has the curate responding to the bishop, “O no, my Lord, I assure you; parts of it are excellent.”

How does one find the excellent parts of a bad egg? It is like trying to find what was excellent about the changed status of J&K since 5th August 2019. It is difficult but let us try anyway.

Several benefits were supposed to result from the disembowelment of Art. 370. The most touted benefit was that it would end support for the separatist movement. Did it?
It is hard to say because no one is speaking up except the politicians who were never separatists anyway. Separatism expressed itself in stone throwing crowds, speeches of separatist leaders, and the activities of the militants. The stone throwing crowds have disappeared and separatist leaders are silent, when not deceased, or locked up, but the hunt for militants and the killings continue.

However, as they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And if the things are really suppressed then we have a small mystery on our hands. Not only do we not know why there are no stone throwers or anti India speeches, we cannot know. You can believe, if you like, that it was all due to Art. 370. Solving political problems by removing the laws is a singular approach. Why stop with Article 370? There is a whole Constitution available.

We were assured that Art. 370 had led to fostering of political dynasts such as the Abdullahs and the Muftis. This was a hard one to swallow. The Badals in Punjab, the Karunanidhi clan in Tamil Nadu and of course, the most ancient dynasts of all, the Gandhis of New Delhi, have all practiced family-based politics for a half century and more. The Abdullahs and Muftis are still going strong.

A clear reply to this question of course must await the outcome of the elections to the Assembly, whenever they are held, if they are ever held. Going by public mood, it does not look as if dynasts will suffer no loss. In fact, in times of stress, people look for something familiar and comforting. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

‘Unknown devils’ leads to another facet of the current dispensation - its ruling class. In addition to the category of Insider Outsiders who were holding senior positions in the administration and police we now have a dominant class of Outsider Outsiders, - IO and OO in short. IOs were local in a sense because their careers were here in the State and could be expected to have a certain amount of local expertise and sympathy. The OOs are devoid of either. While IOs are definitely preferable to OOs, what about LOs (local officers)? This escaped attention when the fiddle with Art. 370 was announced in parliament.

One of the blessings of the reforms of 5th August 2019 was supposed to be development. Now, Government of India cannot have been well informed about the parameters it used to judge development. By all statistical indicators, J&K was doing quite well in subjects such as Health, Education, per capita income and other human development markers compared to States ruled by the BJP.

National media, which is essentially, the Delhi based media, faithfully took up this theme. One pretty young thing masquerading as a TV anchor, without doing her basic homework, tried foisting this narrative on the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He put her in place with the facts, very properly, before a national audience.

Now, the real test of this part of the egg would be if we found that in two years since J&K became a UT the economic indicators by which Government of India makes its statistical judgements about development had shown some sort of epochal leap forward. The statistical outline published annually by the Government of India gives data for the States. A perusal of the figures for J&K be instructive.

Also, we must remember the promise of thousands of crores of private investment that was supposed to have been blocked off by Article 370. That was supposed to be the best part of the egg. There is no sign however that India’s plutocrats putting their money where Government put its mouth. Private investment shies away from conflict zones. Industrial capital fled Punjab in the 80s. J&K saw its industrial capital investments peak first in the seventies and eighties, and later in the 2000s when Government of India suspended collection of central taxes in J&K for a limited period.

That period is now over. No more seems to be investing in Jammu and Kashmir despite assertions that the new set up would be a magnet for private investment. Perhaps Government of India should take the lead and invest a few thousand crore rupees in the valley, particularly in employment generating industries. That would generate the necessary confidence in the captains of Indian industry.

Modern manufacturing is tied intimately to the internet. No one is going to risk his money in territory where the net is cut off arbitrarily and without notice, whenever the law enforcement agencies feel like it, and where curfews are a regular feature preventing workers from coming to work, or transport is never certain.

If parts of the deal are good, it must be the extreme parts. Ladakh at one end, RS Pora at the other. Undeniable, it is a good deal for the refugees from Pakistan who took refuge in Jammu, as it is for the Buddhists of Leh, never happy with Kashmiri or Dogra dominion. The net benefit, we might conclude has been to, say, these one lakh Buddhists perhaps, excluding from the sum of Ladakhi happiness those Muslims of Kargil and Leh who were happier before the deed was done.

And, while discussing the religious divide in Ladakh, one might as well talk of the religious divide in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindus were happy when the deed was done, not the Muslims you might say. Yes – but why did they have a successful bandh in Jammu the other day. Which parts of the egg did Hindus not like?

Surprisingly, it is the trading community among Jammu Hindus that seems most affected. This does seem odd considering that the most fervent BJP supporters in Jammu are from among this group. They seem now conflicted between heart and mind. Their tight monopoly well protected under the earlier constitutional regime is now under severe threat from outsiders.
Outsiders, the perpetual ‘other’ in J&K, even among Dogras, are indeed a broad spectrum threat to the traditional modes of thought here – and it can hardly be denied, even by the most avid supporters of outsider placements that what the cause of ‘national integration’ is not helped by forced inductions. Dogras and Kashmiris alike have the same sort of sentiment towards outsiders as the Shiv Sena has for Biharis and UP Bhaiyas in Mumbai.

According to The Economist’s Style Guide, ‘good in parts is what the curate said about an egg that was wholly bad. He was trying to be polite.’ The final issue of Punch carried a redrawn version of the cartoon with the curate saying, ‘the f*****g egg’s bad’.

Robert Southey reflects in his poem After Blenheim, on the victory that came in the battle fought there

‘But what good came of it, at last

Quoth little Peterkin

Why that I cannot tell, said he,

But 'twas a famous victory.’

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