From the daily revelations, accompanied by reprimands and reprisals, it would seem that as a society we have left no stone unturned to be the most corrupt one in the country. If we have failed in our endeavours, it is despite our best and concerted efforts!
The “India Corruption Study” by the Centre for Media had ranked J&K as the second most corrupt state after Bihar in 2005. J&K has since “slipped” to the fifth rank in 2017; beaten as it has been by Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Whatever be the facts, relativities and perceptions, the reality is that the incidence of corruption is undoubtedly pervasive and high. Tragically, so is its social acceptability. It now stands almost sanctified.
In its incidence, corruption is not unique to Kashmir. What has made it unique are the accredited causes and ascribed consequences: it is proffered as a one of the main reasons for youth alienation, stone pelting and even militancy. Also, a consequence has been the indictment of a people: “corruption in the psyche of Kashmiris”; an attitude which has now come to become an attribute. Corrupt politicians, corrupt administrators and corrupt people. These causal extrapolations are not just problematic but also degrading.
In Kashmir, corruption is not merely an individualistic phenomenon where individuals enter into unethical relations or transactions. Rather it is a dense social phenomenon in a volatile and vicious political environment. Unlike elsewhere where it is generated in the sphere of business and administration, corruption in Kashmir is generated and thrives in the world of political relations. It has been a part of the process of governing Kashmir which goes much beyond the transactional corruption emanating in the course of administrative decision making.
When placed in the wider context of politics, Kashmir is a case study in political brokerage and deal-making which will put high street investment bankers to shame! The realpolitik of, and in, Kashmir has worked through a web of surreptitious networks created on graft. It is this which provides a fertile ground and catalyses’ everyday retail corruption.
It was former Army chief General V K Singh, now a junior Union minister, who revealed that many J & K ministers received funds from the Army. This was corroborated by A S Dulat, former intelligence chief, in his book. He dwelt at length how he corrupted virtually the entire political establishment. It got international ratification from former U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford. He cabled the US State Department, in 2006 and 2011, that “everybody in Kashmir gets money”, describing politics in Kashmir being “as filthy as the Dal lake”.
All these “revelations” are important not because of the individual named or unnamed. Nor also about a political party or parties being bankrolled. These are important insofar as they reveal the manner in which the edifice of democracy has been constructed and has been managed in J&K.
All this make corruption layered in its origins, objectives and operations. The real issue is that there is political corruption in Kashmir for a reason and a purpose: for the last seven decades and more it has been used to mask democratic authoritarianism as democracy.
From the Kashmir perspective, it is about the deep distrust that the Union government has had of the people of Kashmir and their elected representatives. From the national perspective, it is about ensuring that the elected representatives play a predetermined role and don’t deviate from the political play that is scripted by sleuths sitting in New Delhi. It has been about how, in a situation of alienation, corruption has been used as a mode of cohesion. This started way back in the early 1950s.
The liberal “furtive funding” are indeed the “chains of gold” that Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about in the Parliament, of “binding the people of Kashmir with”. And here we are, bound hand and foot!
It is to this political corruption that attention must be drawn to. It is not only corrosive for political stability, but undermines the foundations of democratic society and brings governance in disrepute.
The many “covert interventions and operations” have made most of the institutions in J&K bankrupt. The institutional structures, be it political or administrative, belittled by the lack of legitimacy and burdened with the failure to perform are now bound by corrupt practices.
While the covert interventions of the deep state have generated corruption, subversive political processes have socialized it, and mainstream political activities have normalized it; made it acceptable. The administrative, organizational and institutional apparatus have operationalized it.
This has resulted in corruption becoming a very particular social construct of a society that, in the throes of political uncertainty, sees it as a compulsive requirement for, and price to pay, to get to power. It has become a political necessity. All these kinds of corrupt acts have been made to appear as “normal” under a given political situation and not under any particular dispensation. Corruption in Kashmir has been regime agnostic. Over the last 70 years, the society has, at different levels, internalized the normalization of corruption and socialized the standards and even the moral principles. This has now been embedded not only in political arena and also in social spaces.
If indeed this is so, then corruption will have to be dealt with at all these levels. Otherwise dealing with it as an end product is just optics: the current bunch of corrupt will be replaced by another bunch of corrupt; the reproduction of corrupt and corruption will not stop. To accuse an individual or a group, for example, could just be what is beneficial to the emergence of the new power structure; it will not be about morality but about polity. For, in the existing scheme of things, the corrupted are not “liabilities”; they were “assets”.
Given this understanding of corruption and how it has been engendered, any attempt to stop it not just welcome for what it is — a move towards better governance – but also what it signals. It is a major political initiative; a change in the strategy of dealing with Kashmir. It is an extremely significant initiative to change the dynamic of the bonds and relationships, temporal or transitional, which have been built between the different agencies and agents. These bonds not only underlie, but also drive the political dynamics in the state.
If the cleanup is accomplished at this level, it will be a big service to politics of the state and ethics of the society. For the long term conduct of democracy in the state, it will perhaps rank alongside the fabled first fair election in J&K conducted under the watch of Janata Party in 1977.
The government may do whatever it has to eliminate “individual” corruption, be it among bureaucrats or politicians. For it to be self-sustainable and not just a phase, the elimination of corruption at the individualistic level with a moralistic dimension is for the civil society to ensure. The civil society has to do engender social processes that stigmatize and not sanctify corruption.
An interesting case in point is the ad hoc appointment in government and elsewhere which is under the scanner now. It was started by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Prime Minister of J&K from 1953 to 1964. Srinagar street lore has it that Bakshi sahib used to appoint people or rather issue their appointment orders on the packaging foil of cigarette packets!