|In a truly modern democratic system citizens are expected to vote for political parties on the basis of their policies directed towards welfare of the general mass of people. Such political parties are called programmatic parties. The political philosophy of such parties rests on delivering public services from national defence to internal order, rule of law, industrial infrastructure, redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor, pollution free environment, health care, education, electricity, drinking water, roads, etc.
In such countries, where democracy be in its early stages of development, enterprising persons prefer politics as a career rather than business to become rich and influential. While as commercial entrepreneurship is a rather tough and risky venture, political entrepreneurship pays dividends quickly. Therefore, political entrepreneurs proceed to organise followers around some high-flown idea. A personal political party is born. However, in order to succeed in a political enterprise, the political entrepreneur needs to be a charismatic person endowed by nature with such capabilities as crowd pulling and rabble rousing in the name of the idea – the idea itself could be secular or religious in nature.
The relationship thus established between the party boss and his followers is essentially one of superior and inferior. The followers are inferior in that they either fail to understand party boss’s real motives or they expect favours from him for which reason they willingly become his clients; he is superior in terms of his capacity to grant patronage.
Political scientists call this patron-client relationship as “clientelism”. Since politicians must contest elections to come to power, they are required to dispense patronage to clients who in turn manage political campaigns to mobilize voters in exchange for promises of individual benefits like cash payments, or promises of jobs, contracts, etc.
Clientelism is akin to feudalism (jagirdari) of olden times. Under feudalism a similar patron-client relationship subsisted between a Big Man, feudal lord (jagirdar), and serfs (kashtkar-gulam). Serfs used to be inferior beings attached, often against their will, to the lands of their lord, whereon they were compelled to live, work, and die for the benefit of the lord. Serfs, however, would prefer freedom to slavery. But modern day political clients happen to be serfs by choice. Therefore, clientelism is primitive; while as modern politics is expected to be impersonal. And voter preferences are supposed to reflect general views about what is good for the country and people as a whole.
Clientelism results in large scale corruption. Politicians and their election campaign managers receive cuts from contractors. In the case of large construction projects, project completion is deliberately delayed which results in cost escalation, and therefore, entails larger cuts to political parties in the name of election funding. Thus corruption becomes so endemic that honest and well-meaning persons get absorbed into the system because the alternative is sanyas (asceticism).
Voters in clientelistic democracies often complain of corruption and lack of proper services although it is their vote that nourishes the system in the first place. They avoid blame by stating that they voted for “sarak”, “pani” and “bijli” although they know well that provision of roads, drinking water, and electricity, is the routine function of government which even dictatorships also provide to their subjects. The actual fact of the matter is that they vote for individual benefits which serves their interests in the short run but causes immense damage to their interests and to the interests of the country in the long run.
Kashmir also has a clientelistic political system. But it is different in that there are two types of politics there. One is called the “mainstream” because politicians belonging to this camp participate in elections; and the other is called “separatist” because politicians of this side reject elections. Since Kashmir is a conflict zone, there is also a third force, that of militants, who use violence to achieve their goal, the goal being azadi (freedom). Resultantly, the society here is torn among the supporters of militant violence, “separatist” rejectionism, and “mainstream” election participation.
Because the latter are part of the establishment we may call them Clientelistic Insiders. National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are rather significant Clientelist Insiders who vie with each other to come to power through elections, which they do alternately often in coalition with other parties like Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah used the ideas of Kashmir’s “separate identity”, and “responsible government” in 1930s to justify establishment of National Conference which he could personalize as it was rather difficult to personalize Muslim Conference. In 1950s and -60s he justified his political leadership in the name of plebiscite (peoples’ vote of self-determination). Post-1975 National Conference revolved around the idea of “preservation of special status”, and “restoration of autonomy”. Sheikh Abdullah was the biggest Big Man political feudal lord of Kashmir and an example invariably copied by every politician.
Kashmir also has a clientelistic system in place. And we Kashmiris, by participating in this system, behave like serfs. We are political serfs. Our ancestors were poor people who had been forced into selfdom. Compared to them we are serfs by choice. Our lives don’t matter. Only Big Men political feudal lords do. Take for example the killing of five members of Dar family on Hajin side in 1996. They were killed for voting in favour of National Conference. The killers were Ikhwanis, establishment-sponsored gunmen. National Conference ruled for six years then, 1996-2002 (and again for six years from 2008 to 2014). Yet they did nothing by way of procuring justice for the family. On the contrary Ikhwanis flourished during National Conference regime. Another example. In April 2017 Farooq Dar of Utligam was tied by Army personnel to the bonnet of their jeep and paraded for more than an hour from his village to Arizal and Beerwah on election day. Reportedly he had ventured out of his home to vote. Those he voted for did not come to his assistance to secure him justice against the inhuman treatment accorded to him by Army.
Voters in clientelistic systems call themselves modern because they enjoy right to vote, own houses, drive cars, wear jeans, carry hi-tech mobiles, drink Pepsi, eat Uncle Chips.
On the other side of the political spectrum in Kashmir are the “separatists”. I call them Faction-Running Outsiders because they run personalized factions and remain away from elections.
The “separatist” camp came into existence when anti-India armed revolt led by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) rendered the pro-establishment political parties irrelevant.
JKLF gave the idea of “azadi” (freedom from Pakistan and India) for the former Princely Kashmir State. Their revolt was soon supplemented by Hizbul Mujahideen and others who added a religious flavour to the idea of “azadi” by declaring that the “azadi” should be for the sake of Islam; Kashmir should be part of Pakistan; Kashmir should be a caliphate, and so on.
“Separatists” also exhibited political entrepreneurship skills when they set up personal political factions in the name of “azadi”. As of now there are dozens of such factions collectively called Hurriyat Conference. Led by Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik, and Mirwiaz they pursue a reactionary and rejectionist agenda. As for example they react to human rights violations by armed forces with hartal and chalo (strike and protest march). Establishment has over time read them and their tactics very well; and has mastered the art of foiling protest marches by placing restrictions on the movement of people in particular areas. Huriyat tactics of collective reaction has led to political stagnation; and institutional rigidity because they resist change. Therefore they are responsible for political decay. By supporting this political decadence we again behave as political serfs.
Ideologically “Separatists” prefer to remain vague on whether Kashmir is a political issue or a religious one. But they are one in their use of Islamist rhetoric to rally public support.
“Separatists” also call for election boycott on the grounds of non-acceptance of the Constitution of India. Yet they hold, as every Kashmiris does, at least two provisions of this same Constitution dear to heart. These provisions are called Articles 370 and 35A. They neglect the fact that continued rejectionist election boycott policy may bring into existence a provincial Legislative Assembly supportive of the idea of abrogation of these provisions of the Constitution of India as proposed by BJP.
Suppose these Articles are not tampered with; and suppose by some accident of fate “azadi” comes the Kashmir way. All of a sudden Clientelistic Insiders would be displaced by Faction-Running Outsides. The latter will then become Clientelistic Insiders. Clientelism will take hold of Kashmir with renewed vigour. Kashmiris will further descend into serfdom because “azadi” itself would not be a remedy to the disease of clientelism and corruption. What purpose would “azadi” be if Kashmiris will continue to be serfs even after ”azadi”.
Kashmir needs to reform its faction-running and clientelism. One individual or a small group cannot achieve this goal. Only a coalition of committed reformers can do so and that too with difficulty. First and foremost, Kashmir needs a cadre-based, cadre-funded, independent-minded, programmatic, election-participating party to guide people politically. Local politicians, having developed entrenched interests in the status quo, may not like the idea. India, Pakistan, America, Saudi Arabia, etc. might also not like it, because in that case money will not buy them influence in Kashmir.
Civil society could take the initiative in its hands. But then there should be a genuine civil society motivated by passion for public welfare. Civil society can be an illusion if it is driven by concern for individual and group interest.
God save Kashmir!