Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Timely Primer on Democracy and the Role of Leaders

Ajaz reminds politicians that Democracy is all about people and not power or privilege

(The columnist, 37, writes under the name Ajaz Ahmad and lives in Srinagar.)

Rulers not Leaders!

Democracy prides itself on being a system of government which is all about self-rule. In fact, in a strict sense of the meaning the very word ‘rule’ is alien to the ethos of democracy. Ideally speaking there are no ‘ruled’ in a democracy, consequently there are no ‘rulers’. In a democratic set-up it is the people themselves who rule over their own selves – which just means that they live their lives according to a set of ‘rules’ (or the more canonized form of ‘laws’!) laid down by general consensus. Against this background it would constitute mere distribution of work, rather than a matter of privilege, to be involved in the enactment, regulation or implementation of theses rules or laws.

A ‘ruler’, in a conventional sense of the term, evokes the vision of a despotic monarch who lords over the less privileged, the less powerful and the less fortunate. That’s why the lexicon of democracy generally uses a more benign term of ‘leader’ for those at the helm of affairs. The main distinction between a ‘ruler’ and a ‘leader’ would be that whereas the former would use a set of rules or laws primarily to exert control over their underlings, the latter would use their capacity of leadership to lead their fellow men towards a better life. The most benevolent of rulers would live and make others live by his determined set of rules, which howsoever benevolent, would make a distinction between the ruler and the ruled not surprisingly to the advantage of the former. A leader on the other hand would be expected to ensure that he as well as others live by a set of rules that are there by general consensus and apply equally to all.

Given that the ‘ruled’ and the ‘rulers’ lived life by completely different criteria it wasn’t unusual for them to be out of sync with each others life style. Thus we have the classical quote attributed to Marie Antoinette about advising people to eat cake when they complained about the paucity of bread. Leaders, one would expect, would be more aware of the state of affairs because it would be about them only, as they are themselves part of the multitude, as common as the rest of the commoners. However such a distinction between ‘rulers’ and ‘leaders’ exists only in the realm of theory and philosophy, in reality as we all know, the demarcation is much blurred, that is presuming that it exists in the first place.

Our leaders have inherited all the traits of erstwhile ‘rulers’, including despotism and in most cases even a propensity to maintain a hereditary ‘line of succession’. Even the various ‘developmental’ works taken up by our leaders more often than not manifest their aristocratic mind set. The leaders of today are as blind to the needs and requirements of the people as Marie Antoinette must have been in her own time. They appear to be preoccupied with grandeur and treat the mundane with disdain, this perhaps being a direct fallout of their aristocratic leanings.
How many schools – the much needed primary and secondary level ones – could be established with say a capital of 25 crore rupees? And when one talks of schools, it is not the bare buildings that one refers to, the sort that are inaugurated by some dignitary even before they are anywhere near completion, sometimes even at the ‘foundation stone’ laying stage, which is where they stay. A school would mean a complete unit with a building (complete with doors and windows!) and at least a semblance of basic furniture and teaching aids not to speak of teachers. The only problem it seems is that a score of such units if ever they came up with this amount of capital would be too drab an enterprise and not at all anywhere near the grandeur of say a golf course!

Majestic kings in ancient times used to lay beautiful gardens whenever the fancy overtook them, leaders today are no less majestic in their vision it would seem. Such ventures provide employment, the very act of laying them and then of course the maintenance etc., is a common enough contention. Indeed so did the laying of gardens in those old days. Only one wonders that couldn’t it be that the very king who commissioned the laying down of a huge wall around his city ostensibly to create employment for a famine stricken people would have instead enlisted their labour to build respectable dwellings for them, complete with say a school and a hospital or whatever passed for these in those days? Is seems silly to expect such a thing from a monarch even benevolent enough to be moved by the plight of a famine-stricken people. But then given the present scenario it would seem sillier perhaps to expect something of the sort from the present day ‘leader-rulers’!

Indeed how many hospitals have we witnessed coming up in recent times? In fact the main hospital – a much overburdened and hardly a-state-of-the-art institution – in our valley is a legacy from an erstwhile ‘despotic monarch’. There is very little than has been done to improve its lot, leave alone multiplying this facility to cater to the needs of an increasing population. The only worthwhile schools in our valley are again a legacy of our so-called colonial masters, remnants from the past, well before ‘democracy’ had descended upon us. A prototype of a present day ‘government’ (established and run by the ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’!) school is a shoddily built building, and a half finished one at that sans the very basic facilities, that is wherever such schools exist in the first place.

Not that there are no constructive projects undertaken by the government these days. Crores of rupees are spent on palatial buildings to suitably house the representatives of the people, ostensibly an honour done to the people themselves whom these worthy men represent! Sometimes a more benevolent leader even throws open the manicured lawns of his official palace to the children of the laity, a grand and noble gesture suitably highlighted in the media. It is not that the ‘royal’ handouts of our worthy leaders are altogether absent in our day to day life. An occasional ambulance can be seen with a boldly painted legend on its sides proclaiming the fact of its being ‘donated’ to the public by some worthy public representative, ‘donated’ out of public funds, that is!

All the above outlined traits do seem to belong more to ‘rulers’ rather than ‘leaders’! Moreover the origins of the word ‘ruler’ in fact has something to do with a ‘straight stick’ and considering that it is easier for us to associate our leaders with baton sticks than with anything else, the word ‘ruler’ does seem more appropriate than ‘leader’.

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