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 21, 2010

Are Western Style Stimulus Jobs Appropriate in Kashmir?

Arjimand comments on short-term jobs being created in the State to stimulate the economy. First the news item, then his commentary

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

J-K govt to appoint 8000 volunteers for social services

Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to appoint 8000 youths as volunteers to work at places of public importance, including clearance of famous Dal lake and traffic duties, minister for youth affairs and sports R S Chib said today.

"These volunteers will be paid an honorarium of Rs 2500 per month and would be selected from all districts of the state and sent outside the state to undergo vocational training", Chib said addressing a public meeting at Pampore, 20 kms from here in Pulwama district of south Kashmir.

President J&K Pradesh Congress Committee and Member of Parliament, Saif-ud-Din Soz said the Central Government is very keen for the speedy development and prosperity of the state.

Class Struggle Question: Would 8000 state-paid ‘volunteer jobs’ work?

A new brand has just entered into J&K’s job market. This brand is christened as State-paid Private Volunteers. This brand is unique and, probably, one of its own kind. And the title looks as much as a misnomer as the idea itself.

When state Congress leader, Saif-ud-din Soz and the state’s Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, R. S. Chib, announced the government plan of hiring 8000 youth as ‘volunteers’ last week, it raised many questions. One question relates to the state’s management of the job market in our state. The second question is related to the basic economic and social philosophies that this government espouses in an era of limited state. The third question relates to the quality of our governance and the vision our governments hold to make it better. Would our governance be any better with this ‘volunteer system’? Would the ‘volunteers’ employed be motivated enough to make positive difference to the quality of our governance?

We have been told that the plan is to enroll some 8000 volunteers from all the state’s districts, who would be paid a monthly honorarium of Rs. 2500 by the government. These volunteers would be required to help the state in areas where formal administrative structures haven’t been able to work so well. For instance, these volunteers would be tasked to work at places of public importance, including taking up a clean up of the Dal Lake and perform traffic management duties. They would even be sent outside the state to undergo ‘vocational training.’

This announcement seems to come with a not-so-veiled admission that the State has almost given up on its efforts to create productive jobs in the private sector. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s honest confession at a rally in Srinagar last week that out of the 500,000 unemployed youth, who have registered themselves in the employment offices of the State, the government might, at best, be able to recruit only 150,000 youth over the next few years is significant. That means we will have around 350,000 unemployed youth who would remain jobless for a long time to come.

Looking at the private investment climate in Jammu & Kashmir state today, it is clear that the room for creating jobs in the private sector would remain quite limited in a foreseeable future. Even as the locals are making investment in various economic areas, a big job creation as a result of that is quite improbable. The possibility of outside investment in the Kashmir region, owing to the chronic political uncertainty, remains bleak. The investment happening in the plains of the Jammu region is also likely to remain by and large static or even go down, in view of the government of India‘s decision to withdraw certain tax benefits, like the exemption of excise duty, in the State.

Politically speaking, this is quite a difficult situation for any political formation seeking to establish its political credibility and peace. J&K’s ruling political parties are, undoubtedly, confronted with severe pressures for jobs from their political constituencies today. Given the highly competitive political environment in the State today, the political parties here are naturally compelled to constantly reinvent their raison d’etre in an environment of high political instability. In view of this environment, seen from a narrow perspective, this kind of job creation does offer a viable solution in the short term, keeping in view its low costs and high political returns. But looking from macro economic and social perspectives, such a decision is fraught with serious complications in the days to come.

Let us begin with the possible economic consequences.

Bringing in a greater number of people within the quasi state structures without a corresponding increase in the State revenues makes little macro economic sense. This system is also going to consume a highly educated segment of our youth to a unproductive system of service delivery, which won’t help the economy in a significant manner either.

There are a number of possible political implications as well. The provision of these kinds of informal jobs, among other things, is also expected to ease the pressure on the state for jobs. However, as experience has shown, it will generate newer stresses in the days to come, which may not be that visible today.

As the experience of the statecraft employed in Jammu & Kashmir in the past testify, such an approach will make the subjects of this state even more dependent on government. It will also distract a greater number of our youth from their quest for jobs outside the State – something the governments here have been working hard on since some time now. It will also challenge the philosophical underpinnings of the state’s arguments about why J&K’s youth need to look beyond the state for jobs now.

In the shorter term it will definitely help the state’s ruling political formations in reaping a rich political harvest by way of greater political loyalty and grassroots support as well. However, on the longer term, it is going to aggravate the pressure cooker situation that the state finds itself in today. There may be some other spin offs of such an exercise too, which may not be anticipated or intended. Quite naturally, such a job system is going to create another layer of ad hoc governance system between the State and the citizens. The presence of such a layer will have both political and social consequences. Since this layer will operate on the normal governance space without a formal legal validity, it is bound to create frictions in the areas of coordination and jurisdiction between various organs of the state.

At another level, an adhoc system of law enforcement like involvement of these volunteers in state functions like traffic management are bound to raise questions of legal legitimacy. From a social perspective - and in view of past experiences – this system is bound to give birth to a new class struggle in the Kashmiri society, where various classes, by virtue of its systematic disempowerment, seek power by various proxies.

Under such circumstances, it is important to factor in the several class struggles happening within the Kashmiri society today. Some of these class struggles are as a result of our own contradictions. Some are clearly manufactured and designed to divide. It is important for our civil society to recognize this aspect in their analyses of such state decisions.

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