Author: Saadut
•10:50 PM

As if deficiency of effective governance systems were not enough in Kashmir, people are now facing deficiency of domestic energy. For decades people here have been forced to the edge for want of electricity, and now it is LPG. Immediately after the 6 cylinder LPG norm was announced by the Government of India and even before it was to be implemented, LPG refills started to vanish from public domain, people caught unawares.  Right after the 6 cylinder cap announcement, an artificial scarcity was created in the valley and each refill was sold in the black market as high as three times the actual cost, while the government pretended blind. Except the whimper rhetoric that the government doles out in short measures, often aimed at press release consumption, there seemed absolutely no effort on part of the government to address this issue. Since the distribution systems for domestic fuel in Kashmir are bad and unregulated, streamlining such systems for even the 6 cylinder norm will take months, leaving even a stop gap solution in a limbo with winter staring on our face. 

With the 6 cylinder cap closing in, LPG dealers refused to entertain any request for supply of refills even denying legitimate consumers who already had valid and requisite consumer documents, for any LPG delivery. Not only did this point out to the dictatorial attitude of the gas dealers but to the silence of the government pointed to a ‘we care not’ attitude.  While LPG dealers refused supply of cylinder refills, the same were being sold in the black market from 1200 to 1500 each and the administration remained undisturbed by such travesty.

Since domestic energy is not a luxury for households but a necessity, with each passing day more and more refills of domestic LPG were being exhausted across households in the valley and more scarcity was being created. In this growing vacuum, the swelling level of discontent on ground is going unnoticed by the government, but for how long. 

Only last winter protests against electricity supplies had taken a toll on human lives (the promise of justice “Tragic beginning to the New Year. Inexcusable use of force in Uri today… Law will now follow course. No protection under AFSPA will be considered since they (CISF) weren't on counter-insurgency deployment” has neither been implemented by them nor forgotten by us). Then the protests were sporadic since the supply and shortfall of electricity was also unevenly spread over habitations.  But now this LPG scarcity and the government indifference (being uniform) seem to be in for long, having the potential of provoking more of civilian resentment and unrest. 

Notably in late ’80s, Kashmir faced electricity shortages coupled with tariff hike. Then also the state government (NC govt led by Dr. Farooq Abdullah) was accused of indifference forcing people to demonstrate on the roads; the government acted with force resulting in the death of six persons, while scores were injured. These incidents then also added to a greater sense of alienation against the government that was considered to be apathetic.

Consumers in Kashmir heavily depend upon LPG supplies, having since migrated from wood stoves to gas ones (even wood is scarce now). And LPG consumption in Kashmir is high compared to other states in India keeping in view the harsh winters Kashmir has to face. In such a situation the application of 6 cylinders rule would not even suffice one winter in Kashmir. With winters looming and the availability of gas becoming ever elusive, the state may be sleeping to the growing unease on ground to its own peril. 

Fuel is linked to food, either directly via price linkages, inflation or indirectly via affordability and access. And denials / scarcity of fuel or food are known to have started common unrest. Not long ago when people took to the streets in Jordan, fearing the protests may shift the political power balance, its Finance Minister (Mohammad Abu Hammour) promised to ease consumer prices to diffuse the protests. Consumer fuel expenses have become a major part of expenditure for the middle and lower middle class families and any increase (resulting from scarcity of availability or change of state policies) heavily burdens the economic capacity of these households. The impact will be greater for households who live in extreme climate and weak economic areas like Kashmir where dependence on such fuel is higher, not only for daily cooking but also other sustenance needs. And in Kashmir where alternate sources to LPG (read electricity) are already seen to have been hijacked by ‘imperial corporations’ like NHPC with the active connivance of the political class, this fuel scarcity (and huge price increase) is likely to be seen as an extension of government apathy and indifference towards the condition of common people. 

Since rising fuel prices are known to push up retail food prices even further, Kashmir where majority of food is imported, the price increase will put further strain on commoners. In fact it was these rising food prices that provided the catalyst to civil unrest and revolution in many Middle East nations.  These countries had become heavily dependent on imported food products, where escalating prices of food combined with rising fuel costs and indifferent governments provoked these revolts.

As if a weak economy and a turbulent political climate in Kashmir were not enough to add misery to daily life, now comes the cold shoulder of government to this fuel famine. Kashmir always seethes at the edge and having seen political uncertainty and oblivion for decades even this fuel scarcity and price shock for consumers could catapult into a bigger agitation on ground. When winter will start to bite the common man and his body goes shivering on an empty stomach, fists will rise and the cold shoulder of this government will start to feel the jolt. Till then it is having a warm sleep in indifference. 

7th October, 2012

Author: Saadut
•8:56 PM

Days after taking over the reigns of power in North Korea, Kim Jong-un was shown on North Korean TV visiting industry, schools and border soldiers. As with earlier footages where his father Kim Jong-il would be shown to visit state institutions, visits of the new ruler bore exactly the same ‘state controlled human reactions’ in these places. The well practiced smiles of the visit participants, the indoctrinated head nodding responses, the trained applauses all bore a hallmark of continuity of tailor made mindsets. The stiff lipped generals who accompanied the North Korean leader on such visits were groomed for that well calculated and practiced pace behind him, overseeing expressionless faces in forced silences. 

There were glimpses of this North Korean model of ‘controlled human reactions’ when Rahul Gandhi recently visited the Kashmir University. Hand picked participants and debriefed mindsets that were caged in convenient questionnaires like ‘our questions’ not ‘my questions’, ‘our India’ not ‘our Kashmir’. When minds and thoughts are discreetly filtered, the only thing that passes such dictatorial censure is political convenience of the visitor. Why make Rahul feel uneasy for real questions, after all has Delhi not been escaping the reality here for decades. When Rahul said “I am a Kashmiri’ nobody was to ask him “so do you remember the repeated promises made by your Kashmiri grandpa and do you really feel the pain of politically deprived Kashmiris?” The censors adopted by the authorities in itself were acceptance of the fact that dissent on the ground is overwhelming and Rahul & team was not here to hear voices from ground but were here just for a PR show. The Korean stiff lipped generals were replaced here by face dropped, mask wearing state choir, the expressionless applause was forced upon ‘selective’ participants, and the photo ops were perfect newspaper cut. Of course Rahuls ‘build bridges’ comment was taken in a lighter vein in Kashmir, where distances are so huge that the state resorts to every censorship and event filtering to escape ground realities, where no bridges could bridge this gap. The ‘build bridges’ effort had in fact a striking resemblances to the hyped but failed rocket launch efforts of North Korea, a failure that soon became an internet jest


But then such failed Indian political rocket launches have been consistent in Kashmir. Jawaharlal Nehru’s promise from the launch pad of Lal chowk in 1947 of a plebiscite for Kashmir must be one starting point for such failures. Nehru’s ‘let Kashmiri’s decide their destiny’ promises were resonated in the United Nations and also the Indian parliament in later years, ironically however in practice he ensured erasure of whatever of internal autonomies Kashmir had held. Over the decades there was a consistency in such failures, from  P V Narsima Rao‘s ‘Sky is the limit’ rocket, Vajpayees ‘Insaniyat kea dire mai’ launch to Manmohan Singh’s ‘Zero tolerance for human rights violations’ missile, all of them were designed to fail on launch only. Their local counterparts not to be undone used to carry their own version of mobile rockets; the ‘Autnomy I’ which was sought to be test fired from 1953 to 1977, ‘Autonomy II’ a modified version of ‘Autonomy I’ used after 1977 and the ultra mobile ‘Autonomy III’ used by Sheikh’s progeny conveniently and displayed as per political periodicity. Unfortunately for the ‘Autonomy’ series promoters, their autonomous cry’o'genic rockets had been already diffused by New Delhi over decades.

In a state where everything is controlled by force, from economic (diversions) and state (non) amenities to political thoughts, mass production and forced dissemination of pre fabricated mindsets becomes a booming state enterprise. It is only with such a mass engineering of ‘social and political thought’ that the commoners can be herded to ‘state enforcement’. For an iron fist state to continue in power, it is mandated that measures of censorship are put in place, information flow in controlled and the state has an overwhelming eye on the activities of population. Information dissemination is so tightly controlled that state controlled broadcasters are busy serving only flattering reports about the state and the ‘imaginary good’ the power politicians are busy doing for the people. None of the trampled political aspirations or the social hardships due to an iron fisted state and anarchical political setup are ever reported. Such information censorship control by the state ensured that local news channels were banned in Kashmir (while they function in Jammu) and sms services stand banned for many years now. Whatever of the Indian media is beamed in Kashmir is self regulated by their own jingoistic ‘notionalism’. 

In Kashmir a small percentage of the population may have internet access but all of these connections remain under constant state surveillance and censorship. And if monitoring was not enough, the state here is known to clamp on such services as and when they wish. 

Of course there are other practices followed like crushing of political dissent by jack book force, distortion of history for political convenience and denial of justice for conflict victims which Rahul chose to pretend blind to.  And as with iron fisted states here too the will of the state is enforced by fear and might. But then fear has never been known to have won the minds and hearts of people.

Instead of building imaginary bridges in the air, Rahul would do well by trying to dismantle the walls that India has enforced around Kashmiri’s. The walls of seclusion, mistrust and denial of political, human and economic rights; and such state enforced walls need to be done away with for any rapprochement to take place. When the efforts of the state lay in ever widening of distances, no bridges would help bridge the gap. Like earlier imaginary launches by Indian leaders limited to hollow claims that fizzed out soon, this bridge too seems to be suspended in an imaginative wilderness. Does Rahul have the courage to do away with hand picked audiences in censored talk and be among commoners to hear and feel Kashmir? Kashmir does not have the Dalit huts of Amethi where Rahul could spend his night but villages like Kunanposhpora where Rahul can learn a life. Will he dare see lives of Kashmiri conflict tormented women up close in these villages? Rahul should realize that laying claim to his Kashmiri origins should also mean inheriting the political legacy of and fulfill the promises made by his “Kashmiri grandpa’ to Kashmiris. Is he brave enough to take that mantle and call spade a spade?

9th October, 2012