Author: Saadut
•12:30 AM

The seasonal entourage is coming to this God forsaken place hence the commoners are expected to present themselves in order, appropriately hiding their rags. The mountain rally tailored roads in Kashmir remain such, where quantitative differences between craters and potholes are blurred and where politicians have long forgotten that mortals travel on these roads. The only stretches that get some life infusions are the ones that lead these cavalcades from their summer camps to their offices. Come April and an army of workers is seen extending make ups to these ‘privileged road stretches’ and ‘summer camps of the government’ hiding the crumbling parts of this city to temporary facades that last just one season of transit, to be redone next year. These selectively redone avenues will soon be used by the summer guests as runways while local commuters are pushed and squeezed to the edges. The paradox of such ‘limited beautifying the city’ exercises is such extreme that while the roads that end closer to the seat of governance are touched every spring in anticipation the arrival of the entourage, facilities beyond this seat of governance are treated as the ‘Tora Bora backyard’. Seemingly the transit governance apparatus is only used to opening front windows of their rooms; had they glanced over the shoulder, would have been reminded of the medieval condition of infrastructure a few hundred meters beyond the lawns of their offices. Beyond the ‘privileged  corridors’ that are all decked up and beautified seasonally, they refuse to see and pay attention to the ruins of dominion that the common people have to bear. Just a drive few kilometers behind these walled and secured fortifications will need reassembly of human vitals; such is the sea and mountain confluence on these roads. While the winter frost has to be fought by the commoners alone, the summer cool of this valley has to be reconditioned for presentment of the moving entourage; rules of ‘transit governance’. 

A tradition initiated during Dogra rule in 1872 by Maharaja Gulab Singh in order to escape the heat of Jammu (and also to show his presence in the newly acquired territory of Kashmir), is continued till this day for more political reasons than any governance issues. While the practice of Durbar Move was formally started by Gulab Singh’s son Maharaja Ranbir Singh who took the durbar to Kashmir for six months of summer in 1883 escaping the sweltering summers of Jammu, no ‘democratic’ institution in the state has been brave enough to call an end to this futility. Ironically this exercise has not only been continued in its original form by all governments hence, they have never implemented any reform in this practice even while the political and governance needs of different regions have changed drastically. Not only does this biannual exercise cost (lots of tax payers money), it has created deep divisions between governance classes, one for which the state extends all infrastructure during the move between ruled geographies and the other commoners who are barricaded out of ‘access and favor’ from this overriding class. And not to speak of the many work days lost for marking, packing, shifting, re arranging (and settling down after each move).

Governance ideally should mean systems and mechanisms that allow common people in a political unit to exercise legal rights with governance effectiveness. Unfortunately this basic prerequisite of governance is defeated when those governing follow a monarchical governance migration process, leaving the commoners to fend for selves at harsh times. Not only does this signify the continuity of an autarchical system that follows a ‘fair weather’ approach, it also signifies the nullified value of the citizen in this governance chain; whose interests don’t matter to those in power. While transparency and accountable already stand sold to the conflict alibi in the state, governance equitability has been for long been mortgaged to the annual durbar transits. In effect neither can the governance seat claim to belong to the common people, nor does it seem to identify with their aims and pursuits. This strange cocktail of democratic governance systems following an old monarchic model leaves it without any identity and goal. Ironically it is in the harshest months, when people need governance the most that this form of ‘transit governance’ evaporates. And even in the summer cool when this transit seat is back, the divisions of exclusion between the common people and the governing group are enforced by limited redressal avenues and access to governance systems for commoners, fortifications that dissuade interaction and the failure (deliberate) of those in power to connect to ground here. The divisions between the common citizenry and the privileged ‘summer guests’ becomes too stark then; people often wondering ‘if you could not share my misery in harsh times, how can you claim to be a part of this place in favorable times?’. The realization of this anarchic system happened to Rajiv Gandhi (then PM of India) in January 1987, when on a visit to Kashmir he was stranded in Srinagar due to heavy snowfall along with then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. On finding the government non existent in Kashmir when it was needed most (Durbar was in Jammu), Rajiv Gandhi expressed “(that) the system was anachronous”. 

While in winter the common man here is held hostage to non existence of any government, in summers they are held hostage by barriers of denial between the governed and the governing. The sprucing of select city areas, reconditioning and revamping exclusive to the ‘transit system’ creates visible divisions between the attended and the neglected. The valley outside the barriers of the seat of power shall continue to crumble for governance apathy. And while the ‘transit governance’ shall, like always, spend their cool summers in the idyllic valley escaping the heat of plains, there shall be no relief for the commoners on ground. They shall continue to be consumed by dark disdain in extended light out hours, in unannounced candle light dinners and in forcing children to spooky dark. While in winters the blame is often shifted to weather gods and forces unseen, the summer implicates silences of disorder.

And as soon as the autumn winds will pull in some winter tinge, this caravan will be again ready to move back to plains, escaping the fury of winter demons while abandoning the lesser mortals on ground to fight them out. In this ‘transit governance’ the commoner in Kashmir has a mere bystander value.