Mercifully, Jammu and Kashmir is not yet at a stage where the old adage about politics being the last refuge of the scoundrel could be said to hold true across the spectrum.
Undoubtedly, we have specimens of venality pervading throughout the body politic, but there also are honourable exceptions who valiantly adhere to a high code, and refuse to be pulled down into the muck of inducements, blandishments and shady deals that have become a sad part of political life here. But bravely though this small tribe soldiers on, it has not been able to arrest the growing public skepticism and cynicism about what basically motivates a politician to take to the tricky and unpredictable terrain of public life. Indeed, the stock of politics and politicians has fallen so low that the first public reaction to a politicians statement or stand or deed is: How much is he making out of that? This is inevitable when the overnight riches of a party boss or an elected representative or a holder of public office violate the very basic notion the common man has about the road to prosperity being a long and arduous one. It does not help matters when the business and professional prospects of close confidantes of influential politicians take a sudden leap into the stratosphere when their mentors come to power.
Sleaze in politics is not confined to matters financial; it has permeated into the broader realm of what is generally called character, as evidenced in the involvement of prominent figures in the infamous Srinagar sex scandal. The brazen abuse of office that has been going on at high levels in exploiting Kashmiri womanhood (minor-hood, to be more exact) for jobs and other incentives serves to underline the depths to which public office has fallen in the state. The revelations about the sex scandal might be new, but the phenomenon is not. At all rungs of the political ladder, and indeed in the administration, individuals seem to have taken a cue from the deviant behaviour at the very top (or what was, for a long time, the very top), and taken that as a guarantee of getting away with impunity. This venal cult has been nourished and nurtured over the decades in a silence born out of widespread complicity, and has developed a cozy, comfortable relationship with all sections of the polity, be it governance or politics. This has seriously compromised the integrity of decision-making in the state, as, often, it is not the merits of the case that decide the issue but what spicy garnishing one has used to get a public servant into a more amenable frame of mind. True, allegations of this serious nature require ironclad proof, but that is the more tragic part of the entire sordid story. For the sections that know, not a single figure in the sexual exploitation scandal came as a surprise, but what was a surprise was the subsequent immunity of several others whose proclivities were also said to be widely talked about, and not in hushed tones either. What more evidence does one need when one side of the case is willing to name more names in what is potentially a damning indictment of the political and administrative system from top to bottom? What more evidence does one need when the agency investigating the case is told in unmistakable terms to draw a line on where its inquiries lead it to? It speaks volumes about the pervasiveness of the malaise that sections that know have taken the subsequent cover-up of known culpable individuals with philosophical fatalism, because, for them, cleaning the Augean Stables of Kashmir would defeat Hercules himself.
Is anybody surprised that with such an indulgent public and official attitude in place for several decades, Jammu and Kashmir should have been ranked the second most corrupt state in all of India after Bihar?
The state did not come by this distinction overnight. It has taken decades of hard work by devoted acolytes to benumb society into tolerating the high levels of criminality and corruption pervading our public life. Every government has administered incremental doses of malfeasance in one garb or the other, and given patronage to crookedness, the proceeds of which are funneled upwards for all levels to share. The gradual institutionalization of corruption, be it awarding a petty contract for a consideration or the transfer of a government officer to a more lucrative post, of course with the tacit assumption of a decent cut in return, has brought the state to a pass where only the utterly naïve expect wheels to turn without the lubricant of a sly pay-off.
When the government at the lower levels is so highly prone to inducements, is it reasonable to assume that the upper levels are oblivious to the goings-on? Or immune to the charms of Mammons many guises? That begs the question: what to do about it? Utopia is nobodys case. The much-touted State Vigilance Organization does not have the teeth to lay hands on the high and the mighty from whom the milk of corruption flows freely and seeps into the very core of the polity. At best, it can nab a lowly clerk whose gains are chicken feed when compared to the profits of the big fish. Or, at best, it can catch hold of an engineer whose over-reaching is embarrassing even to his patrons. But to root out the canker of corruption we must have people at the help who are irreproachable, cannot be comprised and firmly believe that we are fighting a battle of life and death.
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