Going As Planned

So, there it is, unfolding precisely as predicted by these columns several months in advance even when both sides were at pains to claim that a resolution was at hand. Like the Kashmir’s nomadic durbar, the agitation of its employees too is set to shuttle between the state’s two capitals, and will formally open its fresh account in the warmer climes of Jammu around the time offices begin to function there. The way for this round of agitation had been paved by finance minister Abdul Rahim Rathar who heads the cabinet sub-committee on the JCC’s demands. The facility with which the minister had manufactured an excuse for the latter to make a show of compelled confrontation makes it clear once again that the government’s hardball and softball has a definite policy direction, born presumably of certain inconvenient compulsions. It is not without reason that the minister should have chosen to broach the issue just close to the deadline of the government’s latest promises. The last round of strikes by the JCC had been averted almost at the last minute by high-level assurances that a decision would be taken somewhere in the middle of September. Mr Rathar’s unambiguous declaration then that the employees should not expect anything more is, to say the least, an indication that the government is in no mood to keep its word. But the wonder is the ease with which the government speaks with a forked tongue. Or, perhaps, the better description would be to say that its left hand does not know what the right is doing. The finance minister, at least, should have been aware that assurances at the highest bureaucratic level have been given not once but twice since last year for decisions to be taken within a specified time frame. Selective amnesia, it seems, is not the exclusive preserve of the fickle masses, but a characteristic trait of the ruling classes as well.

The finance minister’s words are remarkable on two counts. First, he had chosen to dwell only on the salary component of the issue. Here too, he has glibly passed over the ticklish matter of arrears, not referring to it even by implication. But, as these columns have pointed out a few months ago, this demand has mysteriously disappeared from the JCC’s horizon itself, signalling that its leadership had silently fallen in line. Of the remaining demands, some of which used to figure only incidentally in govt-versus-employees rows in the past, three stand out in contention – enhancement in retirement age, regularisation of various categories of non-permanent employees, and addressing pay anomalies. This is the second salient feature of the finance minister’s statement, for the issue does not figure in it at all. How could such a senior figure in the government have forgotten that the latest assurances had been given specifically on these three counts? Should the minister require some prodding for memory cells, elaborate bureaucratic explanations about data of various categories of non-permanent employees not having been compiled had received wide media coverage at that time. One of the several conclusions to be drawn is that the government is no better on this front today as it was several months ago.

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