Shuttling Stir

The government’s silence on the latest round of employees’ strikes should not indicate that it has run out of excuses for inaction over promises and agreements supposed to have been made with due solemnity. The resulting recurring pen-down stirs and gherao marches by the JCC would have been dismissed as an elaborate farce were it not for their exorbitant cost to the public exchequer, and the complicity of the government itself. As foretold in these columns even when both sides were at pains to claim that a resolution was at hand, the agitation of government employees, like Kashmir’s nomadic durbar, has shuttled between the state’s two capitals, and opened its fresh account in the warmer climes of Jammu.  The way for this round of agitation had been paved by the head of the cabinet sub-committee on the JCC’s demands.  It is not without reason that the government should have chosen to broach an issue, and preclude its fulfilment, just close to the deadline its 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 on its demands would be taken somewhere in the middle of September. The government’s unambiguous declaration then that the employees should not expect anything more was, to say the least, an indication that it 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 head of the cabinet sub-committee, 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 government’s take earlier is remarkable on two counts. First, it had chosen to dwell only on the salary component of the issue. Here too,  it had 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 government’s statement, for the issue does not figure in it at all. How could as senior a figure in the government as the finance minister have forgotten that the assurances had been given specifically on these three counts?  If memory cells need prodding somewhere, 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  many months ago. 

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