When State wears you down through its clerks

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 Citizen – bureaucratic-government interface in Kashmir is attritive.  The word attritive is derived from attrition which means wearing down someone by the process of reducing effectiveness, determination and strength through omissions and commissions.  An example may suffice here.  Person A, to seek remedy, redressal or action over an issue goes to a Government department. His/her first interface is with lower level staff. If at all they are available, their operating assumption instead of resolving the issue is obstructionism. If person A persists, he/she is made to jump through hoops – the person is directed and redirected to many persons in the hierarchy till he/she is either fed up or seeks intervention of higher ups through the offices of a politician or at times sheer bribery. The person is made to feel the power of a clerk or other minions. In other words, he/she is made to suffer. The person either gives up or, to repeat, seeks patronage of a politician.

 This attritive process inverts  what Woodrow Wilson called the  “administration –politics dichotomy” . That is the theory or construct which posits a difference and boundaries of politics and administration as separate sphere. The inversion allows the political class latitude and leeway for intervention in administration and bureaucracy. The much famed or notorious “babu- neta” nexus emerged and a whole complex is devoted to this nexus. In the process, public policy morphs into patronage and politics becomes patronage driven politics. Over a period of time, this form of politics and the nexus underpinning it becomes so entrenched that it is institutionalized. These observations are generic and general ones that probably apply and hold across South Asia with Kashmir being no exception.

 However, the denouement of this bureaucratic and political malaise has a different resonance in Kashmir. Being a conflict state, bureaucratic and political torpor adds another layer to the conflict. State society relations become further estranged with the relationship between either panning out in functional and instrumental terms. The state sits atop a society that is deeply alienated from it. This disembeddedness of the state from society besides entailing alienation also means that civil society is either absent or if it exists, it does so in a warped form. These themes come together in a loop that distort the state, society and civil society  leading to an abnormal condition that redounds negatively to all.

 The implication here is not that if the governance paradigm is improved in Kashmir, the conflict will then go away. No. Not at all. Conflict in and over Kashmir is not about governance. It has deeper roots and its dimensions and nature go beyond the prosaic and pedestrian but it is to suggest that bad governance adds to the poignancy of the conflict.

 The question we may ask here is why do people behave obnoxiously when a modicum of power is accorded them. I have a tentative answer but this answer pertains only to the context of Kashmir. That it, while it may or may not apply across South Asia, but the theory draws its wellsprings in Kashmir.

 There are two components to the theory I will propound. One is that Kashmir despite being predominantly Muslim is a hierarchical society. Two, a hierarchical society in conflict-within and without – leads to a certain powerlessness amongst its members. Power is unequally distributed in society. Class and yes, even caste differences (albeit in a different form and shape than in the rest of South Asia), plus the conflicted psyche of Kashmiris and the aspiration for power among those who lack it, overlaid by the demonstration of power by those who have it, perhaps make the aspirational dynamic of many Kashmiris to seek power and then wield it over the powerless. The Government and its various levels then becomes the arena for demonstrating this power. This may then explain why officials, bureaucrats and other minions become ruthless, obstructionist and difficult in dealing with the people. They are on an ego trip and they ensure that the citizen-client is “shown his/her place, so to speak.

But as is obvious, this has costs and consequences.

The question now is: Can these malaises be cured?

Perhaps.

Key to resolving and remedying these structural malaises lies in state power and employment of state power in a way that reduces the incidences of these diseases. The state must ensure that power is employed judiciously. The way to do this is that the state must use its power to reduce and curtail state power. This may sound a counter intuitive and paradoxical statement to make but its application does not mean hollowing out of state power; it merely means transformation of the state into a transactional model. That is, the relation between the state and its agents (bureaucrats, officials and other minions) must be premised on transactions rather than a permanent relationship. In other words, it means rejigging the Weberian paradigm of the state and the bureaucracy and making performance and contracts central to state employment with citizen clients as the judges of performance of state officials.

Admittedly a difficult paradigm to institute given the path dependence of institutions and inertia. It is however doable. It has been tried in the advanced countries with attendant improvements in service delivery, government performance and citizen client satisfaction. If this model has been tried and tested elsewhere, it stands to reason that the model can be replicated in Kashmir  too. However, a caveat is in order here. Government being government can never be a firm or a company and given that equity is the leitmotif of government than efficiency and the profit motive in companies, Government can perhaps never approximate a company. Yes, its service delivery, mechanisms and processes can be improved but never can a government be like a firm; nor should it be like one. But government functions, processes, accountability and service delivery – or, the institution of Government can vastly be improved and be made more efficient and equitable. Much grief can be avoided. The overall beneficiaries will be people and society – and Government itself. However, rejigging Government is an act of will and it would require well and truly a benevolent and prudent leadership to bring about this transformation in Kashmir. Does this sort of leadership exist in Kashmir? No. Not as far as the eye can see but we will conclude by resting the case on hope.

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