Un-Moving The Durbar

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BJP has called for abandoning the 145 year old practice of bi-annual ‘Durbar Move’, under which the Jammu and Kashmir government functions six months each in the two capitals — Srinagar and Jammu. The suggestion has come as a surprise as the party in the past has strongly opposed any such move.  The practice was started by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872.  Preparations for the Move start well in advance. The State Government spends a whopping sum of around Rs 100 crores on the exercise. In fact, the Government has a specific Move related expenditure which goes towards maintenance and the renovation of the ministerial bungalows , government quarters and the civil secretariat ahead of Move. A fortnight before the Durbar follows, Srinagar’s roads and bridges, particularly those leading to the secretariat get a facelift and a fresh coat of paint.

Though there have been intermittent noises about the wasteful expenditure incurred on the practice, the Move continues unhindered and is unlikely to be abolished in the foreseeable future. The moves by the successive state Governments to end this drain on state exchequer after 1947 have failed miserably. Any talk of ending the practice has now become fraught with the dangerous political repercussions. The last such effort by the former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah in the early eighties came to naught. Abdullah’s decision not to shift Durbar to Jammu was met with a fierce opposition in Jammu, with rightwing organizations, allied to the BJP resorting to violence to stall such a move. The agitation ultimately forced Abdullah to abandon the plan. 

Over the years, the Move has become only further politicized. It is now deeply rooted in the regional one-upmanship between Jammu and Srinagar where it is beginning to be seen more as a rotational chance to rule the state rather than simply as a mechanism for better governance across a geographically and climatologically diverse state. Besides, with the discrimination rhetoric growing louder in Jammu by the day, the Move is seen as crucial for the integrity of the state.

However, it is not that the Durbar is without its uses. In fact, the practice is based on a sound rationale of governance. The purpose is to bring the Government closer to the people in far flung areas of the state. The people from Jammu and Ladakh understandably will find it difficult to the travel to Kashmir during winters when temperature in the province plunges below freezing point. Similarly, it would be much of a travel for the people in Valley if the Durbar were to be based permanently in Jammu. The mindfulness of this reality is now forcing people to seek a practical alternative to the Move, which does not directly interfere with practice. One such solution being talked about is that the practice should be restricted if not abandoned. It is argued that Move should be confined to civil secretariat itself. Many departments, including the corporations could be bifurcated so that people can have access to officials round the year.

And pleasantly enough, it is the BJP itself, once the Move’s uncritical supporter, that is batting for such a solution. But again such a solution is fraught with its own undesirable political fallout. The bifurcation of the departments, it is said, would be a de-facto division of the state. But having said that it would be certainly advisable to start a debate on a creative solution to this elaborate biannual exercise. A solution that finds a way to resolve the rotational administrative vacuum in the two provinces. A solution that obviates the need for the people to travel long distances for even the minor official work while Durbar shifts between Jammu and Srinagar.

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