A view from Kashmir: Clientelistic Insiders and Faction-Running Outsiders

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Kashmir based political historian Ashiq Hussain argues that Kashmir based political parties - cutting across ideologies - practice clientistic and faction-based politics without any programme for delivering public services ranging from national defence to internal order, rule of law or equal distribution of resources. 

In a truly modern democratic system citizens are expected to vote for political parties on the basis of their policies directed towards the welfare of the general mass of the people. Such political parties are called programmatic parties. The political philosophy of such parties rests on delivering public services from national defense to internal order, rule of law, industrial infrastructure, redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor, pollution free environment, health care, education, electricity, drinking water, roads, etc.

In fledgling democracies on the other hand, as for example India and Pakistan, programmatic parties seldom exist. Nor do people vote on the basis of programmes. They vote keeping their immediate self-interest in view. And political parties cater to such voters, rather than pursue programmatic agendas.

In such countries, where democracy is in its early stages of development, enterprising persons prefer politics as a career rather than business to become rich and influential. While as commercial entrepreneurship is a rather tough and risky venture, political entrepreneurship pays dividends quickly. Therefore, political entrepreneurs proceed to organize followers around some high-flown idea. A personal political party is born. However, in order to succeed in a political enterprise, the political entrepreneur needs to be a charismatic person endowed by nature with such capabilities as crowd pulling and rabble-rousing in the name of the idea – the idea itself could be secular or religious in nature. 

The relationship thus established between the party boss and his followers is essentially one of superior and inferior. The followers are in inferior in that they either fail to understand party boss’s real motives or they expect favours from him for which reason they will become his clients; he is superior in terms of his capacity to grant patronage.  

Political scientists call this patron-client relationship as “clientelism”. Since politicians must contest elections to come to power, they are required to dispense patronage to clients who in turn manage political campaigns to mobilize voters in exchange for promises of individual benefits like cash payments, or promises of jobs, contracts, etc.

Clientelism is akin to feudalism (Jagirdari) of old times. Under feudalism, a similar patron-client relationship subsisted between a Big Man, feudal lord (Jagirdar), and serfs (Kashtkar-Ghulam). Serfs used to be inferior beings attached, often against their will, to the lands of their lord, where on they were compelled to live, work, and die for the benefit of the lord. Serfs, however, would prefer freedom to drudgery. But modern day political clients happen to be serfs by choice. Therefore, clientelism is primitive; while as modern politics is expected to be impersonal. And voter preferences are supposed to reflect general views about what is good for the country and people as a whole.

Clientelism strengthens elites which result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Also, it serves as a haven of refuge for criminals. For example, 34 per cent Members of Parliament of India who won their seats in 2014 had criminal proceedings pending against them in various courts (p. 547 Political Order and Political Decay Francis Fukuyama).

Clientelism results in large-scale corruption. Politicians and their election campaign managers receive cuts from contractors. In the case of large construction projects, project completion is deliberately delayed which results in cost escalation, and therefore, entail larger cuts to political parties in the name of election funding. Thus corruption becomes so endemic that honest and well-meaning persons get absorbed into the system because the alternative is sanyas (asceticism).

Voters in clientelistic democracies often complain of corruption and lack of proper services although it is their vote that nourishes the system in the first place. They avoid blame by stating that they voted for “sadak”, “pani” and “bijli” although they know well that provision of roads, drinking water, and electricity, etc., is the routine function of government which even dictatorships also provide to their subjects. The actual fact of the matter is that they vote for individual benefits which serve their interests in the short run but causes immense damage to their interests and the interests of the country in the long run.

Kashmir also has a clientelistic political system. But it is different in that there are two types of politics there. One is called the “mainstream” because politicians belonging to this camp participate in elections, and the other is called “separatist” because politicians of this side reject elections. Since Kashmir is a conflict zone, there is also a third force, that of militants who use violence to achieve their goal, the goal being Azadi (freedom). Resultantly, the society here is torn among the supporters of militant violence, “separatist” rejectionism, and “mainstream” election participation.

Because the latter is part of the establishment we may call them Clientelistic Insiders. National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are rather significant Clientelist Insiders who vie with each other to come to power through elections, which they do alternately often in coalition with other parties like Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

When Mufti Sayeed set up PDP ending 1990s, he played the idea of “healing touch” for wounded Kashmir, wounded by a decade-long insurgency and counter-insurgency. When out of power in 2008, he played the idea of “self-rule” for Kashmir. He passed on PDP to his daughter Miss Mehbooba as patrimony because it was his personal possession.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah used the idea of Kashmir’s “separate identity”, and “responsible government” in the 1930s to justify the establishment of National Conference which he could personalize as it was rather difficult to personalize Muslim Conference. In the 1950s and -60s he justified his political leadership in the name of plebiscite (peoples’ vote of self-determination). Post-1975 National Conference revolved around the idea of “preservation of special status”, and “restoration of autonomy”. Sheikh Abdullah was the biggest Big Man political feudal lord of Kashmir.

Both NC and PDP are vast clientelistic networks. Many people vote for them in exchange for individual benefits like cash payments, or promises of jobs and contracts, etc. They call themselves modern because they own houses, drive cars, wear jeans, carry hi-tech mobiles, drink Pepsi, eat Uncle Chips.

But the fact of the matter is we behave like serfs. We are political serfs. Our ancestors were poor people who had been forced into selfdom. Compared to them we are serfs by choice. Our lives don’t matter. Only Big Men political feudal lords do. Take for example the killing of five members of the Dar family on Hajin side in 1996. They were killed for voting in favour of National Conference. The killers were Ikhwanis, establishment sponsored gunmen. National Conference ruled for six years then, 1996-2002 (and again for six years from 2008 to 2014).  Yet they did nothing by way of procuring justice for the family. On the contrary, Ikhwanis flourished during National Conference regime.  Another example. In April 2017 Farooq Dar of Utligam was tied by Army personnel to the bonnet of their jeep and paraded for more than an hour from his village to Arizal and Beerwah on election day. Reportedly he had ventured out of his home to vote. Those he voted for did not come to his assistance to secure him justice against the inhuman treatment accorded to him by Army.

On the other side of the political spectrum in Kashmir are the “separatists”. I call them Faction-Running Outsiders because they run personalized factions and remain away from elections. They are dozens of personalized factions that revolve around the personalities of some Big Men.

The “separatist” camp came into existence when anti-India armed revolt led by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) rendered the pro-establishment political parties irrelevant.

JKLF gave the idea of “Azadi” (freedom from Pakistan and India) for the former Princely Kashmir State. Their revolt was soon supplemented by Hizbul Mujahideen and others who added a religious flavour to the idea of “Azadi” by declaring that the “Azadi” should be for the sake of Islam; Kashmir should be part of Pakistan; Kashmir should be a caliphate, and so on.

Many “Separatists” also exhibited political entrepreneurship capabilities when they set up own political factions in the name of “Azadi”.  As of now, there are dozens of such factions collectively called Hurriyat Conference. Led by Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik, and Mirwiaz they pursue a reactionary and rejectionist agenda. As for example, they react to human rights violations by armed forces with hartal and chalo (strike and protest march). The establishment has over time read them and their tactics well and has mastered the art of foiling protest marches by placing restrictions on the movement of people in particular areas.

“Separatists” rally public support by taking recourse to Islamist rhetoric. They prefer to remain vague on whether Kashmir is a religious issue or a political one.

“Separatists” also call for election boycott on the grounds of non-acceptance of the Constitution of India. Yet they hold, as every Kashmiris does, at least two provisions of this same Constitution dear to heart. These provisions are called Articles 370 and 35A. Yet they neglect the fact that continued rejectionist election boycott policy may bring into existence a provincial Legislative Assembly supportive of the idea of abrogation of these provisions of the Constitution of India as proposed by BJP.

Suppose these Articles are not tampered with, and suppose by some accident of fate “Azadi” comes the Kashmir way. All of a sudden Clientelistic Insiders would be displaced by Faction-Running Outsides. The latter will then become Clientelistic Insiders. Clientelism will take hold of Kashmir with renewed vigour. Kashmiris will further descend into serfdom because “Azadi” itself would not be a remedy to the disease of clientelism and corruption. What purpose would “Azadi” be if Kashmiris, serfs today, will continue to be serfs even after ”Azadi”.

Kashmir needs to reform its faction-running and clientelism. One individual or a small group cannot achieve this goal. Only a coalition of committed reformers can do so and that too with difficulty.  First and foremost, Kashmir needs a cadre-based, cadre-funded, independent-minded programmatic, election-participating party to guide people politically. Local politicians may not like the idea.  India, Pakistan, America, Saudi Arabia, etc. might also not like it, because in that case money will not buy them influence in Kashmir.

Civil society could take the initiative in its hands. But then there should be a genuine civil society motivated by a passion for public welfare. Civil society can be an illusion if it is driven by concern for individual and group interest.

God save Kashmir!♦

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.

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