Streamlining treatment, traffic and tax is a prerequisite for transforming Kashmir as a society.
Dr. Qazi Asraf
To push-start a fruitful political process, the Jammu and Kashmir administration needs to implement the 3T strategy that will establish trust and rapport with masses and help create an atmosphere of discipline. A sense of it, to start with.
What is the 3T strategy? It is simple and basic: managing treatment, traffic and tax. Transformation, not transference, should be the focus of the government. After all, what is the role of the government if not driving the transformation of society toward positivity and positive behavior!
A sense of order and discipline easily percolates through the deeper layers of society when the administration takes lead in implementing human-oriented measures. It makes a real difference as the historical evidence has consistently proven. A mere projection of a façade in the negation of the content brews dissent and disinterest that undercuts democracy in the long run.
Implementing the 3T
In the context of Kashmir, it is high time to take the extreme position in radically implementing moderate views and measures. It should begin with small measures in a big way.
There are two arenas where maximum people-to-people interaction takes place: markets and hospitals. In Kashmir valley, it is estimated that 26 lakh hospital visits happen on a monthly basis which translates into a huge people-to-people interaction. So, hospitals are important platforms that convey the strengths or the weaknesses of the administration directly and, more importantly, subliminally.
Indiscipline and chaos in the hospitals sends a strong message to the masses about who holds the real power – the legitimate administration or the invisible mafia-run ghost administration. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the healthcare delivery system in Kashmir in the last two years. The chaos, indiscipline and shabby dispensation of services, despite the quantum leap up-gradation of the hospital infrastructures, persists. It is as if no investment has been made in the government-run healthcare industry for the past thirty years.
The scene in the market places is no better, although good roads have been constructed, particularly during the two years preceding that of Lieutenant Governor’s administration. Road connectivity and macadamization picked up a humungous pace beating all the previous records. But what has not changed is the discipline on the roads. The traffic violations, trespassing, encroachment continue as they were. All this paints a status quo ante picture in the minds of the populace.
It undermines the genuine intentions and efforts of the administration to improve the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity and hardens the perceptions that the state is weak.
For the commoners, not much seems to have changed. The same chaos; the same indiscipline; the same encroachments and the same frisking operations. Only the shutdowns have become a ting of yore.
The taxation regime also needs to be radically changed. The credit ceiling should be raised and the interest rate lowered on business loans. The requirement for a mortgage should also be lowered and tax collection from all the private business establishments, real estate businesses, and the informal sector should be made a priority.
How will the 3T work?
It is no secret that Kashmir has for long been in the grip of radicalization and extremism. Radicalization eventually showed its ugly face in the early 1990s. The two pivotal factors to push Kashmir into the violent mess were the success of Mao Tse Tung’s guerilla warfare in the 1950s and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. The Soviet withdrew not because the Afghans were technologically superior or better organized like Mao’s peasant army. They were neither. The Soviet withdrew under compulsion as they found themselves on the losing side of the Cold War. Whether the Soviets were under compulsion or not, however, didn’t matter for the Afghans and the jihadists around the world.
It was a victory. They celebrated the defeat of a superpower. It sure was a psychological reinforcement for the idea of radicalism and extremism. Ideas are ideas and they trickle and diffuse. The Law of Stickiness works hand in hand with the Law of the Few. No wonder Kashmir got engulfed in the dark flames and smoke of extremism and counter-extremism.
Why did it happen seemingly suddenly in the 1990s? Simply because years of misgovernance had perpetrated disorder, indiscipline, and chaos for the radical shift to happen. In that chaos, corruption and malpractices were erroneously dismissed as insignificant trivia. Indiscipline was regarded as a matter-of-fact thing and simply ignored. Lawlessness and indiscipline spread like an epidemic. In that frustrating chaos, as is always the case, the hot-blooded youth sought refuge in radical ideas to upend the so-called stinking socio-political order. Yet the bad decision-making bureaucracy and political class repeatedly ignored the brewing storm underneath the apparently calm surface. A spark was needed then to ignite the fire. Afghanistan episode helped put the spark in the hayloft.
Soon an informal economy outsmarted the formal one. Black trade and black money gained an entrenched foothold. Wealth creation became easier and bureaucracy fattened from the easy money. Tax evasion became a routine and property dealers and land realtors purchased every arm of the state. Money exchanged hands without being accounted for.
In social disorder, anything goes. Corruption and militancy-related incidents were accepted as a way of life. And so were shutdowns, traffic rule violations, and faulty healthcare delivery. That is a complicated social epidemic and Kashmir was witnessing this epidemic for more than seven decades.
Healthcare, roads and transport, and education are the faces of a government. They are crucial in building perception among masses about the overall efficiency of the government. Indiscipline in these three critical departments breeds gross social indiscipline.
Bad roads and wanton violation of traffic rules by the commuters, vehicles, and pedestrians speak loudly that all is not well with the administration. The result: people take undue liberty to break the rules.
Education builds the future perspective of a community, city, state, and nation. Disorder here may not be apparent and that is precisely what is dangerous. Like wood-rot – an innocuous-looking fungus that indolently hollows the mightiest trees, weakening them enough to fall when buffeted by a minor gale – a disorder in the education system irreparably chips away at the edifice of the strength of a society.
One may like the government to take drastic disciplinary measures to transform educational institutions, but that simply doesn’t work because the problem lies somewhere else. Here the Broken Window syndrome matters.
The most critical area that puts the real face of the government before the masses is the healthcare delivery system. Making and breaking of the image of the administration and government depend on the healthcare delivery system. Even when the state restructures the roads and transport, education, police, and administrative departments, nothing will be visible to the masses and nothing will be registered in their minds unless and until the healthcare system is brought under discipline.
Disorder doesn’t go away by making big investments in hospitals. Because perceptions matter. That’s why doctors are looked up to as the cream of the society. A high standard of discipline is expected of them, especially in troubled societies like Kashmir. When they break the rule, however trivial that may seem, it has a huge impact on the crowds.
In Kashmir, crowd psychology, as elsewhere, matters. Crowds here are disgruntled with the government doctors, especially those who work on the faculty positions in the Medical College associated hospitals. The reasons are simple. In 1986, private practice of the Medical College faculty was banned, and for good reasons. The Hon’ble High Court also upheld that ban in its landmark judgment on the petition challenging the ban.
The Hon’ble High Court’s decision was jubilantly received by the masses. But then bureaucracy intervened. The turmoil of the nineties shredded the law and order into pieces and the Hon’ble High Court’s order became one of the first casualties. The ban stands unimplemented to date.
People of the State have not forgotten about that landmark decision. It is historically evident that no administration, whether elected or selected, has had the guts to do away with this legacy. A stalwart of an administrator like Governor Jagmohan failed to implement the Hon’ble High Court’s order. What prevents the government from banning the private practice of government doctors? Many PILs were filed by the activists to get the government to implement the ban on the private practice of doctors, but in vain.
Forty years down the line the government is still petrified to even think of implementing it. It tells a big story. The people feel cheated and helpless before a high-handed bureaucracy.
So, what needs to be done immediately, almost on a war footing, to restore people’s confidence in the institution of government? The answer lies in taking the three steps. Minor, yes. But radical, indeed.
Handle quality-of-life crimes by implementing some minor traffic rules – in the letter and spirit. For example: charging fine from pedestrians walking randomly on and across the roads; crossing in defiance of traffic lights; fining vehicle drivers for stopping randomly to pick and drop passengers; fining drivers overtaking each other, especially at the crossings.
These are minor measures. But they are enough to send a strong message that the police are serious and mean business.
Raise the credit ceiling and lower the interest rates on the bank loans as has been done in other states of the country. Make the credit coverage of business startups hassle-free and lower the mortgage requirements. Make tax collection from all the real estate businesses, private business establishments, and the informal sector a priority. That will deliver a strong message. It will cut through the clutter.
In the past two years, tax revenue has increased but it remains at a meager 13% to 15% of the budget requirement. The bulk of this tax revenue comes from Indirect Taxes. Aggressive collection of direct taxes from real estate and property holders and private businesses can steeply increase the Jammu and Kashmir’s financial health and simultaneously send a subtle yet powerful message to the masses that the era of indiscipline, tax evasion, and disorder is over.
Drastic measures like termination of public servants with dubious records and seizure of properties may look okay, but such measures create resentment among the masses in a troubled society like ours. People are habituated to decades of disorder and indiscipline. In such circumstances, shock therapy is counter-productive.
When little things and minor changes are introduced, the message goes out subtly yet strongly. Then many steps, even drastic, can easily be taken and the public will support the government asio-political organization. they did in the case of Governor Jagmohan’s first term. The older generation still fondly remembers his first term as one of the most people-directed disciplinarian governments.
Dr. Qazi Ashraf is a surgical oncologist and the chief spokesman of JK United Front, a Kashmir-based socio-political organisation.