Some of the presumed components of a liberal democracy are the right to dissent, equal rights and a sense of justice without concentration of political power in the hands of a few, rather a dispersal of powers so that citizens from all walks of life and from all sectors of society can make choices freely and participate openly and responsibly. The government in a democracy is presumed to perform the job of ensuring rights, preventing bloodshed and settling disputes; and not usurping and concentrating unlimited powers and rights in the hands of a few without delivering as is the case in an autocracy or absolutism. By any definition, Jammu and Kashmir may only qualify for the latter, not democracy in the real sense of the word, where the political rulers have the absolute right, where the military and police enjoy an exceptional status without being held accountable for their unjust acts.
It was the birth of liberal democracy that inspired the saying, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” But such concepts are alien in this state, where a minister of state deems it rightful to go about slapping and spanking senior officers in full public glare without a whimper of protest from the shocked eye-witnesses including top ranking civil and police officers, who shirk from even making public the sequence of events or confirming the act. The minister is untouched. As happened in the mysterious death of a man after he was summoned at chief minister’s residence two years ago. Was he heckled and harassed by the chief minister and his henchmen as was alleged by some or did he die a natural death? A so-called probe that arrived at the so-called truth exempted the chief minister and his trusted lieutenants from even any questioning and scrutiny.
But absolute rights are not reserved solely for the top slot. An absolute pattern of impunity offers even a jawan the right to kill, torture and plunder in the name of counter insurgency, a right legitimized through a law called Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Jammu and Kashmir Director General Police last week demanded extension of the AFSPA to police as well, even though the JKP continues to enjoy tacit impunity even without such a law. That not a single case of 120 killings of 2010 at the hands of police has been probed so far is an evident example of the sweeping powers that they enjoy without a system of accountability. The absolute right of the para-militaries and the police to being brutal goes beyond the combat against the demand for ‘azadi’. When employees and jobless youth march on streets to seek jobs and better pay scales, they are instantly met with brutal lathi-charge if not point blank firing. Protests for basic amenities like water and power supply are considered so seditious that any uniformed force can have the unlimited right to quell it even by killing one or two odd protestors. Challenging such brutal powers is considered a nationalistic blasphemy.
Absolutist tyranny exists in other forms that are not visibly violent but nonetheless seek to marginalise, dis-empower and deprive the ordinary masses. Despite many voices and campaigns, the privileges of the rulers, aided by their officers, to loot public exchequer and induce stronger doses of corruption and nepotism in the state administration without any let up and without a strong mechanism to hold them accountable for their misdeeds keeps the masses powerless. Centralisation of authority exists only as long as the benefits of power have to be enjoyed not in owning moral responsibility for any failures where smaller fishes are conveniently found and invented to be made the sacrificial scape-goats. A recent case in point is the bizarre and shocking case of spurious drugs scam. Fake and sub-standard medicinal drugs have been liberally finding their way into the stores especially in government hospitals for years and gone unchecked even though many people in and outside the health department have been fully aware of it, despite the severity and gravity of the issue. When such a scam is finally unearthed, apart from the petty politicking that actually brought the issue to limelight and the regional politics being so craftily injected into the theme, the response at the top is characterized by the usual complacency.
While the specified Dehradun based manufacturing company of the drug clarifies that no supply of the drugs have been made to Jammu and Kashmir hospitals, directly or indirectly, pointing out to a possibility of spurious medicines, the investigation team busies itself in visiting Dehradun to verify facts but do nothing to even interrogate the Jammu based supplier who procured the drugs and then sold them to the government hospitals. An investigating panel is named and headed by special secretary health, who while ensuring that the probe will be completed in three days time, emphatically declares that no official from drug department or purchasing committee is involved in the scam even before it begins its assignment. The people are expected to believe that both those who sold and bought the sub-standard drugs, that have already claimed so many precious lives, have no role to play and that the health department has been performing its job even as it failed to check the potency of the medicine that is being administered to ailing patients. What more proof of absolutism or plutocracy does one need!