J&K order on govt employees will lead to governance paralysis, further alienation from state

Only the naive, tone deaf or the uncaring would mistake the outward absence of anger and resentment as a sign of normalcy.

A new order by the Jammu and Kashmir administration on the conduct of government employees is telling evidence that more than two years after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the much hailed “integration” is nowhere in sight. Indeed, if the contents of the order are anything to go by, its long term consequences are likely to be the very opposite. Effectively, the order places on record every doubt, suspicion and all other elements of profiling that the Indian state harbours against the Kashmiri people. The guidelines for “periodic verification of character and antecedents” of government employees, in the order’s own words, cover a “wide range of activities governing conduct… in public and private life”. Such verification is not just to take into account direct involvement of a person in violence, terrorism, sabotage and others act violating the Constitution such as secession and espionage on behalf of a foreign power. Now every government employee is also liable for the secessionist, treasonous, or violent actions, thoughts, and feelings (including sympathy) of his family members, and even more insidiously, of “persons sharing residential space with the employee to whom he or she may be bound by affection, influence, or obligation,” and for “failure to report such persons”.

It is hard to fathom the reasoning behind this egregious order, which comes on the heels of others indicating a toughening stance against Kashmiris in government employment. The alienation in the Valley is no secret. That is why young boys are still running away from home to join militant groups. The order is a tacit acknowledgement of this widespread disaffection. But if the administration believes the way to confront the problem is to crackdown on government employees, it is poorly advised. The order arms senior civil servants with vast and arbitrary powers to hold back promotions on the basis of suspicion and doubt, and shifts the burden of proving innocence on the accused. In the security saturated Valley, an order such as this goes against even the minimal definition of good governance, let alone serve grandiose titles such as “naya Kashmir”.

What it will likely produce is more governance paralysis — from the cubicles in the Srinagar secretariat to the government offices in every block, tehsil and village — in a climate of general suspicion and vigilantism. Unaccountable bureaucrats brought in by the administration are blamed for the drift now; the inevitable consequences of this order might make it easier, perhaps, to lay the blame at the door of local government employees. Only the naive, tone deaf or the uncaring would mistake the outward absence of anger and resentment as a sign of normalcy.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 21, 2021 under the title ‘State of suspicion’.

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