Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam is under fire after he stirred up a political hornet’s nest by claiming that the region’s unionist parties lacked public support. All major unionist formations based in the Kashmir Valley have slammed the top bureaucrat while accusing him of breaching the neutrality expected of a civil servant and speaking “above his pay grade”.
The latest controversy erupted soon after it became public that the chief secretary had told visiting journalists that “Jammu and Kashmir was a broken state and there was no system in place due to years of misgovernance, corruption and unbelievable levels of fraud committed by leaders of mainstream political parties and separatist organisations. There, not a single soul cried over the detention of political and separatist leaders in August last year.”
In March this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Rajya Sabha that a total of 7,357 people were arrested following the revocation of Article 370 in the valley on August 5. The ministry said the arrested people “including separatists, overground militant workers and political leaders (including three former chief ministers) and activists, were arrested from August 5, 2019 to February 29, 2020.”
However, a prominent human rights body based in Srinagar Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) said the number of those arrested in Kashmir since last August was above 13,000.
Predictably, chief secretary Subrahmanyam’s comments on the region’s political landscape in the capacity of a civil servant did not go down well with Kashmir’s unionists and key analysts.
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), the restive region’s oldest political party, described the remarks made by Subrahmanyam as “baseless, politically motivated and intended to evade the genuine concerns of the public on the failures of J&K administration on every conceivable matrix.”
JKNC’s spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar saw political motive behind Subrahmanyam’s statement. “It can’t be a coincidence that the BJP’s leadership has been parroting the same line of thought over the past one year. The language used by the chief secretary while hurling allegations against mainstream political parties is exactly similar to what the BJP is saying. If he is so keen to be a politician, he should quit his job and join politics. The veiled political affiliations of J&K’s top bureaucrats have finally come forth before people,” Imran Dar argued.
A strong perception exists in the Kashmir Valley that a chosen few bureaucrats posted in the region are ideologically supportive of the ruling dispensation in New Delhi and have become de facto political commentators as political space for dialogue and dissent in Jammu and Kashmir has shrunk further since August last year.
Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while taking a dig at Subrahmanyam said that he was trying to achieve in Kashmir what Pakistani failed to in the last seven decades.
Waheed Parra, president of PDP’s youth wing, mockingly said that Subrahmanyam deserved the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, one of the state-organised civil decorations of Pakistan. It is awarded for outstanding service to Pakistan. “He (BVR Subrahmanyam) must be rewarded for single-handedly discrediting mainstream leadership in Jammu and Kashmir, something that Pakistan tried in vain for decades. But since he is a master’s voice and we are his subjects in his language of power so the accountability cannot be fixed,” Parra told The Federal.
Parra said that chief secretary was “trying to show us our place and remind us repeatedly who we are.”
“He’s taking credit for demolishing the mainstream space in Jammu and Kashmir and calling us ‘thugs,’ which is not very different from what many separatists would call us. His behaviour is nothing but a reflection of a mentality that Kashmiri leaders do not matter. He justifies his unacceptable behaviour by using or misusing the name and reputation of none other than the PMO.”
Ruhullah Mehdi, former cabinet minister and three-time legislator, told The Federal that Subrahmanyam has “crossed his moral and professional boundaries while making his sweeping statements.”
“He (Subrahmanyam) is better placed if he restricts himself within the domain of his post and profession. By making politically-loaded statements, he is doing a great disservice to his employer. By his logic, the Kashmir issue should have been settled every time the people came out protesting in tears for the local boys killed in encounters with the security forces. Every protest in Kashmir should have been the answer to him and his employer,” Mehdi argued.
Many Unionists say that Kashmir is the only place where regional parties have sacrificed between 7,000 and 8,000 workers to uphold universal principles of democracy and secularism.
“In Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and other politically fractious hotspots in India, one sees people dying in riots. But in our Kashmir valley, the PDP, NC and PC have lost thousands of workers for an idea. Yet bureaucrats like BVR Subrahmanyam make disgraceful comments to show disrespect toward the sacrifices offered,” said another political leader currently placed under house arrest in Srinagar.
Subrahmanyam’s statement has also drawn flak from other political parties as well. Senior leader of J&K People’s Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone also took a jibe at him.
Senior PC leader Imran Reza Ansari said that the chief secretary was taking pride in dismantling and discrediting the mainstream in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Mr CS (chief secretary), you have been here (in J&K) for two years. Wonder, how many people will cry if you are arrested. Hope you focus on your job rather than dabble in politics,” Ansari said.
Key Kashmir watchers like Riyaz Ahmad too are not pleased with remarks made by the chief secretary. “BVR Subrahmanyam’s remarks are a reflection of a colonial mindset. It is the same mindset that sees people as subjects, not as equals who deserve rights and respect,” Riyaz Ahmad told The Federal.
Most analysts have argued that the distasteful statements from a top civil servant do not augur well and put a question mark on his professionalism, work ethic and impartiality.
“The statements made by the Chief Secretary should not be seen in isolation. These are aimed at uprooting the remnants of democratic space in Jammu and Kashmir. His statements also tell us that bureaucracy in Kashmir is not a neutral party,” said analyst Naseer Ahmad.
Veteran Kashmir interlocutor and journalist Bharat Bhushan was of the view that the new Lieutenant General Manoj Sinha, “could have done without the chief secretary’s gaffe given that these are the only political elements in Jammu and Kashmir that he will have to work with. The political mood in Jammu and Kashmir should be evident from the fact that less than half a dozen politicians, three of them from the government sponsored J&K Apni Party, attended Sinha’s inauguration. They cannot form the core of the process of restarting any political process – their public legitimacy is even less than that apparently enjoyed by the mainstream politicians.”