SRINAGAR: The Election Commission has announced the dates for the assembly poll in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from the State Chief Minister, there were many other persons from the Civil Society who had been pleading that the polls be deferred for sometime in view of the urgency for the rehabilitation because of the winter which has already set in. For reasons best known to them they have decided to go ahead with the polls stating that these will not affect the rehabilitation of a large number of people displaced by the recent floods. According to them the restoration can go on side by side.

Somehow it appears that Delhi is saying to Kashmiris, “vote before rehabilitation”! Incidentally, the poll dates for the valley are during the most severe period of winter beginning in the last week of December. Some people allege that apart from the boycott call, the winter chill itself will discourage people from coming out for voting. Allegedly, this may be the BJP formula to accomplish “Mission 44+”!

The Prime Minister visited Kashmir on Diwali to spend some time with the flood ravaged people of Kashmir. Unfortunately, he did not light any lamps which could bring light to the flood sufferers.

In fact one is reminded of the state chief minister’s actions during the flood. Omar Abdullah was caught on TV throwing bananas to the people marooned in the worst flood in Kashmir’s recent history. This earned him the title of “Banana Chief Minister”. In any case, bananas are still a staple diet provided they reach the affected people.

However, the Prime Minister has gone a step ahead and has virtually thrown peanuts to the flood ravaged people of Kashmir if one considers the amount of aid offered compared to the extent of damage suffered. There is a Kashmiri proverb, “Wanji daedis rohne tsuet”, which means administering Garlic sauce to a person suffering from heartache!

It amounts to taking sadistic pleasure from the discomfiture of the flood affected people. In spite of the independent reports about the extent of the damage and the enormity of the effort required for the restoration of the damaged/destroyed infrastructure and rehabilitation of the displaced persons, the government of India is not only dithering but giving piecemeal aid.

The Prime Minister has offered 570 crores for the houses destroyed in the floods and 175 crores for the restoration of hospitals. According to some reports refuted by the Union Home Secretary, the Defence Ministry is alleged to have presented a bill of 670 crores to J & K Government as charges for rescue by the Air Force and Army! The State Government has presented a relief package of 44,000 crores to the Central Government for sanctioning which the Prime Minister has stated to be under consideration, the usual bureaucratic reply for expected inordinate delay! Probably, he was thinking of the formula, “vote before rehabilitation”!

Incidentally, the state government has been offering rupees 75,000 for totally collapsed houses and rupees 50,000 for partially damaged ones as interim relief. This amounts to making fun of the losses suffered by even the lowest category of the people. At the present rates one truckload of bricks cost rupees 20,000 and a truckload of sand rupees 6,000. These days even a moderate type of dwelling will not cost less than rupees 20,00,000 or so.

The houses in posh localities range between two to ten crores or so! Even the village dwellings can’t be repaired in 70,000 not to talk of reconstructing these. There also seems to be some confusion about the priorities. The most urgent need is to take immediate measures on the proverbial war footing to house the displaced persons living in tents or some other makeshift shelters. The rehabilitation does not relate to housing only. The losses suffered by the trade, the agriculture and the horticulture sectors are gigantic. These would need massive packages for the full revival which may even involve long term concessions from payment of various taxes and levies.

There have been many complaints from non-resident Kashmiris from all over the world that the Government of India is not allowing a host of International Agencies coming forward to render assistance to the flood affected Kashmiris. In fact, some of the local leaders have also pleaded with the Government that international aid should be allowed in this hour of need. There is no doubt there are many international agencies which have the wherewithal to set up pre-fabricated colonies at an accelerated rate to house the displaced persons. The same holds good for setting up of urgent medical facilities. World Bank and Asian Development Bank would be willing to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation process. It has been reported that teams from these organisations are at present visiting Kashmir.

On the one hand the Government of India is dithering on taking action on its own on a large scale as required by the circumstances while on the other they are not allowing international aid. This gives an impression that the Government of India is trying to hide something in Kashmir which it would not like the world community at large to know by their direct contact with the local people. One of the main causes of prolonging alienation of the Kashmiris has been its deliberate isolation from the outside world. The Government of India should not only welcome international aid but should on its own be engaging global specialised agencies to help in quick restoration and rehabilitation.

The keenness of the government of India for some reasons to hold elections in the flood devastated land appears to be a misplaced priority for some covert reasons.. Some people allege that they consider it an opportune time to get a group of pliable politicians elected for next six years. People are too dazed and shocked to go into the intricacies of these covert plans. Polls do not excite anyone except the corrupt politicians who are interested in exploiting even this miserable condition of the people.

On their part the state government has recently been shuffling and reshuffling bureaucracy and police rather than pursuing quick rehabilitation and restoration. In fact, the Election Commission is reportedly examining this step of the state government. Resentment is growing among the people against the dithering in restoration and rehabilitation on one hand and the attempts being made to continue the rule of corrupt and incompetent politicians on the other hand by holding hasty elections in a totally disturbed atmosphere. This anger is growing like molten lava which may erupt sometime in the future in the form of a revolution sweeping everything in its path in a more devastating manner then the recent flood!

(Mohammad Ashraf is a former Director General, Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir)