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The Many Shades of Kashmir Chair
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The Many Shades of Kashmir Chair

A routine bureaucratic shakeup on March 16 has once again rearranged the character-chamber complex of Kashmir. But beyond the “perception management” exercise, red-tapism-ridden masses are recalling considerate chairpersons of yore while seeking settlement of their drawn-out matters.


Since the 2018 summer split of the “unholy alliance”, Wasim Bhat is finding himself at the crossroads. Being a political activist of Kashmir’s grand old party doesn’t give him the same kick now, as his tribe of ramrods ‘drunk with power’ once enjoyed. With changed equations, yesteryear’s emboldened spirits have today gone submissively silent.

And the trigger, many reckon, is the resurrection of the bygone Babu-era—armed with veto and vetting powers. Especially, post-abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, the erstwhile Delhi diehards have either become embittered captives, or some obscure flag-bearers grappling with graft and gruff politics.

Fall of the political clout has only paved way to the rise of the well-oiled machinery — whose cog even loudmouthed: We feel free to take shots now. The resounding remark was hurled at the political wall dented by the summer stroke of 2019. 

“As Delhi’s perception managers, these decision-makers today are only enforcing the stick policy and in the process undoing years of political investment in the valley,” Bhat, sounding Rahul Gandhi, says near his grocery store in Srinagar. 

“They remind me of those bygone pen-pushers who heavily taxed commoner’s life in Kashmir. No wonder we’re facing this slew of unsettling orders today!”

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In not-so-distant past, Gandhi scion, in a first, exposed the secret scheme behind the Peoples Democratic Party’s rise as the “middle ground” of Kashmir politics, apart from the second party alternative in the valley, by cutting National Conference’s widespread cadre to size. 

Omar Abdullah’s buddy apparently lamented the fact how the BJP-ruled Delhi throne dismantled the years of political investment in the strife region. 

In his exhaustive diatribe, the Gandhi family poster boy didn’t even miss the forest for some trees. By bureaucratizing the region, which Pakistan premier Imran Khan reiterates “is the only dispute in the South Asia”, Delhi, as per the Congress leader, is only fuelling fissures and faultlines in the valley.

These concerns are very much part of the daily discourses of the sidelined—and mostly the low-lying—unionists of Kashmir now.

As the control has completely shifted towards the officialdom, many expect from the spigots to also deliver on public grievances, rather than “merely regulate” the pulse of politics in the region. 

“But as most of them are bent on upholding the so-called pseudo-progressive picture amid a clear wave of anxiety and adversity in the valley, their stint is only making people paranoid over the state of affairs in Kashmir today,” says Sahil Amin, a banker in City Centre. 

In the backdrop of these concerns, many are recalling the “responsive”, than “regulative”, administrators of the past, and their public welfare.

When Kashmir’s bureaucratic chambers were yet to become havens for privileged and powerful, the ‘Nizam-e-Governeri’ days would see officials addressing grievances of humans and their feathered friends alike.

The recent history nests an example when financial commissioner Raja Shivdev Singh Pathanya was bothered by an unusual hue and cry in one pleasant summer day in 1960s. His office on Jhelum bank in Srinagar would mostly stay serene. But the noisy visitors that sunny morning set him thinking. 

He soon understood that crows have unusually flocked around the DC office, and started cawing loudly. He sought his personal assistant, Bihari Lal’s audience, and demanded an explanation for the avian shrill.

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“Go and check their grievances?” Lal was ordered.

Outside his boss’s chamber, the nonplussed assistant would joke with his colleagues: “I think Sahab is unusually high this morning!”

But when the same ‘booze boss’ once again sought an explanation, the curt sounded Lal dismissed the cry as a routine cawing of crows, flying from the Chinar trees from one riverbank to the other.

Unconvinced, Pathanya himself stepped out on the balcony, to check the commotion. He sensed something wrong happening across the river and immediately crossed over on a Shikara to the Dubji Ghat. His hunch wasn’t off beam.

On the other side of the ghat, he saw a few labourers—flanked by some temple custodians—getting ready to chop off a bark of a dried Chinar tree.

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Before packing them to prison, Pathanya told them that they should’ve waited till winters, as the nest of the crows would fall along the bark they were about to chop.

“This ethical stand of a non-native bureaucrat is a classic case of how chair should act without resorting to any discrimination,” says Imtiyaz Bakshi, a government official. 

“But alas, in the mechanical governance based on the targets and data-driven growth charts, the chair has ceased to be compassionate now.”

There may be a sense of anguish against the chair in Kashmir right now, but then there’re instances when bureaucrats even invoked the heavens to settle the public matters. 

When deputy commissioner Agha Iftikhar’s office was crowded by the two competing parties in the past, he knew he had a difficult deal to decide.

The two groups from Budgam had reached the DC office to settle an issue of ‘who waters the farms first’.

On one side stood ‘Aariwaal’, whose accessibility to water-source was primary. Their counterparts, ‘Koaliwaal’, relied on the former for the water supply.

When Agha Iftikhar gave them a patient hearing, legend has it, he stepped out on the balcony of his office, raised his hands towards the heavens, and prayed for the rain.

Soon, to everyone’s amazement, the heavens opened up, and the farms got drenched and the water dispute ended. 

“Such instances go beyond the sector of bureaucracy where the contemporary worsening scenario of things could be taken nowhere close to comparison,” says Shabir Salati, a political commentator.

“We should always learn from our predecessors. They were once in our shoes and facing trying times like us. They’re indeed our teachers.”

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