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Loss of Self-Sufficiency and Jammu and Kashmir

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Self-Sufficiency And Problems Thereof

By

Z.G. Muhammad

Economics has never been my cup of tea. I have no claim to have read and understood John Maynard Keynes, the man who through the sheer brilliance revolutionised the concept of economics. Moreover, through his ‘Keynesian economics,’ he established a sort of yardstick that subsequently defined all economists that came after him.   I have no claim to have read, comprehended and assimilated Marxian economics. Notwithstanding, decades back having seen one of my friends translating Karl Marx’s seminal work Das Kapital into my mother tongue Koshur, despite finding the ideas quite convincing, I never endeavoured to make a serious study of ‘Das Kapital’ or ‘Dialectical Materialism’. Equally, I am yet to assimilate ‘Islamic Economics’ as encapsulated by Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi in his scholarly work ‘First Principles of Islamic Economics’ edited by one of world-renowned economist Professor Khurshid Ahmad. For a novice like me, even Professor Khurshid exhaustive introduction to the book was enough to get a basic understanding of Islamic economics. With my all love, for his clarity of thought on welfare economics and wealth distribution, I never studied Amartya Sen with seriousness. I never dusted a book titled ‘Manmohannomics’ on a bookshelf in my study. So my ideas on the economy of Jammu and Kashmir will be mundane but worth debating by economists.

In spite of having studied discourses and debates,  if the movement against feudal autocracy in the state was ‘economic struggle’ or ‘existential battle of the overwhelming majority’   that dominated during the late thirties and the forties,  in this column, I never talked about the economy of the state. And I never wrote the economic issues confronting the people. In the late thirties of the past century when Jawaharlal Nehru  appeared as a new political  guru for the movement started by the Muslims the state, and he had deputed communist ideologues like K.M. Ashraf and B.P.L. Bedi to Kashmir, a good majority of the leaders had agreed with them it was an ‘economic struggle’   against taxes and wages. Moreover, the document of Naya Kashmir was seen as the ultimate panacea. The document was a ‘cure-all solution’, a faction of Kashmir leadership so much was overwhelmed with it, and they influenced even Mrs Gandhi.  In 1948, in thick of international debates about the future of the state, Mrs Gandhi wrote to her father Prime Minister Nehru that Kashmir does need a political solution. The people here need adequate stocks of foodgrains and tourism- for selling their handicrafts. If the document prepared by the communist ideologues has ultimately proved a panacea for the state or it is still engaged in the “existential battle” is not subject of this column.  

That state after the end of the feudal rule, in reality, lost its self-sufficiency, this grim reality made me tread into the territory of the economists and come up with mundane ideas on the question loss of self-sufficiency. This loss, I believe is one among the existential threats that the state is confronted with at present. Like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth, this harsher reality visits the state more particularly territories and terrains outside the plains of Jammu often.  In 2008, during the Amaranth land row and road blockade, the loss of self-sufficiency made for more significant statement than ever before, it did cause some thinking in our business fraternity about cutting down imports and working for self-sufficiency. But, in reality except establishing a couple of units nothing much was done. The   happenings during 2008 could be an exception. Nonetheless, every inclement weather comes with this missive that the economic status we enjoyed has evaporated like camphor and we are now a dependent state. During 2018-2019 winter the news came with a bang. From Mid-December 2018 to February end 2019 for 35 days Jammu-Srinagar highway remained blocked. According to conservative estimates, it has cost Kashmir economy a loss of 3, 325 Crores, which is about 95 crores a day.  It was for the ingenuity of our forefathers, who made optimum use of every raw material available in the state that the state was not dependent on imports. And we were not only self-sufficient but earned big money from exports. Ironically, the land that was self-sufficient in food grains and other essentials has been made utterly dependent on imports- so miserable is the situation we are now dependent from collard green to an egg on everything from outside.  Because of our total dependence on imports we suffer a famine-like situation in Kashmir and other hilly areas even when highway gets blockade for two days.   

In 1947, the import-export ratio of the state was 1: 3, i.e. if we purchased goods from outside for one rupee and we sold good for three rupees to people outside. Today, the situation is reverse the import and export ratio is 4:1, i.e. we buy goods from rupees 4 from outside and sell goods worth rupee one in the outside market. Because of this imbalance, the state is caught up in an economic morass.   The question arises how and why the state slipped into a messy economic situation, lost its old status as a vibrant economy. During the first half of the twentieth century, there was immense trade activity in the state – there was ‘internal trade’ and ‘external trade’. Different parts of the state depended upon each other for supply of the things; this generated a lot of internal trade, and Srinagar was a vital trading centre that besides catering to the needs of areas within the valley supplied to far of places like Gilgit, Chilas, Yasin, Chilas, Leh and Baltistan.  External Trade from Kashmir was conducted through two routes leading to Chinese Turkistan, one Via Gilgit and other via Leh. Trade was a binding factor between Central Asia and Kashmir. After 1947, these routes were lost, and external trade activity slumped but proportionality it could not pick up to the same level through the Banihall Road.

In the scenario, as obtained in the state in 1947 collapsing of external trade could be a natural result, but ostensibly there was no reason for the state losing its independent status. It may need a scientific study to identify the causes behind it. Nonetheless, there are a couple of apparent cause for it, one introduction of ‘political corruption’ as state policy, lacking entrepreneurship in the business community and wrong prioritisation at the governmental level as well as in the private sector.

One may not expect much from the state apparatus, but the business community can play a significant role in making state once again self-sufficient by cutting down imports and investing in sectors like essential commodities, medicines, higher and professional education and building material. It is time for business houses, small and big to do some rethinking.   

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