The country appears to have forgotten the tragedy still playing out in Kashmir, the valley. Its been more than a hundred days now, and almost a hundred deaths, but we have moved on to Karan Johar, the Tatas and Amar Singh. The “surgical strikes” have served their purpose of moving the spotlight away from the internal dimensions of the problem; TV anchors and retired generals have ensured that we look at the valley only through the prism of war with Pakistan. It doesn’t matter that these strikes have served little purpose: infiltration and cease-fire violations have only increased amongst the ceaseless and futile war mongering. The govt’s strategy is clear: exhaust and starve the Kasmiris into acquiescence. It would be so much more humane to talk to them.
The modern state is an awesome adversary, with its millions of troops and unlimited resources; a country of 1.2 billion can easily take a few hundred deaths in its stride (the number of farmers committing suicide every year is many times this number, but do we bat an eyelid at that ?) The Kashmiris can’t win and Mr. Modi knows this. But what he should also factor in is that they can cause a lot of damage to the fabric of the nation and the values it stands (stood ?) for. Kashmir is headed for indefinite turmoil and prolonged destabilisation. Recent developments are a portent of this: the burning of 19 schools so far and attacks on siting MLAs indicate a plan to destroy the political and development processes; I have no doubt that the ambit of these attacks shall be enlarged in the coming days. All reports seem to indicate that the State has ceased to exist outside the urban areas, and even in the latter it is visible (and felt) only through khaki uniforms and tear gas shells. According to press reports hundreds of young Kashmiris have disappeared, reportedly to join the militants. They will surface soon, I have no doubt, trained and armed with the dozens of looted weapons, and then Pakistan won’t have to infiltrate foreign militants through the LOC – we will have plenty of our own by then. There is every possibility thereafter of the valley becoming a base for Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Surely Mr. Modi and his advisors can see this unfolding scenario ? I totally discount Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister: she is totally discredited in Kashmir, knows she cannot return to power, and is therefore hanging on to Mr. Modi’s coat-tails in a desperate existentialist attempt. Coming back to Mr. Modi, who will talk to Pakistan but not to his own citizens in the embattled state: I had said in an earlier article that the BJP’s anti minority DNA will never allow it to make peace with this Muslim state – events over the last three months are bearing this out. This unforthcoming (obstructive, actually) attitude further establishes the BJP’s majoritarian credentials and is needed to win elections that are looming. There is no contradiction between showing a steel fist to Pakistan and a velvet glove to Kashmiris, but it appears that elections are more important than the country’s integrity.
This is a zero sum game. The Kasmiris cannot win. Neither can Mr. Modi. But there WILL be a loser – yes, India.
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We all have our EUREKA ! moments. This week I stumbled upon the reason why no authority in this country – state or central – is serious about doing anything to protect the environment and curb the rising pollution levels—pollution is GOOD for the economy! Every industrial sector manufacturing anti-pollution gadgets is booming, and new products are being added every day. It began with simple candle type water filters in the 90’s and moved on to electronic water purifiers and then RO’s. Who had heard of air-filters fifteen years ago ? Now you can’t live without them, what with the Air Quality Index having breached the 500 mark yesterday in Delhi. This industry is growing at 30% per annum, especially after the US embassy ordered 400 of them during Mr. Obama’s visit. We are now being advised to put on face masks every time we go out, and my chemist can’t stock enough of them. Vegetables being laced with dangerous chemicals, we now have a new fangled apparatus which washes them chemically (water won’t do since it is also tainted) before cooking. Since oils are adulterated the alternative being offered now are Air-Fryers. Have difficulty breathing due to the smog ? – buy a nebulizer. Nobody uses mosquito nets any more because the mosquito enters one long before you do – and so the repellent industry is thriving. One company has just brought out a solution which, when applied to clothes, warns off the dengue and chikengunya critters. Sales are booming. The health insurance sector is galloping along nicely too, thank you, the worse things get. The bottled water industry is overflowing – forgive the bad pun – with profits because tap water everywhere has more E-coli than water molecules. Rising temperatures have ensured that air conditioners are now an essential appurtenance even in lower middle class homes, power demand has shot up as a consequence requiring more power stations, boosting this and related sectors, more pollution is released into the atmosphere. The pollution cycle is complete, and industry thrives.
Economists will have you believe that pollution related deaths and ailments are costing the country billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical expenses. Don’t believe a word of it. In fact the contrary is true: the medical and health care industry is booming BECAUSE of these ailments – every private hospital and nursing home is packed to capacity, and beyond, with victims of pollution related diseases. One just had to visit any hospital during Delhi’s recent dengue epidemic to understand what I mean. All this has no additional impact on govt. finances, because our health care budget, at less than 2% of GDP, has remained at that level for many years whereas pollution related cases have gone up exponentially. Nobody goes to a govt. hospital if he can help it; my maid took a loan from me last month and spent a few thousands of her own money to treat her daughter at a private institution. It is the private health sector which is rolling in the moolah.
Loss of productivity ? This has to be a joke. Productivity is an illusion in the govt. sector, because if half the number of govt. employees were to disappear tomorrow by some lucky stroke, nobody would even notice their absence! Private sector labour productivity in India is in any case abysmally low – about one fifth of China’s – so health related absences don’t make any difference, and in any case since only 2% of the labour force is in the organised sector and entitled to medical leave, the other 98% don’t get paid if they fall ill. No cost to the economy, see.
So, dear reader, see through the fine print: Pollution is the hidden trigger in Make In India. And as your lungs fill up with PM 2.5 and your liver starts to glow in the dark with all the metals inside, rest assured that the economy is growing at a healthy 8.5 %.