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Costly smoke - The Times of India

Editorial ()
26 November 1996

Title : Costly Smoke
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Times of India
Date : November 26, 1996

Dr Ali Baksh, former director-general of health services
in Jammu and Kashmir, has puffed his way to freedom, and
how! He admitted to paying up Rs 1.5 lakh for the 30
cigarettes he smoked in the two days he was held in
captivity by militants. At Rs 5,000 a cigarette, that
must be the costliest smoke in the world. And if he can
spare this princely sum for a single cigarette, surely
there is much more where it came from. But evidently Dr
Baksh in blase about the kind of cash he keeps around his
house. Else he would not have made this candid
confession, knowing the had just been discharged by an
anti-corruption court. Perhaps he was counting on his
friendship with chief minister Farooq Abdullah. If so,
that is a major worry. Indeed, if there is any cause for
concern here, it is not that Dr Baksh was taken hostage;
that happens often enough. It is that fact that the
militants who abducted Dr Baksh did so, believing him
capable of paying a huge ransom. No doubt, the militants
knew the system in the Valley well enough to understand
the liberties it permitted. After all, it is only in a
milieu that actively encourages accumulation of loot that
a superannuated civil servant can buy his way out of
captivity. This is the point that the new rulers of the
state must grasp. Over the years, azadi in J&K has come
to mean not just political azadi, but "azadi from
accountability" as well. And, as it invariably happens,
one has fed the other - a situation further compounded by
the Center's mistaken assumption that to put down
corruption would mean trifling with the sentiments of the

Perhaps because he knew the system inside out, Dr Farooq
Abdullah had confessed some time ago to not knowing what
to do about the mess in the state. "Change isn't going to
come in my lifetime," he had lamented speaking at a
seminar last year. But times have changed and in his
lifetime too. The man who gave up on Kashmir has come
back to rule the state and with a mandate that made him
misty-eyed. With democracy blooming afresh in the state,
the call for azadi has died down. Dr Abdullah must ask
himself if it is not time to tackle the other "azadi".
The goodwill at his command is so enormous, he can pull
of anything at the moment without worrying, as the Centre
had to, about offending any quarters. In any event, the
state's beleaguered citizenry can only be thankful for
any effort he makes in this direction. For, it is the
ordinary man who suffers in a regime caught in the
vicious cycle of bribery and corruption. Besides, the
chief minister knows from the past that it is a are
opportunity that has come his way; that the people of J &
K have turned to him again, knowing he led the way to
doom the last time; that one wrong move now will mean
taking the state back to hopelessness. If Dr Abdullah
loses his chief ministership to misrule, he can make his
home elsewhere. But the people of the state cannot. If Dr
Abdullah is serious about restoring accountability to the

administration, he should appeal against the discharged
of Dr Baksh without bothering about having gone to
medical school with him.

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