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Kashmir's David vs Goliath battle against corruption

Tackling corruption could remove one irritant Kashmiris have with their New Delhi-backed government. But, it could also alienate locals who benefit from some of the largesse.

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A rural Kashmiri villager named Basheer Malik has officially requested the government to reveal how much it has spent on helicopter trips for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Mr. Malik and Mr. Abdullah run in very different circles. Earlier this month, Abdullah was spotted at the buffet of the five-star LaLit Hotel in Srinagar. Malik, meanwhile, was observed cutting up a freshly-slaughtered sheep and cooking it over a campfire as a wilderness guide.

Malik sees his request as simple and fair: “It’s our tax money, we need to know about these things.”

The slingshot in this David vs. Goliath encounter is the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The newly implemented RTI law is spawning a rural, grassroots movement to push for transparency and better governance. Kashmir has become one of India’s most corrupt states as New Delhi works to hang on to the independence-minded region through a policy that includes winning hearts and minds with money.

The Right to Information Act movement consciously avoids the larger question of Kashmir’s sovereignty. But it may yet impact the decades-old dispute. Tackling corruption could remove one irritant Kashmiris have with their New Delhi-backed government. On the other hand, it could also pose challenges to New Delhi’s local allies and the perks – legal and illegal – they garner by working for the state.

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