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Friday, April 2, 2010


Er Rashid emerging as Gani Lone’s successor in mainstream politics

PC founder’s legacy falls into the lap of a nondescript separatist columnist and Govt official

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 2: “Tum char sau bees hau (You are a cheat)”, Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah grumbled on enfant terrible Abdul Gani Lone on the floor of Legislative Assembly in 1978. Lone quipped back: “Tum aath sau chalees hau (But, you are a cheat of the cheats)”. That was how the Lion of Kashmir and the Lion of Kupwara roared on each other and, in the process, a frail political activist from a penurious rural background emerged as a “threat” for the all-imposing ‘Twinkling Star of Asia’. Earlier, Lone had proved his mettle with his resignation as a Minister in Syed Mir Qasim’s Congress government. Later, he was among the two-odd candidates of then ruling Janata Party who could defeat NC in Kashmir valley in the Assembly elections of 1977. In 1979, Sheikh created a separate revenue district for Kupwara--- alongwith Budgam and Pulwama in Central and South Kashmir, respectively---but Lone forced the government to raise offices of most of the district officers at his hometown of Handwara.

Days before his death in September 1982, Sheikh began the operation of creating a cub to undercut Lone in Handwara. A fresh law graduate from Pune, Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan was catapulted into the fray so forcefully that Lone fought pitched battles but failed to become MLA of Handwara until his end. He floated his own Peoples Conference (PC). In 1983, he polled 17,565 votes against Ramzan’s 17,575. He was still returned impressively from the adjoining parallel constituency of Karnah. It is perhaps because of that ‘battle of the giants’ that Handwara is still a history. Apparently a threat for many of his separatist colleagues in Hurriyat Conference, Lone was assassinated on Iddgah Grounds on the death anniversary of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq on May 21, 2002.

Lone’s mainstream proxy, Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi, became the beneficiary of PC’s boycott to the elections as, in 2002, he created the history of Ramzan’s first defeat at the hustings. Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed rewarded Sofi by inducting him as a Minister in his Cabinet and allocating him once Ramzan’s high profile Forest portfolio. Even as Ramzan staged a spectacular comeback and polled the highest number of votes (28,000) among all 2000-odd candidates in Kashmir in the Assembly elections of 2008, electors in the adjoining Langet constituency paid their tributes to Lone by returning one of his ordinary colleagues. A nondescript separatist columnist, who worked as an engineer with J&K Projects Construction Corporation, wore Lone’s mantle in Assembly. Unlike the unassuming Sofi, Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid began doing what his mentor had done decades ago.

Much like Lone, he has been also wavering on postures, making it difficult to understand whether he was NC’s “associate member” or a stanch detractor of Omar Abdullah’s government. Even while defending Omar and making frontal attacks on Mufti’s government, Er Rashid has been on the forefront of the agitation demanding ban on inter-district recruitment in government services. “I have been used” (by NC-led government in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections of 2009) and I am simply asking for the price. I have done it all for the people of my constituency and Kupwara district”, MLA Langet is reported to have said in his last ditch effort of getting his demand conceded.

Rashid seems to have inherited even the suspicion Lone lived with for decades. A many of the coalition leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand---who feels that the ban could lead to “Amarth Sangharsh-like agitation” among the Scheduled Castes---suspect that the all-party agitation was only NC’s gameplan. Interestingly, Rashid has been joined by three of NC’s Kupwara-based MLAs, namely Chowdhary Ramzan, Mir saifullah and Kafeel-ur-Rehman, besides PDP’s lonely Abdul Haq Khan.

In all three of the Assembly sessions so far, Rashid has attained the distinction of attracting maximum number of Speaker’s warnings, reprimands and marshal actions. The way Lone once invited Taliban to Kashmir, in most of his speeches Rashid has sought release of the hardliner militant ideologue Dr Qasim from jail. This Jamiatul Mujahideen top man has been serving a life term in Srinagar Central Jail for having ordered human rights activist Hridhay Nath Wanchoo’s murder in 1992. He also happens to be the husband of Dukhtaraan-e-Millat Chairperson, Asiya Andrabi. Rashid has even eclipsed PDP in its refrain of “maslaa Kashmir” (solve the political problem of Kashmir). He has gone a step farther by demanding Jammu’s separation from Kashmir.

Lone’s heir apparent in mainstream politics, Rashid has had luck on his side. While his colleague of years and fiery mentor, Sajjad Lone, blew hot and hold with regard to the option of directly participating in the elections in 2008, Rashid took the dangerous decision. He exploited a menacing anti-incumbency factor against the NC stalwart Sharief-ud-din Shariq and PDP leader Mohammad Sultan Panditpuri and trounced both in a multi-cornered contest in Langet.

As Gani Lone’s advocate daughter, Shabnam, lost to NC’s Mir Saifullah in Kupwara segment, Rashid became the undisputed custodian of Lone’s legacy in the mainstream politics. That provoked the real heir apparent, Sajjad Lone, to jump into the fray of Lok Sabha elections next spring but it proved to be too late. Even in his strongest segments of Handwara and Kupwara, Sajjad suffered a dressing down at the hands of NC’s Ramzan and Saifullah who maintained impressive lead for Shariq. Sajjad discovered that he had lost the bus to his proxy, Sofi, in 2002 and Rashid had already laid his hands on the achievable knighthood. This left Abdul Gani Lone’s elder son, Bilal Lone, to be his undisputed successor in separatist politics.

While Lone’s progeny has been, perhaps unsuccessfully, struggling for space in Kashmir’s politics, a number of his old trusted colleagues and PC founders have also landed in the present Assembly. Besides Rashid, they include Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Nizam-ud-din Bhat , Abdul Haq Khan (now all in PDP) and Mohammad Akbar Lone, now Speaker and NC’s MLA from Sumbal Sonawari.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


....and where are those Mehboobas, Shameemas, Asiyas today?

Selective condemnation of rape and murder has become bane of J&K politics

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 30: Hullabaloo over then widely perceived rape-cum-murder of two young woman, married Neelofar Jan and unmarried Asiya Jan, of Shopian in May last year was understandable as well as justifiable. Jostling for the limelight, female politicians of all hues had done whatever possible to undercut one another in the race of smudging the men in uniform. There were initially efforts to involve the Balpora-based formation of Rashtriya Rifles. Soon the campaign was downgraded to a unit of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). But once both proved to be the hard nuts, convenience zeroed in on Police. Even as two of the Police personnel, detained for their alleged involvement in destroying the evidences, were just a vegetarian target, counter-insurgency profile of then SP and Dy SP of Shopian made it a perfect case for a mass movement.

For weeks together, Kashmir was yet again in flames. Eight people got killed, and around 1,000 sustained injuries in clashes with Police and armed forces. Over a thousand vehicles, including 50 ambulances of different hospitals in the Valley, were damaged in stone pelting. There was shutdown after shutdown for four months. Damage caused to the Kashmir economy is estimated to be in hundreds of Crores of Rupees. Loss suffered by the student community remained incalculable. Why all that? Obviously because government officials, supposed to protect the honour and life of women, were perceived to be involved in the sinister act of outraging the modesty of the victims and doing away with them.

Within months, yet another government official---this time a doctor on whose evidence stood the “rape-cum-murder” of the Shopian duo---has been found to have outraged the chastity of a hapless woman at his clinic at the nearby district headquarters of Pulwama. There are few differences between the two. First one was fully based on surmise, speculation and perception. Post mortem reports of two teams of doctors made it an explosive case of gang rape and murder. Actors need not to be searched in such kind of incidents in the strife torn Valley. Second one has been purportedly shot on camera and the actor stands not only identified but also placed under suspension, arrested and jailed.

In case of Shopian, the victims were found to have died once. In case of Pulwama, the victim has been left to die a hundred times every day as long as she lives. The latest revelation is that she happens to be the mother of a girl doing first year of her MBBS and a 17-year-old son who is in class 11th. Shopian happened by night in a nullah and Pulwama in broad daylight during the holy month of Ramazan, at a property owned by a religious trust. Then, why an uproar on Shopian and a silence of convenience on Pulwama? The biggest poser of the cruel times in Kashmir: Is it the outfits of an actor that categorizes rapes in the Valley? Had the Pulwama actor been in Khaki, would the Kashmiri politicians have maintained this silence. The questions ahead: Are the Kashmiri female politicians concerned over the outrage of the modesty of hapless women by government officials or are they exploiting such incidents selectively to create space for themselves in the politics of deceit and camouflage that has had a bullish market from New Delhi to Islamabad?

PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, and the pro-Pakistan Dukhataraan-e-Millat supremo, Asiya Andrabi, stole the show in Shopian as they left no stone unturned in berating the men in uniform. That was understandable for one was the queen of the mainstream opposition and another indisputably the highest profile female political activist in the separatist camp. But the ruling National Conference’s MLA, Shameema Firdaus, appeared to outsmart all and sundry in the agitation when she led a procession of workers on Residency Road in Srinagar, chanting slogans against the Shopian rapists and killers and demanding exemplary punishment for them all.

Of late, Shameema Firdaus, has been appointed by Omar Abdullah government as the Chairperson of the State Women’s Commission. While Asiya and her ilk in the separatist camp must have now realized the dangers of walking into the trap of pro-India politicians, PDP chief has never been sighted in Assembly since the day Pulwama surfaced on March 21. Ms Firdaus remained in attendance but did not utter a word of condemnation even when the independent MLA from Langet, Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid, raised his lonely voice on the floor of the House and demanded termination of the doctor’s services.

Until yesterday, the big question was: How could the two women have drowned to death in “ankle deep waters” of Rambiara ? After CBI exonerated all the four Policemen and filed a chargesheet against 13 persons, including six doctors---notably then deputy Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Ghulam Qadir Sofi, now booked for raping a woman at his clinic---a bigger question surfaced: How do the gang rapes in Valley take place while leaving hymen of an unmarried woman intact? Now a far bigger question: Is it all politics on rape or rape of politics---to spare the rapists in civvies and target only the rapists in uniform?


Monday, March 29, 2010

From Farooq’s joyride with Shabana to Omar’s chatting on BlackBerry

Calling the Abdullahs ‘non-serious’ has been the Muftis’ ace in a political chess game

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Mar 29: It is now over a year since the state’s youngest Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, enjoyed skiing on the alpine slopes of Afarwat on the day of his reply to the discussion on Governor’s address in the Legislative Assembly. He appeared on the scheduled time of his turn, at 4.00 p.m dot and got a bonus of one full hour as few of the MLAs demanded more time to make their points. Inspite of being absent for noticeable durations and having listened to not more than five speakers, he began replying to the debate and was heard making one of the most impressive speeches of his 11-year-long political career. He was plush with his party’s victory at the hustings and the Muftis were in the thick of reconciling to PDP’s defeat. Just the men like Panthers Party’s Harsh Dev Singh noticed Omar’s absence and made a modestly reformative comment.

As soon as PDP’s pain of the defeat receded, Muzaffar Hussain Baig did not lose a second to fire the salvo during the Budget session in Srinagar. It was indeed not an eloquent speech on the corruption tainted officials getting plum positions, land mafias grabbing the state land, financial mismanagement or bad governance. It was something that sells, like many parts of the country, in Jammu & Kashmir: Chief Minister’s and also his father’s “name in the shame list” (Srinagar sex scandal of 2007). Driven by his gut, Omar refused to listen to his party colleagues and friends and played what was indisputably the most dangerous game of his past and future political career. More than his age, his stars were strongly on his side and Baig’s gun almost backfired.

NC’s nincompoops did much of their dancing over the failure of what they called a “made in Papa 2” plot---an allegation that Baig was just an actor and the producers, directors and scriptwriters were all occupants of the former Chief Minister’s residence. What they failed to understand was that the same old armoury of 1980s was being invoked to pull down the prince in modern Kashmir’s battle royal.

In sharp contrast to his charismatic father, Farooq Abdullah was projected by his detractors as a joker. Suffering a deficit of his practical knowledge of the Valley’s social sensibilities, he exposed himself to every onslaught---by boarding the SRTC’s buses and checking the tickets of commuters, rushing to the National High School to douse the flames with his bucket, performing as a disco dancer and taking Shabana Azmi for a joyride on his motorcycle to Gulmarg.

The gameplan of labeling him “non serious” and a “man of easy virtues” consummated in late 1980s when Srinagar Doordarshan created its most popular “Hazaar Daastaan” and every watcher of the political satire began identifying Farooq with the clown king “Ahad Raza”. The serial was aborted under then Chief Minister’s strong protest but not before scores of its episodes had gone on air. By the time Farooq woke up, it was too late.

Being young becomes a disqualification when it comes to learning why Mr Baig was now pasting the cliché of Ahad Raza on Farooq’s successor. Irony is that whatever is expunged in legislature, gains circulation outside. It is not obviously without purpose that the Abdullahs are still being projected as “lesser Kashmiris” and “lesser Muslims”. Days before today’s accusation of“non seriousness”, Mr Baig had called the Chief Minister as “dau tihayi angrez” (two-third European) well on the floor of the House.

PDP seems to be confident that creating the image of non-serious, non-resident, inattentive, fun-loving Chief Minister would continue to sell in J&K much more than building an attack on the real issues like employment, governance and accountability. She has the facts on her side: trapping the coalition in a rape-and-murder that is now proved by CBI not to have happened, perhaps artificially manufactured with the help of men and women of political agenda in the noble professions of medicine, law and media; making Omar believe that his father’s hardcore diatribe against Pakistan was the fundamental reason of NC’s defeat in 2002 Assembly elections; forcing the NC to mug the refrain of “dialogue with militants, dialogue with separatists et al.

Even if, as the Home Minister of the country’s most sensitive state, he is addressing an urgent security related issue with Home Minister Chidambaram and Defence Minister Antony, Omar Abdullah is simply walking into the Opposition’s old trap by sporting his BlackBerry in the Assembly.