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Saturday, October 1, 2011

NC kingmaker’s death exposes political corruption in J&K

BJP’s cross-voting, NC’s and PDP’s tickets to defeated candidates and businessmen, freezing of action against corrupt officials and reducing Commissions to post-retirement rehabilitation centres are a few indicators

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Oct 1: Clamour over a custodial death is paramount to all issues in a conflict area. It quite often eclipses issues and concerns of equal or more importance. That is exactly what has begun to happen over the death of National Conference’s kingmaker Syed Mohammad Yousuf. Death of an accused at Chief Minister’s residence, whether natural or by torture, is undoubtedly unprecedented. But, should the politicians and representatives of other institutions restrict their concern to only the investigation of ‘torture killing” and punishment to the “killers”?

Even on the presumption of torture killing, political corruption remains the fundamental concern. It is arguably not a matter of only human rights abuse as witnessed in hundreds of fake encounters, custodial killings and torture deaths in interrogation centres. Had Yousuf not collected money, he would not have died. Had there been no system of collecting money under different excuses in political parties, Yousuf would not have raised the fund---for himself, his party or the party leaders is still shrouded in mystery.

Chief Minister could conveniently get a benefit of doubt in matters where “coalition compulsions” are understandable. Tolerating brazen corruption of Ministers of the coalition partners and freezing departmental action against powerful bureaucrats and officers enjoying high political clout could be all ignored as the subjects beyond his reach. But, shutting eyes to his own flock and reducing the system to an unclean government headed by a clean leader would be hardly acceptable.

Does the coalition constraint prevent Chief Minister from taking action against eight Ministers of his Council who have placed their close relatives, including serving and retired officials, in their personal sections. It may not require CCTV surveillance to know what these “experienced” aides of Ministers are doing at their offices and residences. With due respect to makers of high claims in the past, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad included, files do disappear in Civil Secretariat in 2011. Files not followed by concerned remain folded for months and years on tables. Movement Register, first promised by Mufti and Azad, continues to be a dream.

It needs to be clear that NC alone is not to blame. Omar Abdullah undoubtedly suffers from the dubious distinction of keeping vital positions in different Commissions vacant for years. Equally negative against him goes the fact of his dumping a brigade of defeated candidates in what used to be called the ‘House of Elders’. Some of the nincompoops rejected by their electorate in 2008 Assembly elections were pushed to the House of Lords through fixed-match election. Others were introduced to Governor Vohra as “intellectuals”. Without a mild question, Raj Bhawan did what none of the gubernatorial offices in India could imagine.

Raj Bhawan would have found it easy to trample the Constitution on the precedence of men like Mohammad Sultan Panditpuri having passed off as “scientists, academics and intellectuals” in the past! Taking advantage of the “rubber stamp”, Government has now distributed three top positions in State Information Commission (SIC) between NC, Congress and PDP or at least Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. Even a member of the selection committee has publicly expressed pride that Ladakh had got a representation. Civil society has interpreted it as a classic case of political expediency. In other words, many of these much-hyped Commissions have been reduced to rehabilitation centres for retiring or retired officials and blue-eyed boys of politicians.

Few years back, allotment of NC’s ticket to a leading transporter in Jammu for a seat in Legislative Council had raised eyebrows as the businessman had overtly bought MLAs to ensure his victory. Selling and buying of MLAs touched its worst level when as many as seven MLAs of BJPs indulged in cross-voting in this year’s elections for some seats of Legislative Council. Volumes have been spoken and reams have been written on their violation of anti-defection law. Fact of the matter is that none of them has been disqualified till date.

Around the same time, NC ignored many of its meritorious and high profile aspirants and granted tickets to nonagenarians businesspersons whose contribution to the House has been and would be zero. It was just the high publicity to a murder case that stopped another businessman from Jammu to become MLC for next six years.

PDP has been second to none in promotion of businessmen and “fund raisers” in political and democratic institutions. First, it allotted a ticket to a businessman for Rajya Sabha. He reportedly spent huge amounts of money but still failed to cross the target. This year too, it ignored everybody from intellectual Naeem Akhtar to senior and high profile leaders like Dilawar Mir and Tariq Hameed Qarra and instead picked up the green horn son of a rich businessman. He was lucky enough to make it to Upper House.

Until the ambit of judicial investigation is extended to know who paid money to Yousuf Bhat of Ganderbal and for what purpose did Salam Rishi and Yousuf Bhat forward it to Syed Mohammad Yousuf, demon of political corruption would not die in Jammu and Kashmir. Deaths in custody would be only an off-shoot.


Friday, September 30, 2011

NC’s ‘king maker’ dies in Crime Branch custody

PDP demands resignation of CM, MoS Home; CM announces judicial probe, shunts out security officers

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 30: Death of a prominent National Conference (NC) activist, who was known for collecting huge amounts of money from political aspirants and had free access to top corridors of power, allegedly in custody of Crime Branch (CB) of Jammu & Kashmir Police has stirred a hornets’ nest in the summer capital today. Even as Government admitted that the NC activist had collected whopping sum of Rs 1.18 Cr from two other NC activists and a judicial inquiry was announced immediately, opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) demanded resignation of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, “to facilitate an expeditious and credible investigation”.

Authoritative sources disclosed to Early Times that one Syed Mohammad Yousuf S/o Syed Ghulam Ahmad R/o Loktipora, Bijbehara, died in mysterious circumstances at SMHS in the wee hours today. He had been called by Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, yesterday to reach Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s residence “to settle a dispute” with NC’s Block President of Ganderbal, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat S/o Ghulam Rasool Bhat R/o Repora, Ganderbal, and another NC activist, Abdul Salam Rishi R/o Gul Mohammad Rishi R/o Akingam, Anantnag.

Earlier on Thursday, Yousuf Bhat had approached Chief Minister at his office in Legislative Assembly with the complaint that Syed Yousuf had taken from him an amount of Rs 84 Lakh with the assurance that he would be appointed as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC) to represent Panchayats of Kashmir division and thereafter inducted as a Minister of State. Abdul Salam Rishi too approached Chief Minister with the complaint that Syed Yousuf had taken from him an amount of Rs 34 Lakh with the assurance that he would be inducted as MLC.

Chief Minister, according to informed sources, learned that some officials from his personal security had granted free access to Syed Yousuf to all corridors of power from Chief Minister’s Secretariat to his residence on Gupkar Road “for dubious reasons”. He turned furious, called his close aide and MoS Home Nasir Aslam Wani with the direction that the matter be investigated “by this evening”. He was also directed to collect the money back in full, if the charge was established, return the same to Bhat and Rishi, hand over the accused to CB and ban the entry of all such persons of dubious antecedents to his office and residence.

MoS Home assured Chief Minister that he would obey strictly as desired by him. He called Syed Yousuf as well as both the complainants for resolving the crisis at CM’s residence in the evening. Syed Yousuf reportedly called on MoS Home at his official residence in Sonwar. He admitted to have collected money and assured Wani that he would return it in full to the complainants.

Even after the money was collected back almost fully from the accused and returned to complainants, MoS Home called IG Crime, Raja Aijaz Ali, to CM’s residence and handed over Syed Yousuf to him for further action and also to see if he had committed similar cheating with other people. Reports awaiting confirmation said that Syed Yousuf was beaten up either at CM’s party office or at CB headquarters. He began vomiting and was rushed to Police Hospital. Doctors referred him to SMHS Hospital where he remained under treatment for several hours and finally breathed his last in the morning.

While as many people believed that Syed Yousuf died due to severe beating at NC’s camp office, other were of the opinion that he died due to torture by interrogators at CB headquarters. IG Crime Raja Aijaz did not respond to phone calls. However, later this afternoon, an official spokesman claimed that Syed Yousuf “suffered a massive heart attack and expired”.


Syed Yousuf: Militant-turned-NC’s kingmaker

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 30: Without regard to situation, turmoil or peace, Syed Mohmmad Yousuf of Loktipora, Bijbehara, mastered the art of living---little knowing that he would die one day on the state’s most protected premises.

A Government school-teacher, Yousuf lost no time in switching his loyalty to Hizbul Mujahideen when secessionist militancy was at its peak in early 1990s. With waning of Hizb’s influence, he built a network of the officials of School Education Department that included over a dozen headmasters, Principals, Zonal Education Officers and at least three Chief Educational Officers in Anantnag district. His network meticulously managed to absorb 100 to 150 youth as teachers at different schools. Rate of Rs 50,000 stood fixed for each absorption.

Crime Branch sleuths later learned that the modus operandi was unique. ZEOs and CEOs would issue “transfer orders” shifting “teachers” (who had never been appointed) from one school to another. Fake LPCs followed and all of them took home salaries. In 1995, then Director of School Education, Mohammad Amin Khan, made all possible efforts to dismiss the fraudulently absorbed teachers. He was silenced by Ikhwan guerrilla cadres. Khan had disadvantage of being a resident of Mattan, in the same district.

And when both, militants as well as counter-insurgents, were marginalized in 1996, Yousuf lost no time to gain proximity to NC’s patron Dr Farooq Abdullah. He influenced distribution of tickets to some extent in 2002 Assembly elections. Six years later, Yousuf was a veritable kingmaker in the party that returned to power after Amarnath turmoil.

According to well-placed insiders, Yousuf had ultimate say in distribution of NC’s tickets in Assembly elections on 2008 in south Kashmir. “Contributions” ranged between Rs 7 Lakh and Rs 30 Lakh.

Close to Farooq Abdullah and NC General Secretary Sheikh Nazir Ahmed—later also to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah through his intimate coterie, it was Syed Yousuf who ultimately decided who would be picked up as MLC and who would go to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. According to party sources, he cleared two young NC aspirants, who were both defeated candidates of Assembly elections, for two vacancies in Legislative Council in March 2009 only after receiving cash payment of Rs 30 Lakhs. One of the duo was picked up as MLC inspite having dubious past and shared business with PDP’s MLA of Home Shalibugh and former Minister of State for Health Abdul Gaffar Sofi.

In NC, many believe it was none other Yousuf who managed to get over half-a-dozen defeated candidates nominated or elected as MLC, all on cash payment. Nobody is sure whether the huge amounts of money went upto the top brass in NC or Yousuf held it fully to himself. He is believed to have comfortably handle transactions of over Rs 10 Crore in the last three years of Omar Abdullah’s government.

Official confirmation of Yousuf having received Rs 84 lakh from NC’s Block President of Ganderbal, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, (reliably for making him MLC and MoS) and Rs 34 Lakh from Abdul Salam Rishi of Akingam (for making him MLC) is said to be just a tip of the iceberg.

Yousuf was known for his free access to who is who in top corridors of power. They include everybody from union Minister and NC Patron Farooq Abdullah to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, all other Ministers and Advisors belonging to NC, besides most of the senior officers of Police and civil administration. He was prominently in control of arrangements when an IGP Farooq Ahmad managed to regain his grace through a court case and later arranged a grand Wazwan at his home for most of the influential politicians, bureaucrats and Police officers. Significantly, both Dr Farooq Abdullah as well as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, besides everybody in Police and bureaucracy attended the feast.

Yousuf is believed to have settled things between IPS officer Faroooq Ahmad, whose service had been terminated earlier for discrepancy in date of birth, and the state government that wasted not a second to entertain Farooq back at Police headquarters. Meaningfully, Government did not go in appeal against the order of the single judge of J&K High Court. Party cadres, as well as reliable official sources, insist that even the most powerful Police and civil officers would manage their prize postings through Yousuf, who carried the reputation of being “the most trusted service provider”.

Few months back, Yousuf assured NC’s top brass that it would take him just 24 hours to engineer a split in PDP. However, the proposal was not approved by the party high command and the government. He was strongly suspected of a role in secretly winning liaison of five MLAs of PDP with the NC.

Yousuf would manage everything from allotment of contracts and supply orders to arrangements of seats for the sons and daughters of his clients---mostly politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats---in professional colleges. In 2009, he collected a sum of Rs 28 Lakh from PDP’s MLA of Tral, Mushtaq Ahmad Shah, with the assurance that he would arrange two MBBS seats in non-resident Indian quota at ASSCOMS (Batra Medical College of Jammu) for the politician’s two daughters through the good offices of his “boss in NC”.

When he failed to honour the commitment to his client, the MLA asked him to return the money. As Yousuf resorted to dilly dally, MLA got him under tremendous pressure from a many quarters. He even threatened to sell off Yousuf’s newly acquired residential house at Kadalbal, Pampore.  After a great deal of trouble, MLA managed to get back his money but less by Rs 4 Lakh. Yousuf returned to him just Rs 24 Lakh.

NC’s lately elected MLC, Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri, is also known to have paid a considerable amount of money to Yousuf before he was picked up from among a dozen of aspirants in the NC in South Kashmir.

Yousuf finally landed in trouble when his collection of Rs 84 Lakh from NC’s Ganderbal Block President, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, on account of making him MLA and Minister of State leaked in the organisation as well as Government. In separate inquiries, CID and Intelligence Bureau found that Yousuf had also collected Rs 34 Lakh from Abdul Salam Rishi of Akingam for making him MLC. Elections to fill up four Panchayat vacancies in J&K Legislative Council are likely to be held in the next two months. Yousuf has died but at least four to five more Yousuf’s are still believed to be calling the shots in Chief Minister’s organisation and the Government. With or without his knowledge? Only a thorough investigation could reveal.


Govt says ‘cardiac arrest’, orders judicial probe

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Sep 30: None of the politicians of the ruling National Conference, including Ministers and legislators, besides Government officials, agreed to make comment on Syed Mohammad Yousuf, his death in custody or activities. However, this evening an unidentified government official circulated the following statement through state Information Department.

 “According the Government spokesman  on 29-09-2011 during the Assembly Session a party worker, namely Shri Mohammad Yousuf Bhat S/o Ghulam Rasool Bhat R/o Rapora, Ganderbal, at present 5-A, Tulsibagh accompanied by another party worker, Shri Abdul Salam Rishi S/o Gull Mohammad Rishi R/o Akingam, Kokernag approached the office of Hon’ble Chief Minister in the Assembly Complex with a complaint against another party worker namely Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf S/o Sayeed Ghulam Ahmed R/o Loktipora, Bijbehara.

The complainants were asked to report with their grievances at the Camp Office in the afternoon. The party worker namely Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf S/o Sayeed Ghulam Ahmed R/o Loktipora, Bijbehara ,against whom allegations were leveled, was also called at the Camp Office during the same time so as to listen to the grievances of the complainants. On being confronted by the complainants, Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf admitted to having received an amount of Rs 84 lacs from Shri Mohammad Yousuf Bhat and Rs 34 lacs from Shri Abdul Salam Rishi with a promise to facilitate undue favours to the complainants from the Government.

On realizing that the complaint involved serious allegations, IGP Crime, J&K, was called and directed toverify the facts and take further necessary action under rules. All the three persons were asked by IGP Crime, J&K, to report to Crime Police Headquarters. However, Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf reported uneasiness and nauseatic and as such, he was asked to move to one of the escort vehicles of IGP Crime. Simultaneously an ambulance and doctor were also called to facilitate immediate medical examination. On reaching Crime Police Headquarters, the Medical Officer examined Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf and declared him to be all right.

However, being a protected person, Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf was sent to Police Hospital Srinagar, along with the Medical officer for a detailed medical examination. Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf was given further medical treatment at Police Hospital Srinagar and kept under medical observations in the hospital itself. On the morning of 30-09-2011, as he was complaining of slight abdomen pain, the doctors advised him to undergo an ultrasound test. However, before undergoing the ultra-sound test Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf suffered a massive heart attack and expired.

In view of the sensitivity of the matter District Magistrate, Srinagar, was requested to constitute a Board of Doctors to carry out the post-mortem under the supervision of an Executive Magistrate in the presence of the legal heirs of the deceased. The Principal Government Medical College, Srinagar, has constituted a Board of Doctors to carry out the post-mortem. The post-mortem has been videographed. The dead body has been handed over to the legal heirs for burial.

However, in order to allay apprehensions and in order to ensure an impartial investigation, the State Government has decided to request the Hon’ble Chief Justice of the J&K High Court to nominate a sitting judge of the High Court to conduct a judicial enquiry into the immediate circumstances leading to the death of Sayeed Mohammad Yousuf S/o Sayeed Ghulam Ahmad R/o Loktipora, Bijbehara”.


Baig asks CM, MoS Home to step down

 Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Sep 30: At a hurriedly organized news conference at Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s official residence, senior PDP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, asked both, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, as well as his close confidante and MoS Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, to step down.

Baig argued that an independent, free and fair, credible and expeditious investigation was not possible as both CM and MoS Home, according to him, were in the dock over their party activist Syed Mohammad Yousuf’s death in mysterious circumstances.

Baig revealed that Yousuf’s son, Syed Talib, called PDP office today with the allegation that his father had been done to death. According to Baig’s disclosure, Talib told the PDP leaders that his father called him at 6.30 p.m on Thursday to inform family members that he was “under severe physical torture”. Thereafter, his telephone was switched off till Police communicated to the family that he had died at hospital and the dead body required to be taken for funeral after the post mortem.

Baig said that CM and MoS Home could return to office once they would be found “not involved in the killing”. His demand came despite the fact that Chief Minister ordered a judicial inquiry and asked Chief Secretary Madhav Lal to request Chief Justice FM Kalifullah to spare a sitting High Court judge for conducting the judicial investigation.


CM fires security staff

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Sep 30: According to highly placed authoritative sources, immediately after learning about huge transactions by his party workers and their free access to his office and residence---some insist they were also partners----Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ordered shifting of at least four of his closes security officers.

SSG’s Sub Inspector SP Singh, who is actually a radio operator from Police Telecommunications, was the first to be fired in the afternoon on Thursday. Even his replacement was not sought immediately.

Later in the evening on Thursday, over CM’s express directions, Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda ordered transfer of CM’s high profile PSO, Dy SP Shabir Ahmad, who was removed from SSG and appointed as Dy SP headquarters in Kulgam in place of Amarjit Singh. Singh replaced Amanat Ali Shah as Staff Officer to DIG Udhampur Riasi who was transferred and appointed as Dy Commandant in IRP 1st battalion.

Another of Dy SP from SSG, Nasir Ahmad Zari, was shifted from CM’s Security and appointed as Staff Officer to DIG Udhampur Riasi.

Shabir Ahmad had remained attached to Mr Omar Abdullah as his PSO ever since he joined active politics and contested his first Lok Sabha election in 1998. In 2009, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah elevated Shabir from the post of Inspector to gazetted service as Dy SP. The controversial out-of-turn promotion, in which Shabir superseded over a hundred of his senior colleagues, raised eyebrows in Police Department.

Sources said that another reshuffle in SSG was well on cards.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guru resolution tangents: BJP’s cross-voting, Cong’s sex scam

Speaker clashes with Mehbooba, names BJP’s “whip violators”, asks Assembly to wait for HC verdict

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 29: On the third consecutive day of disruption of Business in Legislative Assembly today, ruling Congress party persisted with the tangential issue of the disqualification of certain BJP MLAs even as Speaker maintained that the matter was sub judice and he was barred to take any decision. BJP, on the other hand, launched a counter-offensive while shouting slogans and urging Speaker to also read out names of the Congress legislators who were allegedly involved in the infamous Srinagar Sex Scandal of 2006.

Even after scuttling the hyper-sensitive resolution on Afzal Guru’s mercy with raking up tangential issues in Assembly and engaging the rival BJP in a clash, MLAs and Ministers of the coalition partner did not relent on Thursday. Like yesterday, entire Congress camp greeted Speaker’s arrival with hullabaloo over attendance of the BJP MLAs who had been expelled or suspended by their party over allegedly violating the whip during election for some seats of Legislative Council in April this year.

Acting like an aggressive opposition party, Congress members refused to digest Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone’s repeatedly made argument that the matter was under consideration of J&K High Court. Yet again, Speaker made it clear that he was barred by the status quo order issued by High Court on the petition of some members. The agitating Congress MLAs, throwing the coalition decorum to winds, pressed hard that Speaker could at least read out the names of the MLAs who had been expelled or suspended and thus were accused of violating the party whip. If established, such kind of a violation would lead to disqualification of the accused members under anti-defection law.

As members of the Congress camp, like yesterday, walked into well while shouting anti-BJP slogans and demanding dismissal of the accused MLAs, all eleven BJP members of two factions united to launch counter-offensive. They raised slogans against the Congress and urged Speaker to also read out the names of the MLAs and Ministers of the Congress party who were involved in Srinagar Sex Scandal of 2006. Dy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Minister of School Education Pirzada Sayeed and MLA Dooru, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, appeared to be BJP’s key targets.

As soon as PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and her MLAs joined the ruckus with the complaint that Congress and BJP were “enacting a drama and wasting the precious time of the House”, Speaker diverted to them. He asked Mehbooba and others of her party to take their seats. Soon, the exchange turned hot as Mehbooba began casting aspersions on the chair and Speaker began shouting back on her. “Please sit down. Don’t resort to cheap politics”, Speaker grumbled.

With counter-shouting from Mehbooba, Speaker directed her to shut up and stop her “cheap politics”. He taunted her and others of PDP with being silent all through the proceedings on Wednesday, while suggesting that Ms Mufti’s party had, with its silence, facilitated Congress party’s plan of failing the resolution on Guru. “Look into yourselves. You all are tainted within”, Speaker shouted on the Leader of Opposition. That added fuel to the fire, intensifying the pandemonium and forcing Speaker to announce adjournment for 30 minutes.

When the Business resumed at 10.28 a.m. and Speaker called for replies to questions for remaining two minutes, PDP’s MLA and Deputy Speaker Sartaj Madni took exception to some of Speaker’s remarks shot on Mehbooba in the first sitting. He and his senior colleague Maulvi Iftikhar Ansari insisted that these were “objectionable and unparliamentary remarks” and they pressed hard for Speaker’s apology to the PDP chief.

Speaker contested and asserted that his remarks were directed “on all of us who should look into our within”. He made it emphatically clear that he had neither made any objectionable remarks against Mehbooba nor would he ever apologise. “If anybody still feels that I have made any objectionable remark, I expunge the same”, Speaker said but not to PDP’s satisfaction.

Thereupon, Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar, defused the crises. He got up to pacify Dy Speaker and apologized to Mehbooba on behalf of Speaker.

Notwithstanding a thaw in the ruckus, Minister of Irrigation & PHE, Taj Mohiuddin, got up to defend his party colleagues and justify their demand. He asserted that there was nothing wrong in revealing the names of the MLAs BJP had either expelled or suspended on account of cross-voting. Finally after a great deal of arguments and counter-arguments, Speaker Akbar Lone disclosed, for the first time in House, that BJP’s national leadership had written to him that Leader of the party in Assembly Prof Chaman Lal Gupta had been expelled from primary membership of the party for six years.

Speaker further revealed that, according to the letter written to him, six more MLAs of the party had been placed under suspension, pending party’s investigation into their role in the alleged cross-voting in violation of the whip issued. He sought to make it clear that it was “not so easy” to ascertain whether or not these MLAs had violated the whip as the voting had happened by secret ballot. He advised members to wait for the verdict of the High Court.

Names of the BJP MLA suspended by the party, as read out by Speaker, included Jagdish Raj Sapolia, Baldev Raj Sharma, Durga Dass, Master Lal Chand, Garu Ram and Bharat Bhushan.

Thereafter, proceedings of the day went on smoothly till the House was closed down on time at 1.30 p.m.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coalition wins country, loses Valley

Cong, NC enact drama to fail Guru resolution; Ministers join ruckus; Speaker calls it ‘fish market, adjourns Assembly

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 28: In what appeared to be a shabbily scripted political drama, the ruling coalition of Congress and National Conference (NC) today defeated the independent MLA, Engineer Rashid’s resolution seeking clemency to the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, in Legislative Assembly. After the Congress and BJP repeatedly turned the House into a ‘fish market’ and others---NC, PDP, CPM and NPP---watched the ruckus like mute spectators, Speaker adjourned the proceedings for a day.

Histrionics marked the very beginning of the day’s proceedings as all the MLAs and almost all the Ministers of Congress party got up at the Speaker’s arrival at 9.30 a.m. and began shouting high-pitch slogans. Without any reason and provocation, they kept yelling for dismissal of the BJP MLAs who had been suspended by their own party over charges of indulging in cross-voting in election for some seats of Legislative Council in April this year.

Even as the entire Congress camp, that included Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand and seven other Ministers, kept standing in support of the demand of dismissal under anti-defection law, Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone persisted with his averment that the matter was under the consideration of J&K High Court. He made it repeatedly clear that he could not take a decision as long as the matter was sub judice.

On the other hand, members of both factions of the BJP united to repulse the Congress offensive. They too raised counter-slogans and called Congress a party of ‘thieves and corrupt politicians’. Thereupon, a number of MLAs from both sides walked into the well. Intriguingly, neither Chief Minister nor Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar, made any attempt to silence the agitating members.

For nearly 12 minutes, Speaker made passionate appeals to the standing Ministers to pacify their agitating colleague and let the proceedings of Question Hour start. However, his words of concern fell on deaf ears in the din. “This is utterly shameful, not expected from the Treasury Benches”, Speaker snubbed Dy CM and other Ministers.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well as all the Ministers of his NC chose to be statues--- a few of them even threw smiles and did not hide getting entertained by the drama. When his sustained efforts, including warnings, failed to restore order, Speaker adjourned the proceedings for half-an-hour.

As soon as Speaker resumed the business at 10.24 a.m. BJP MLAs triggered off round two of the pandemonium. Some of them shouted that resolution on Afzal Guru, which was scheduled as the last item of today’s business, could not be taken up for a discussion in J&K Assembly. Speaker Lone chipped in promptly: “Anything under the sky can be discussed in this House. Heavens won’t fall”. For a while, some of the opposition PDP MLAs too got up collectively to assert that resolution on Guru was neither illegal nor unconstitutional.

Yet again, almost all of the ruling Congress MLAs, including Ministers, and those from both factions of the opposition BJP, headed towards the well and indulged in sloganeering and counter-sloganeering. Congress MLAs Wiqar Rasool and Ghulam Mohammad Saroori led the ruckus in the well and began shouting over shoulders and Secretary Assembly’s table. Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand besides Ministers R S Chib, Pirzada Mohammad Sayeed, Taj Mohiuddin, Sham Lal Sharma, Rigzin Jora and Dr Manohar Lal kept standing on their seats in support of their party MLAs.

Speaker kept on issuing warnings but on no point of time did he resort to his trademark USP of calling the marshals. “You people are undermining the sanctity of this House. Please take your seats and let the Business start”, he grumbled, repeatedly. When nobody responded positively, Speaker announced yet another adjournment---this time for one hour.

Third, and the last, round of the sitting began at 12.07 p.m. with identical disorder. Congress MLAs, led by Saroori and Wiqar, maintained shouting that the BJP MLAs, according to them delinquent of cross-voting, had “no right to be in this House”. Amid intense sloganeering and counter-sloganeering between Congress and BJP, almost all of Congress party’s Ministers joined the demand of dismissal of the BJP’s “defectors”.

According to Saroori, Speaker had assured Congress MLAs during the interval that he would read out the names of the BJP MLAs facing charges of violating the anti-defection law. He shouted that Speaker should produce the list in the House. “This is not proper. This is not fair. You people are violating the sanctity of this House. Please go back to your seats”, Speaker warned but all in vain. Unruly MLAs instead occupied the well, forced the Assembly Secretariat staff to vacate and continued shouting and sloganeering. Wiqar Rasool and some others perched on shoulders and tables in front of Speaker---something unprecedented in Akbar Lone’s 33-month-long tenure.

On one point of time, Speaker warned BJP MLAs to walk out “before I call marshals to take you guys out”. However, he did not resort to extreme action. Even when everybody was expecting Speaker to assert against the unruly Congress MLAs playing the ruckus on tables in the well, he did not call the marshals for action.

Amid this pandemonium, MLA Engineer Rashid too jumped into the well, shouting loudly that the Congress and the BJP members “with silent support of NC and PDP” were staging this drama only with the purpose of wasting time and thus preventing his resolution from coming up for discussion. He had a heated argument with Minister of Health and Horticulture, Sham Lal Sharma, and also ran amuck while smashing fan-stands on the floor. With that, Speaker at 12.07 p.m. announced third adjournment of the day till tomorrow.

Er Rashid
Speaking to media after the adjournment, Engineer Rashid alleged that all the mainstream political party, including the ruling NC and the opposition PDP, had joined hands to fail his resolution on Guru “on the call of their masters in New Delhi”.

“It was a completely stage-managed show. Congress had no special reason today to clash with BJP. Had the BJP stood away for a while, Congress would have no second hand to clap. Had the PDP asserted, Business would have operated and the resolution (on Guru) would have been discussed”, Rashid complained. He pointed out that neither the Chief Minister “who was so much enthusiastic over Guru in his Tweets last month” nor his Minister of Parliamentary Affairs had made even a feeble attempt to maintain order in the House.

“They all stand exposed today before the people of Kashmir. This is all hypocrisy, not politics”, Rashid observed and expressed apprehension that a whole new generation could now lose faith in the efficacy, credibility and neutrality of the state’s democratic institutions. “This system of interventions through remote control from Delhi has to end”, he added.

Omar Abdullah
Chief Minister’s observation to media was that J&K had today become victim of the country’s national politics. He did not make it clear whether NC would have voted in favour of or against the resolution.

Mehbooba Mufti
PDP President and Leader of the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti, held NC responsible for sabotaging the resolution on Guru. She too referred to Omar Abdullah’s Tweets on Guru and asserted that contradictions were characteristics of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s party from its inception. When it was pointed out to her by mediapersons that PDP had watched entire pandemonium like mute spectators on the floor, she argued that raising a voice would have facilitated NC, as well as Speaker, to make PDP  a scapegoat and charge it with disrupting the resolution.

“It was a fixed match since last night”, Mehbooba said, suggesting failure of the resolution under intervention from New Delhi.


Not a single mass grave, no system of marking graves in J&K: Omar

PDP stages walk-out after Speaker rejected its adjournment motion on ‘mass graves’, missing persons

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 27: Even as the principal opposition party, PDP, today staged a walk-out over Speaker’s rejection of its adjournment motion on the issue of ‘unmarked and mass graves’ in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asserted in Legislative Assembly that there was not a single mass grave in the state. He admitted that hundreds of unidentified persons, including large number of militants from as many as 12 foreign countries, were buried in community cemeteries but made it strongly clear that there was neither a system of marking all tombs nor any available means of ascertaining the identities of the individuals buried in the last 22 years of insurgency.

First very day of the regular business of the autumn session in Assembly witnessed low voltage clashes between members of the opposition PDP and the ruling NC over the issue of ‘unmarked and mass graves’ that has been animated with some recent deliberations of J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). Even as NC’s Mir Saifullah had moved a resolution on the subject and it had been admitted for a discussion, 14 MLAs from PDP filed an adjournment motion on the same subject.  With the beginning of the Question Hour today, all of PDP’s MLAs, including Patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and President Mehbooba Mufti, got up to press their motion. They urged Speaker, Mohammad Akbar Lone, to adjourn Assembly’s routine business fully and initiate a discussion on their motion.

With punctuations of verbal clashes between certain MLAs of the rival camps, including heated debates on rules and interventions from at least two Ministers, Speaker maintained for about an hour that he was “barred by rules” and thus could not entertain two separate resolutions or motions on one particular subject. Speaker’s contention was strongly supported by Minister of Law & Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammad Sagar, and Minister of Finance, Abdul Rahim Rather, with a barrage of references to the Rules of Business. On the contrary, PDP’s legal luminaries, including eminent lawyer and former Law Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Nizam-ud-din Bhat, made counter arguments. They insisted that their motion transcended the body of NC’s resolution and thus necessitated a “more comprehensive discussion” on the subject.

When exactly at the end of the fully spoiled Question Hour, some of the PDP MLAs pressed for “either admission or rejection” of their motion, Speaker promptly declared that the motion stood rejected. With that, all of the PDP MLAs, excluding Dy Speaker Sartaj Madni, staged a walk-out to register their protest. They did not return to the House for rest of the day even as Speaker later initiated a full-length discussion on the NC MLA’s resolution on the same subject.

Arguably in one of his most impressive parliamentary speeches, Chief Minister asserted that “the hoax of unmarked and mass graves” had been created by separatist as well as mainstream politicians, human rights activists and media to sustain themselves in the political conflict called Kashmir. He complained that various actors in the conflict were “selling missing persons, unmarked and mass graves to the world” for their vested interest. He said he was utterly surprised how leaders like his own NC’s Kafeel-ur-Rehman were complaining of mass graves and defaming the state with “a sustained campaign of misinformation and disinformation”.

“Rather than hunting with the hounds, he (NC’s MLA) should provide information to SHRC and identify the spot where, he believed, over a hundred persons had been buried in a mass grave”, Omar Abdullah asserted, without reaction from his party colleague.

“By virtue of my best knowledge and belief, I strongly claim that there is not even a single mass grave anywhere in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It’s easy to talk and hard to prove. I won’t hesitate to admit that there are many unmarked graves in all of our cemeteries. But, let it be clear to the world that we, in Jammu and Kashmir, don’t have a system of marking all graves. The issue is being raised wildly as if there was a system of marking the graves here. Here’s none. Yes, in few graves, I believe, there are two bodies instead of one. But, the impression is being created that there are thousands of mass graves with hundreds of bodies buried together like in Hitler’s country and Combodia”, Omar said.

Chief Minister moved on to admit that a number of civilians had been either kidnapped or subjected to enforced disappearance by armed forces. He was quick to add that thousands of unidentified militants from as many as 12 identified foreign countries---Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Russia, Sudan, Britain etc---had got killed in encounters with security forces in the last 22 years in J&K but successive governments had no available means to ascertain their identities. While admitting custodial killings and enforced disappearances by armed forces, Omar asserted that thousands more had been eliminated by militants. He said that militants too had kidnapped people and subjected them to enforced disappearance in large numbers while as many of the militants were believed to have died during training at their camps and because of many other factors.

“Many of the missing militants are known to have raised families across the border. Many are known to be working as labours, vendors, salesmen and shopkeepers”, Omar asserted and asked how each and every missing person could be dumped in the government’s account. According to him, politicians, human rights activists and media were mixing up all disappearances and killings to corner the government.

“The other day only, one of our newspapers reported that there were 2500 mass graves in Poonch district alone. Had this large number of people died and disappeared, their families would not have remained silent for 22 years. They would have raised a storm. Let me make it clear that according to the best verified official statistics, 2,136 militants have died in gunbattles with troops in Poonch and they have all been buried separately with full religious rituals. As many as 2,090 of them were foreigners. Nobody of us knows anything about their identities, families and places of residence. We have no clues. Are they all civilian victims of the forces’ human rights abuse?” Chief Minister asked, amid pin drop silence in the House.

He said that even in the statistics from different quarters, there were too many variations. “According to official figures, 17000 civilians have been killed by militants and forces in J&K. Statistics from separatist leaders and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) are completely different over those killed openly or subjected to enforced disappearance”, Omar added. He said that in order to reach out to the truth, he had proposed constitution of Truth & Reconciliation Commission when he was in Opposition. He made it clear that its functioning was impossible until both, India and Pakistan, lent it full support and cooperation.

Pakistan has been claiming for over 20 years that there is an indigenous freedom movement in Kashmir. It has been claiming to the world that those across the LoC are all Kashmiris, fighting for freedom. The fact remains that families of 800 of these people have given us applications to facilitate return of their children. Another fact is that thousands of foreigners, including Pakistani militants, have died here. How is it possible for Pakistan to claim all these men? It will obviously land them in an embarrassing situation”, Omar asserted and claimed that TRC would prove to be the best CBM between India and Pakistan. He pointed out that Islamabad had not owned even its regular soldiers who had infiltrated into Kargil and died in a war in 1999. “How would it own the militants?” he asked.

Taking exception to Mehbooba Mufti’s reference to a debate of Kashmir’s mass graves in the British Parliament, Omar lashed out at UK and other foreign countries for their “untold human rights abuse” in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. He said that those lecturing J&K on human rights were themselves indulging in shameful rights abuse and it was none of their business “to poke their nose in our matters”.

Chief Minister said that it was a matter of pride for every citizen in this country that our institutions were so much democratic and transparent that it was SHRC which had raked up the issue of custodial killings in J&K. He assured the people that his government would work on the SHRC recommendations with complete sincerity and good intentions. He advised members of the families of disappeared persons to file FIRs in the government’s human rights cell and provide their blood samples for DNA matching with the unidentified men buried in graves.

“Those who delivered lecture here on SHRC report are the people who did not implement a single recommendation of the commission during their regime. They even forced Chairman of SHRC to resign. We will never do that”, Omar said while making a dig on the PDP MLAs who were on walk-out during the discussion.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Omar in Singapore, Rahul in Srinagar

‘I have my roots in Kashmir and I have suffered much like many of you did---my grandmother was killed when I was 14, my father was killed when I was 21’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 26: Over a year after the radical Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s address to a gathering of students at the campus, it was--- in contrast---turn of the All India Congress Committee General Secretary, Rahul Gandhi, today to reach out to an academic audience at the University of Kashmir. With Geelani languishing in ‘house arrest’ and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah reportedly enjoying a holiday in Singapore on day one of the Legislature’s autumn session, Rahul also paid obeisance at the Valley’s holiest Hazratbal shrine.

Obviously, there were no security or law and order apprehensions as far as Rahul Gandhi’s arrival and departure at Srinagar Airport, his landing at Nehru Helipad, near Raj Bhawan, and his brief visit to a calm Kargil were concerned. There were no obtrusive security interventions as most of the incoming and outgoing passengers at Srinagar Airport had no idea of the presence and movement of one of the country’s most protected politicians. All the 20-odd flights operated without disruption. Even the SSP of Budgam district was on leave at his home outside the state.

Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, was the only government functionary who received Rahul when his chartered aircraft landed in technical area of Srinagar Airport at 10.05 a.m. He performed the protocol ritual on behalf of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Omar missed even the day one proceedings of Assembly’s and Council’s autumn session. Officials maintained he was in Singapore and would be reaching back home by late this evening.

Within minutes, Rahul and his thin entourage boarded a state aircraft for their onward journey to Kargil. They were also joined by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee President, Prof Saifud-din Soz, and Minister of health and horticulture, Sham Lal Sharma. Exactly an hour after, Rahul landed at Kargil to an animated reception at Public Park, in the heart of town. He took a brief meeting of his party workers and leaders at the airport before cruising to the venue of his public meeting in an SPG guarded motorcade. Nearly 5,000 people formed his first ever audience in the hilly township that became famous in the world on account of Indo-Pakistan skirmishes in 1999.

Local Congress leader, Asgar Karbalai, and Prof Soz had all the fun in leaving not a minute for other aspirants like former Minister Haji Nisar Ali, District President Ghulam Hassan Raza and former MP, Ghulam Hassan ‘Commander’. For around 20 minutes, Rahul promised the moon to his enthusiastic gathering, draped in colourful Ladakhi costumes. He spoke of their problems and assured them that he would do his best to ensure that Kargil got a better telecommunication, air and surface communication connectivity. “I’ll put in all efforts to see that your dream of a tunnel at Zijilla turns true soon”, he said to a standing ovation.

Contrary to many politicians showing the direction of Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi to their listeners in Srinagar, Rahul pointed towards Delhi. He was so enthused by the response from the crowds that he broke the security drill on his return to Airport and walked over 150 yards to oblige his followers.

By the time, Rahul landed back at technical area of Srinagar Airport to board a waiting helicopter for Nehru helipad, a number of Congress leaders and Ministers had made a beeline to mark their attendance. From Nehru helipad, he drove straight to the most critical leg of his first remarkably noticed visit in the Valley.

Hazratbal being completely out-of-bounds for media spoke volumes of the uncertainty and apprehensions afflicting Rahul’s visit. MP and Rahul’s aide, Meenakshi Natrajan, appeared pretty concerned over reports in local newspapers that the AICC General Secretary would be beginning his party’s membership drive from the KU campuses. There were clarifications, more than once, as if to pre-empt much apprehended student convulsions at the University.

Senior Police officials remembered how Farooq Abdullah was once humiliated by a Professor of Law Department in presence of Governor N N Vohra. They also knew how angry students had booed and heckled even perceived sympathizers of the ‘Kashmir cause’ like Kuldeep Nayar over slight equivocations with regard to “freedom struggle”. But, they also knew that cameras were a bigger stimulant that the real outrage and sense of victimhood.

The strategy worked. Security, as well as University officials, maintained that as many as 1200 to 1500 Kashmiri students in a gathering at Convocation Hall interacted with Rahul. After a brief introductory by Vice Chancellor Prof Talat, Rahul spoke briefly about Jammu and Kashmir and rest of the country and the “fast changing political scenario”. He devoted much of his scheduled time to a question-answer session and appeared to be taking care to ensure that none in the audience was hurt or disappointed.

There were hands at work to disrupt Rahul’s visit. “It is tragic that University allows political activities of the parties which adhere to the Indian government's line while it puts curbs, threatens and bans the student welfare activities and political activism by the students”, read an email circulated under the banner of ‘Kashmir University Students Union’.

It added: “The distribution of the Youth Congress recruitment forms at the University campus is a grave provocation as hundreds of youths, many of them students, were killed by the Indian forces who enjoy the patronage of the same party. It is not righteous and moral for the youth of Kashmir to involve themselves in these activities when thousands of youth are languishing in jails.

 “The Students body also strongly condemns Rahul Gandhi's visit to Kashmir, and our campus in particular, to oversee the recruitment drive and believe it is a political gimmick to show the world that they are reaching out to the people”.

But a calm and composed Meenakshi Natrajan conducted the proceedings with aplomb. There were, of course, piercing questions over the death of over a hundred youth in last summer’s street turbulence in Valley, “treatment of traitors” being meted out to many of the Kashmiri students “all over your country”, New Delhi’s “policy of status qua”, discouragement of industry, absence of infrastructure and “little avenues of employment” besides “brazen corruption in public offices” and “poor services”.

Rahul shared his emotions with the visibly complaining questioners. “I do well understand and feel the agony you have gone through for years of your tender age. I’m a victim (of terrorism) like many of you. My grandmother was gunned down (in 1984) when I was 14. My father was killed (in 1991) when I was 21”, he said and sought to convince his young audiences that he would leave no stone unturned to terminate the demon of death and destruction in Kashmir. “I’m rooted in Kashmir. My great grandfathers were from this land”. He invited many of his audiences to New Delhi for a “more comprehensive and closer interaction”.

Contrary to speculations in media, there was no party recruitment drive, either in Kargil or in Srinagar. Rahul also paid obeisance at the sanctum sanctorum of Kashmir’s most revered shrine at Hazratbal and later attended a concluding session with his party leaders and workers, besides lately elected Panches and Sarpanches, at SKICC. He is staying for the night at Nehru Guest House but had no schedules of meetings with the senior government functionaries. He would be flying to Rajouri to cover the last leg of his whirlwind tour tomorrow before his departure from Jammu airport to Delhi.

Well placed sources this evening revealed to Early Times that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was flying back home from Delhi, would call on Rahul at Nehru Guest House and possibly attend the dinner with the state guest.