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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Eying vacant slot of Chairman BOPEE, ex-IAS officer seeks Governor’s intervention

Enquiry against former Director of Tourism doesn’t see light of the day

State Times Report


SRINAGAR, Nov 11: Months before retirement of his long time friend Ghulam Hassan Tantray as Chairman of The Jammu and Kashmir Board of Professional Entrance Examinations (BOPEE), and immediately after his own retirement as Commissioner-Secretary, one of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers is understood to have written a letter to Governor Narendar Nath Vohra. In the letter, the retired IAS officer, according to bureaucratic sources, has evaluated his own working as excellent and implored the Governor that the State Government should make the best use of his services post-retirement.

Lobbying for his appointment as Chairman BOPEE on retirement of Mr Tantray in October 2016, the ex-IAS officer has, however, failed to find much favour in Mehbooba Mufti’s government as many of the Cabinet Ministers have not been reportedly satisfied with his performance as Secretary and Commissioner-Secretary.

Knowledgeable sources told STATE TIMES that even Governor was not satisfied with the ex-IAS officer’s functioning on account of latter’s “personal agenda” and the treatment he had meted out to the public servants throughout his career.

In October, when Mr Tantray’s two-year term came to an end, Government asked him to hand over charge of Chairman BOPEE to the 1984 KAS officer, now in IAS, Hilal Ahmad Parray. Mr Parray, who is substantively holding the charge of Secretary Youth Services and Sports, was directed to hold it as additional charge. The retired IAS officer is reportedly still lobbying for his appointment as Chairman BOPEE.

Sources in bureaucracy revealed that the same ex-IAS officer, who had been appointed as Inquiry Officer by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Government in June 2015 to investigate serious charges of corruption against the former Director of Tourism Talat parvez Rohella, submitted the inquiry report to General Administration Department towards the end of his service career in March 2016, months beyond its term.

Even as nobody has till date seen the inquiry report, sources insist that the ex-IAS officer has exonerated the accused KAS officer of all charges under influence of a retired Chief Secretary.

“From day one, everybody knew that it was an eyewash. It was simply a tactics to protect the accused. Had the Government then been serious, it would have appointed an independent bureaucrat as the inquiry officer and sought the findings within the stipulated period”, said a well-placed source. He claimed that till date the report had not been submitted even to Secretary Tourism on whose insistence Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s government had constituted the enquiry.

Interestingly, sometime back Mr Rohella was appointed as Director Floriculture under the administrative control of Secretary Tourism. However, within a short period, he was removed to the insignificant posting of Mission Director ICDS. Pending enquiry, he was not placed under suspension or attached on account of his political clout.


[Published in STATE TIMES on November 12, 2016]

Kashmir BSNL officials in nexus with private broadband operators

20 youths breached Health Minister’s security key, enjoyed unlimited Internet; BSNL as well as subscribers lose money as officers force applicants to turn to the private operators

State Times Report


SRINAGAR, Nov 9: Before closedown of the Darbar Move offices here in Obtober, around 20 youngsters used to gather religiously every day around the residential bungalow of the Minister for Health and Medical Education, Bali Bhagat, in the high security zone of Tulsibagh and work for hours on their cellphones and tablets.

Suddenly they disappeared when the Minister, who is a senior BJP leader, shifted his residence and office for the next six months of winter to Jammu and shut his broadband service. By the time, it became clear that the boys had successfully breached the Minister’s broadband security key and stolen the Internet service through wi-fi from his modem, the Police cyber cell’s sleuths had no compelling reason to proceed against the “internet thieves” as there was no complainant.

In the last two months, however, STATE TIMES has received not less than a dozen of complaints, alleging that the broadband thieves in collusion with the Internet service providers, particularly the Government of India-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), had broken the security keys and gained unlimited access to the cyber world during the four-month-long cyber shutdown.

Many of the subscribers got suspicious about the theft when their 3 GB to 8 GB limited plans exhausted within four or five days though, they claim, the total volume of their downloading and uploading was not even half a GB.

The cyber cell officials claim that some of the ‘wi-fi hackers’ have compromised the security keys of the high plan owners with the suspected involvement of the BSNL officials but thousands of the illegal users, youths in particular, have acquired an application that successfully breaks the password of any modem and helps the invisible user to access Internet.

Even as there are reportedly no complaints, officials are said to be delving deep to learn if the hackers have also uploaded or downloaded incendiary anti-national content like videos of clashes and demonstrations and speeches of the firebrand separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Many of them have operated their WhatsAPP groups through the same tactics.

One of the Police officials said that a number of the youths were known to have downloaded even sexually explicit content. “Broadband thieves tend to access anything on Internet as they have no accountability”, said a Police official. He said that two of such youths had been detected and arrested by Budgam Police Station last month but let off on a written undertaking that they would no more indulge in such kind of illegal activity.

Knowing little about the permeability of the Internet services in Kashmir but under stress of the cyber shutdown on mobile phones, thousands of people have applied for BSNL’s broadband services in the last four months of the street turbulence. The huge rush of aspirants is sequel to the total closedown of Internet services on mobile telephony of all telecommunication companies including the BSNL in the wake of the turmoil that arose out of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8.

Even as the mobile phone services have been restored after continued suspension for over three months, none of the companies, including the BSNL, has been permitted to restore the Internet services on cellphone. Consequently, the Internet has been available to the users only through BSNL’s landline broadband besides two private operators who provide their services through high-power wireless system.

With hundreds of thousands of the Kashmiris particularly the stressed students, job aspirants, businessmen, mediapersons, tour and travel operators suffering due to continued shutdown, curfew and near-total Internet freeze, unscrupulous BSNL officials have developed a nexus with the two private service providers for pecuniary benefits.

In the last two months, BSNL has entertained thousands of applications for broadband service on landline phone, collected security deposits, issued orders for installation, forced applicants to buy modems from particular shops during the continued shutdown and even configured their modems. However, for weeks together the broadband services have not been made operational on their landline phones, particularly in the high-end neighbourhoods of Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Baghar Barzullah, Sanat Nagar and Rawalpora.

Officials at OCB Barzullah and OCB Rajbagh did not respond to phone calls when STATE TIMES attempted to learn why the applications were piling up after configuration of the modems and the broadband service was not being provided to the applicants for long time. Insiders, nevertheless, revealed that it was part of a ploy to force the applicants to approach the private operators whose devices were selling like hot cakes.

“Our officers have deliberately created the conditions of corruption and demoralisation of the applicants. When the applicants fail to get broadband services for months together, they are constrained to pay bribes. Those who do not pay bribe, withdraw their applications and they approach a private operator in Hyderpora who provides them broadband service in just one hour. Their sales have multiplied manifold as the applicants disappointed by BSNL have no other option than to approach the private operators”, said a BSNL official on condition of anonymity.

Significantly, BSNL has also shut down a wi-fi service that had hundreds of high-paying clients in the summer capital

Another official disclosed that BSNL had even disappointed even the Jammu and Kashmir Police. “Now, most of the Police officers and their offices use Internet services from a private operator”, he said.

“When the Police are helpless before BSNL, imagine what could be the plight of an ordinary subscriber. Our system of accountability has completely collapsed in the last two years. Our officers and engineers turn back subscribers every day, telling them we have this and that problem, no ports are available with the exchange etcetera. Pushed to the wall, they approach the private operators. If the ports would have been exhausted fully and our engineers would have failed to install new ones, the BSNL would have notified it through media and stopped receiving fresh applications. But they entertain all the applications, issue installation orders and even configure the modems. It’s crass cheating with the subscribers”, said another official.

“Our senior officers including General Manager (Saleem Beg), Deputy General Manager (Mufti Musharib Gul) and incharge Broadband (Mr Jain) are pretty aware of the crisis that has been created by unscrupulous officials. But, they have ignored it, and all the complaints of corruption, and never taken any action for the reasons better known to them. It gives an impression that some BSNL officials’ nexus with the private operators is not without the involvement and patronage of our senior officers”, another official in OCB Barzullah said.

Many of the applicants and subscribers in Rajbagh-Sanat Nagar area complained that SDE OCB Barzullah Ms Aliya does neither meet any subscriber nor respond to their phone calls or text messages.

When this newspaper made repeated attempts to talk to SDE OCB Barzullah Ms Aliya, DGM Mufti Musharib Gul and GM, Saleem Beg, none of them responded to the phone calls.


[Published in STATE TIMES on  November 10, 2016]

In Mehbooba’s balancing act in the family, Sajjad Mufti likely to get MoS status

Upset with Sartaj’s importance, ex-DFO Sajjad deserted Valley, lived in Jammu for 3 months, applied for his reinstatement in Forest service before being mollified by Mehbooba

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


SRINAGAR, Nov 7: Caught between the political ambitions of her maternal and paternal uncles, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is likely to do a balancing act by elevating cousin Sajjad Mufti to the status of a Minister of State (MoS) while inducting at least four contenders — two each from PDP and BJP as Chairpersons of different corporations and Public Sector Undertakings in near future.

If sources in the top echelons of the coalition government are to be believed, Sajjad and three others could be inducted as Chairpersons of the four corporations, boards and PSUs before the year end. He is the son of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s brother, Mufti Mohammad Amin.

Inducted into the Indian Forest Service (IFS), former Kashmir Forest Service officer Sajjad Mufti was serving as Regional Director of the State Pollution Control Board in the end of the year 2014 when he sought retirement from service. As President of PDP, Mehbooba appointed him as the party’s ‘Coordinator’ for South Kashmir.

Not satisfied with his status and job profile, and to a considerable level sidelined by Mehbooba’s maternal uncle Sartaj Madni, earlier this year Sajjad deserted his home in Bijbehara and lived in Jammu for over three months. According to the family sources, he severed liaison with the party and lived incommunicado. One day, he is said to have applied for his reinstatement as an officer of the rank of (incharge) Conservator of Forest. Even after a year of his being in active politics, Union Ministry of Environment and Forest has not accepted Sajjad’s resignation till date.

According to some reports, Sajjad grew close to the party’s MPs, Tariq Hamid Karra and Muzaffar Hussain Baig, adding a tinge of rebellion to his short political profile.

Finally, Mehbooba drove all the way to Sajjad’s residence in Jammu and mollified him with the assurance that he would be inducted as MoS in her government “within the current year”. Sources in the government revealed to STATE TIMES that rather than straightaway inducting him into the Council of Ministers, which has two berths vacant, Chief Minister planned to appoint her cousin as Chairman of a corporation with the status of MoS. After Mehbooba’s assurance, Sajjad has been shuttling between Srinagar and Jammu, though he has not activated himself as the PDP’s Coordinator for South Kashmir.

“He has the privilege of being the CM’s cousin but he is still a fresh entrant and has never contested an election. It would be difficult for her to pick up her family member for a vacancy of the MLC as eminent leaders and two-time MLAs, besides some ex-Ministers, are all in the queue for accommodation and rehabilitation”, said a senior PDP leader.

Forest Secretary Mohammad Afzal Bhat confirmed that Government of India had not till date accepted Sajjad’s resignation from IFS. He, however, asserted that he had no knowledge of the former DFO having withdrawn his resignation or seeking reinstatement. “We have forwarded his resignation to the union Ministry of Environment and Forest. Till date we have not received any communication of its acceptance or rejection by the Centre”, Mr Bhat told STATE TIMES.

Sajjad, according to sources, has grown miffed with the superiority and importance the CM’s maternal uncle has got in the family, the party and the government. He was not reachable for comment but sources close to him said that Sajjad was disappointed over the way Ministers had ignored his references and recommendations.

On the other hand, the Ministers were generously accommodating Sartaj’s men in everything from transfers and appointments to allotment of works. He is said to have managed transfers of a number of Executive Engineers and AEEs in R&B Department though Minister incharge and MLA of Bijbehara Abdul Rehman Veeri.

Sartaj, who lost to the Congress candidate Mohammad Amin Bhat in his Devsar constituency in the Assembly elections of 2014, has advantage of age and experience over Sajjad. He has served twice as PDP’s MLA, one term as Deputy Speaker of Assembly and, unlike Sajjad, has a regular constituency. Besides, he has been late Mufti Sayeed’s confidante and close associate in politics with him for the last over 30 years. Even his strong supporter and sister, Gulshan Mufti (Mufti’s wife), has influenced politics within the family. In 1996, she contested Assembly elections on Congress ticket from Pahalgam but lost to National Conference.

Contrary to a many speculations, Sartaj was not inducted by Mufti Sayeed or Mehbooba as MLC and Chairman of Legislative Council. Mehbooba, however, appointed him as PDP’s General Secretary number one for entire State, others being Nizamuddin Bhat and Mehboob Iqbal for restricted areas.


[Published in STATE TIMES on November 8, 2016]

KAS 2016: 40,000 candidates from Jammu, just 14,000 from Kashmir

Courtesy Burhan turmoil 4,000 applications from Valley without fee payment; BSNL too adds to the Kashmiri candidates’ trauma

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


SRINAGAR, Nov 6: Having notified the maximum number of vacancies in the last five years in 2016 — 277 precisely — the Jammu and Kashmir State Public Service Commission has failed to receive balanced response to the Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) competitive examination due to the ongoing street turbulence in Kashmir valley. Consequently, the selection process that would have been completed before December this year, is now likely to be staggered to the middle of 2017.

The PSC Notification No: PSC/EXM/2016/52 Dated 18-06-2016 had stipulated July 25 as the last date for submission of applications and fee/bank challan.

Chairman PSC, Lateef-uz-Zamaan Deva, told STATE TIMES that the entire selection process was disturbed by the four-month-long turbulence in Kashmir valley as everything from the government offices to the banks and the Internet was shut down. While as the response from Jammu division was fairly positive, notwithstanding some disruption in Chenab valley besides Rajouri and Poonch districts, very small number of the candidates were able to submit their forms from Kashmir.

Even as the last date was extended indefinitely and the aspirants were still free to file their candidature online, just 14,000 applications had been received from Kashmir province from June 22 to November 6. “Around 4,000 candidates have submitted their applications without the mandatory fee or the bank challan. I have taken up this issue with Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank who is making necessary arrangements to facilitate making of the bank challans and transfer of the fee money through online system”, Mr Deva said.

Chairman PSC informed that 37,000 to 40,000 applications had been received from Jammu province. He said that the aspirants from any part of the State were free to submit their application and fee as no last had been fixed for it.

Mr Deva said that he had personally requested the Deputy Commissioners to facilitate submission of the forms through their Internet system at the district headquarters. However, most of the candidates failed as many of them could not even travel to the DC’s office. Even at the DC’s offices, the Internet remained either fully shut or partly disturbed.

Of the 277 notified vacancies, as many as 269 are for the first time in last several years reserved for Junior KAS. Just 2 vacancies are for Kashmir Police Service and 6 for J&K Accounts Service, making it attractive for most of the eligible graduates in the State.

Even as the landline broadband service of BSNL remained functional during the turmoil, it was completely shut for minimum of 10 days twice, around August 15th and thereafter around Eid-ul-Azha.

When the broadband service was restored, each time the candidates failed to submit their forms as BSNL slashed down speed of all of its high payment plans without any notification or plausible reason. Insiders say that the broadband speed has been drastically reduced “for security reasons”. According to them, the authorities wanted to ensure that the subscribers were not able to download or upload heavy data files like videos of the anti-national demonstrations and clashes.

Surprisingly, it has been observed that the broadband services are not allotted to the subscribers even after allotment of security keys and configuration of modems on their landlines. In the summer capital of Srinagar, Gogjibagh and Sanat Nagar Exchanges have charged plan tariff of September and October from the subscribers whose broadband services have not been made operational in the last two months even after the orders had been issued from GM’s office and their modems had been configured.

Some of the subscribers, who have applied for broadband services in Jawahar Nagar area, alleged that the BSNL officials had created conditions in which the facilities could be activated only for the people who paid bribes. STATE TIMES itself has applied for broadband service in the month of October. Even as the order has been issued, the service has not been activated in the last 36 days. Strangely, BSNL has charged plan fee of Rs 1,000 for the month of October inspite of the fact that the landline phone has been made operational only on October 25 and the broadband service has not been made operational till November 6.

SDET Gogjibagh Showkat Ahmad claimed that no port for any new applicant was available in Rajbagh-Sanat Nagar area. Repeated attempts to talk to the higher authorities failed as none of them responded to phone calls or text messages. SDET Sanat Nagar exchange Ms Aaliya too did not respond to any phone call or SMS as the culture of accountability and public service has ceased to exist in BSNL Kashmir after flood of September 2014. GM and Dy DM Kashmir ignored all the phone calls and text messages from this newspaper.

Internet services of almost all the private telecommunication companies have remained shut on both prepaid as well as post-paid plans of mobile telephony in Kashmir since July 8.

[Published in STATE TIMES issue of November 7, 2016]

Monday, November 7, 2016

No sign of the Muftis, Pakistani flags take over Jammu and Kashmir chief minister’s hometown

Militants roam freely in Bijbehara. Graffiti declares it is 'Burhan Wani's town', while the Muftis' ancestral home looks deserted

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Mehbooba Mufti and her parents have lived in Srinagar for over 40 years now but the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has never severed her attachment to Bijbehara, a town in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Neither did her parents.

The family frequently shuttled between their ancestral home in Baba Mohalla of Bijbehara, a densely populated downtown area on the left bank of the Jhelum river, and their second home in Srinagar when her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was Union home minister in 1989-90 and a separatist insurgency was sprouting like a volcanic eruption. Her sister, Rubaiya, was effortlessly lifted from a minibus by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front guerrillas in 1989.

When Sayeed ceased to be in power, his personal security officer, Abdul Jabbar, with a pistol in his pocket, would escort the politician’s wife, Gulshan, hiding under a burqa, on a passenger bus from Nowgam to Bijbehara and back. When Sayeed became the state’s chief minister for the first time in 2004, he took an extraordinary interest in Bijbehara’s development. He roped in J&K Bank chairman Haseeb Drabu and added splendour to the famous Dara Shikoh garden across the Jhelum.

On January 29 this year, Sayeed, in his second stint as chief minister, was scheduled to inaugurate a resthouse in a corner of Dara Shikoh garden. He didn’t make it. Sayeed died in Delhi on January 7. He was laid to his eternal rest close to the resthouse, furlongs away from his ancestral home. His only child in politics and successor, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, made numerous trips to Bijbehara for the remembrance rituals.

The three-storey family home, made in typical Kashmiri architecture in the early years of the 20th century, now stands forlorn, guarded by the Jammu and Kashmir Police from inside. Sayeed’s brother, Mufti Amin, and nephew, Mufti Sajjad, live in an adjoining house, in the elbow of the shrine of 14th century saint Baba Naseeb-ud-din Gazi.

On a visit to the neighbourhood on Tuesday, for five minutes, there seemed to be no sign of life in the ghost house. Knocking on the gate didn’t go waste though. One of the armed guards, exposing half of his face from a peephole, said the Muftis had shifted “to some other place” after the situation turned explosive with Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter on July 8.

Only a few people could be seen strolling or driving in the neighbourhood. It looked like a curfew town. Four neighbours said Mufti Amin and Mufti Sajjad, who retired as a divisional forest officer and is now the Peoples Democratic Party’s coordinator for south Kashmir, could be “either in Srinagar or at their new mansion” in New Colony of Bijbehara.

On October 30, two officers, including a senior official of the education department, claimed to have seen a green and white Pakistani national flag hanging against a side window of the Mufti home. That room was where Sayeed had spent the prime of his youth. The flag did not exist two days later. The guards had perhaps mustered the courage to remove it – the way one had been pulled down earlier, but not before it had made headlines and been shown on television news channels.

A short distance from Baba Mohalla, a Pakistani flag fluttered, along with two flags of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), on the arch of the entrance to the Mazaar-e-Shuhada, a public park-turned-cemetery for civilians and militants killed by security forces after 1993. An eerie silence prevailed. Nobody seemed to be living in the rows of opulent houses in New Colony. Graffiti on street walls and alleys declared Bijbehara “Burhan’s town”, “Hizbul Mujahideen’s town” and part of the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

Mufti Sajjad’s palatial new house is at a stone’s throw from the cemetery, which is meticulously fenced with a plinth and painted iron grill and houses the tombs of 43 men. Twenty-two of them were among the 34 demonstrators killed in firing by the Border Security Force on October 22, 1993, during a procession against the Army siege of the shrine of Hazratbal. The month-long stand-off between the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Army was later resolved when the Union government gave safe passage to the militants holed up in the shrine without bloodshed.

Of the 34 killed, the names of 32 are inscribed on a marble stone at the rear of the cemetery. The last one is that of a 15-year-old Kashmiri Pandit boy, Kanwal Ji Kaul alias Babloo.

Kaul’s name is conspicuously missing from a new commemoration installed on the left side of the park’s entrance. “It’s not because he was a Pandit,” said Ghulam Rasool, a resident. “In fact, around a dozen of the Muslim martyrs’ names are also not there. The management has put up the names of only those who are buried here.”

Eighteen of the 21 buried in the New Colony graveyard between 1994 and 2016 are militants – seven of them foreigners, including an Afghan national. At the bottom of the list are the names Adil Ahmad Sheikh and Tanveer Ahmad Bhat, both Hizbul Mujahideen militants and residents of Bijbehara who were killed in an encounter at Siligam Mattan in Anantnag on November 23, 2015. Around 8,000 people attended the funeral prayers of each of them, around double the number who joined Sayeed’s last rites.

Aamir Nazir Latoo, a Masters student of commerce at Aligarh Muslim University and a former Delhi University pupil, is the last name on the list. He was one of the four Bijbehara civilians killed in firing by security forces during the summer unrest after the death of Burhan Wani. The turbulence, which has waned but not ceased, claimed around 90 lives across Kashmir and left thousands injured.

The graveyard in New Colony is one of four in Bijbehara, the others being at Jablipora, Zirpara and Pirshah Mohalla. The flags of Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have been removed from these three.

There have been reports of militants visiting New Colony, which some residents confirmed. They said that on October 22, the anniversary of the 1993 massacre, armed militants appeared at the graveyard and paid salutes to the men buried there.

Militants’ writ
One of the residents is a retired police officer. In July, he received a letter alleging his son, a station house officer in adjoining Kulgam district, had committed atrocities on innocent people. As directed in the letter, the retired policeman walked into the local mosque and read out an apology on behalf of his family, fearing that a member could be killed or his house demolished. In Kulgam, militants and demonstrators damaged the house of his son’s father-in-law, who was an MLA in the 1970s, and paraded dogs with tags of his grandchildren’s names. His son, now posted in a different district, could not attend an engagement of a family member in Bijbehara last week as he learned that militants were on the prowl.

Two residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “They [militants] stay here without fear of cordon and search operations as they enjoy tremendous public support.” According to them, small groups of armed men, including Pakistani jihadist cadres, appear at weddings and mosques where they indoctrinate the youth for jihad.

One of the officials, who did not want to be identified, claimed militants had recruited 20 cadre and 50 overground workers in the last four months in Bijbehara.

Members of the Special Operations Group of the Anantnag Police, however, claimed only five youth were missing in all of Anantnag, and that just two of them were residents of Bijbehara. “We are aware that one of them has joined the Hizbul Mujahideen and another the LeT,” said an officer. “We are trying to learn about the three others.”

He, however, admitted militants enjoyed “substantial public support” in parts of Anantnag, particularly in the Bijbehara-Kulgam belt. He said the Special Operations Group, along with the Army and Border Security Force, carried out cordon-and-search operations “wherever we get specific information”. Residents said that the Police and security forces swooped down on some interiors and spread fear while thrashing the youths and shattering windows, like on the day of Eid-ul-Azha, but they insisted that the forces had not ventured into areas like New Colony for fear of the mob and the militant attacks.

According to Inspector Arshad Khan, station house officer of Bijbehara, the town is among the places worst-hit by the 117-day-long unrest in the Valley. “We have faced fierce attacks from stone-pelters and miscreants,” he said. “They killed a police official by pushing his vehicle into the Jhelum. They torched trucks, damaged hundreds of civilian and police vehicles and left the drivers and commuters besides scores of our men injured.”

He added that the last three days, though, had seen no fresh attacks and expressed relief at the fact that a good number of vehicles were now plying on the Srinagar-Jammu highway after over three months of anarchy.

Confirming the presence of militants in the chief minister’s town, Khan said, “Yes, once they thrashed some residents as punishment, attacked Mufti Sajjad’s house, and on July 11 (the day Aamir Nazir Latoo was injured in firing), they attacked the CRPF.” He added, “In the latest incident on October 22, they paid tribute to people buried in the cemetery. We have registered five FIRs against them and their supporters.”

Khan also said the police and security forces had removed numerous Pakistani flags and anti-India and pro-Pakistan graffiti across town. “Let me admit, we are less in number. At some places, we erase graffiti or remove a Pakistani flag but they return the next day and install it again,” he said. “As of today, we are not aware of any Pakistani or PoK flag being there in the town.”

On Wednesday, after the inspector sensed a story on Pakistani flags would run in the media, a large number of police and security personnel swooped on Bijbehara and removed the enemy vestiges.

Total disconnect
The situation in Bijbehara is to a large extent the way it is because of the disconnect between pro-India politicians and residents. The politicians’ failure to take on the separatists politically and their leaving everything to the police and Army has given new lease of life to militants and separatists, who had been almost completely marginalised by the massive voter turnout during the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2014.

“The BJP government at the Centre failed to consolidate the gains of the successful Assembly elections. On one hand, they seem to be more concerned about strengthening their base in Jammu and ruling the State. On the other hand, they chose to remain permissive to the premium the Congress government had kept on the separatism. The result is that even a party like NC does now borrow the Hurriyat language”, said a retired headmaster. “Nobody is representing the real Kashmir constituency”.

Competitive separatism and lending credence to the Pakistani narrative, remarkably in rotation by Mehbooba’s PDP and Omar Abdullah’s National Conference for years, have made hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani the most relevant politician in the last 18 months of the PDP-BJP rule. Government has failed to break his writ and the near-total shutdown his followers have enforced for four months.

Nazir Ahmad Najar, whose son Shafqat alias Waseem was hit by pellets used by security forces in September and lost his eyesight, said his family had been voting for the PDP since 2002. “The Muftis’ home is yards away from my home but none of them enquired about my son, let alone visiting us at home or in the hospital,” said Najar, who runs a street barbeque stall.

“They just make false claims and statements,” he added. “We were not given a pie of support. The local Jamia Masjid did a bit of support but I spent 90% on the treatment of my son out of my pocket.”

Who will he vote for the next time? “No one,” he said, sitting in his house with its shattered window panes. “If I will see anybody going to the polling station, I will kill people. We need nothing from them, just azadi.”

Asked what the government should do, he replied, “They should hold a plebiscite under the UN resolutions and solve the Kashmir problem for ever.”

Najar’s second son, Irfan, is a first-year BA student at the Government Degree College in Bijbehara and wants to excel in sports, like the famous cricketer from the same neighbourhood, Pervez Rasool. But unlike Rasool, Irfan plays volleyball. Along with his father and his brother Shafqat, Irfan believes Sayeed would not have been “this cruel”. “He too would have harmed the freedom struggle but, for sure, he would have been different”, Irfan said.

“Mehbooba is no match for her father. She is making juvenile statements and hysterical reactions and taking diktats from the BJP. Even three months after the demand came from different quarters, she has failed to freeze the pellet guns. Over a thousand people were injured, over 300 like me turned blind”, said Shafqat, who claimed that he was fired upon by a CRPF man when he was returning to his home from a market.

Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri, the National Conference legislator from Bijbehara, said the situation was a result of the “immoral relationship” between the PDP and the BJP. “In elections, PDP leaders beat us all in opposing the BJP. They asked the people to vote to keep the killers of Gujarat’s Muslims away from power in India’s only Muslim-majority state,” he said. “But within months, they formed a government with the same BJP leaders. How could it be acceptable to the Kashmiris?”

Veeri predicted not more than 7% to 10% of Kashmiris would turn up to vote if elections to two vacant Lok Sabha seats, Anantnag and Srinagar, were to be held any time soon.

Admitting to his government’s failure to connect with people, PDP spokesperson Dr Mehboob Beg said, “Yes, nobody comes forward to meet us.”

Giving a sense of Geelani’s call for a social boycott of the government, he added, “I stayed at my Sarnal (Anantnag) home for a couple of days recently and not a single person visited me. They just called on the phone and said they would see me in Jammu next time. There’s tremendous fear among the people.”

The ruling party held a workers’ meeting in Anantnag on Tuesday but only a few attended it.

Beg said the alliance would find a way out of the current mess. “It (turmoil) may die down but it will raise its head again and again until the unresolved dispute is settled,” he said. “We formed a government with the BJP after they committed in the Agenda of Alliance that the Centre would hold talks with Pakistan and the separatists. Talking to Pakistan is absurd as long as the stone-pelting and border clashes continue, but there should be no hindrance in talking to the Hurriyat. We are optimistic the BJP will take the initiative.”

The legislator said “intellectuals and newspapers” were also to blame for the situation. “In every opinion piece and news report, you see glorification of turbulence and legitimacy being accorded to the separatist mindset,” Beg said. “During Indira Gandhi’s time, you would see nothing like this. The writers would fear action against them. Now, there’s no such fear.”

[Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is a senior journalist. He has been Srinagar Bureau Chief with Daily Excelsior and Jammu & Kashmir Bureau Chief with The Hindu]
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