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Saturday, February 4, 2017

PDP-BJP coalition’s another dubious first: CAG report not tabled in House

House Committee reports, annual reports of commissions were also not tabled in House; Cabinet kept 17 important Bills pending

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Feb 3: Cabinet spokesperson and Minister of Education Naeem Akhtar’s claim that the Presiding Officers adjourned the Legislature’s budget session sine die a week before the schedule only after ascertaining that “no more important business was still pending”, appears to be remarkably far from truth.

Sources in the Cabinet disclosed to STATE TIMES that the draft of as many as 17 important Bills was supposed to be approved by the Cabinet on February 1st at 3.00 pm. All these Bills would have come up for consideration and passage in Legislative Assembly, followed by Legislative Council, on the next four days of the Business. Even the Cabinet meeting, of which the agenda had been circulated, could not be convened as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti diverted to a party function in Jammu and conveyed her reluctance to chair the same at Civil Secretariat in the afternoon on Wednesday.

“Immediately after the Opposition created ruckus in both Houses of Legislature over the Speaker’s announcement that he would examine the records and expunge if there was anything objectionable in the CM’s Monday speech, it was made clear to both the Presiding Officers that the CM was no more interested in continuation of the session”, sources in the Cabinet said. Taking a cue, Speaker of Legislative Assembly and Chairman of Legislative Council adjourned the session sine die, leaving much of the scheduled business unfinished.

The Budget had been already passed but none of the legislative businesses could be conducted. Even the Question Hour on many days of the session remained completely disturbed.

The Bills which failed to pass through legislation include replacement of J&K Panchayat Raj Ordinance of 2016 which authorises Chief Electoral Officer to conduct Panchayat elections in absence of the State Election Commission. The Commission has not been constituted in Jammu and Kashmir till date. “Since the Ordinance has enough time to expire on completion of six months, we will be able to hold the Panchayat elections in March-April as per the powers given to CEO by the Ordinance”, said a Minister.

Sources in the bureaucracy revealed that the 17 Bills which remained pending for legislation included some of the very important laws.

Even as a motion was adopted by so-called voice vote amid bedlam in the Assembly on Wednesday, none of the Financial Committees like Public Accounts Committee, Estimates Committee and Public Undertakings Committee, could be constituted. Secretary Assembly Mohammad Ramzan agrees that these are statutory panels and need to be constituted with all nominations by the Legislature. He, however, added that Assembly went by the practice of last several years whereby respective political parties submit names of their legislators and the Speaker constitutes the committees accordingly.

Even the all-important annual audition reports of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) were not tabled in Assembly or Council this time. Secretary Assembly said that it was second time in his memory that such businesses remained unfinished and the reports, including the CAG report, were not tabled. He said similar situation occurred once when Ghulam Nabi Azad was Chief Minister and due to a pandemonium, the Budget session was adjourned sine die in advance by Speaker Tara Chand in 2007 or 2008.

However, former Secretary of Law and Legislative Council, Mohammad Ashraf Mir, asserted that it was for the first time that the CAG reports, besides other annual reports, were not tabled in the Legislature in Jammu and Kashmir.

Secretary Assembly admitted that none of the Assembly’s own House Committee reports or those of J&K State Public Service Commission, J&K State Vigilance Commission, J&K Accountability Commission, J&K State Human Rights Commissions, annual reports of important PSUs and the CAG reports could not be tabled even as all these were ready and available with the Assembly and the Council Secretariat.

Under Article 148 and 149 of the Constitution of India, all the Central reports of CAG have to be tabled in the Budget session of the Parliament and all the State reports in respective State Legislatures.

While the Principal Auditor General (PAG) of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Huveda Abbas, is currently with a UN audit in United States of America, the Accountant General and incharge PAG, K Subramanium, said that as per the rules and the procedure, he had submitted the CAG reports to Governor several days before the commencement of the Budget session in December 2016.

“Since the State Legislature under rules is the first audience, none of the CAG reports can be made public or published until the same are tabled in the House. Now this has to be done in the next session. Thereafter, these reports will be discussed for remedial actions by the Public Accounts Committee”, Mr Subramaniam told STATE TIMES.

Officials in PAG’s office said that the CAG reports submitted by them had been long back approved by the Governor and forwarded to Assembly and the Council Secretariats through Finance Department. “These could have been tabled any day in the last one month of the session. We fail to understand why the Government waits for the last day of the session”, said an officer.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Delhi’s darling Lisa Curtis tipped to be Trump Govt’s Assistant Secretary of State South Asia

Expert on India-Pakistan matters and terrorism, Curtis, who was recently in J&K, is strongly supported by the BJP top brass including PM Modi and Ram Madhav

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Feb 2: Strongly favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and the Government, New Delhi’s trusted diplomatic darling and the high-profile South-Asia expert, Lisa Curtis, is tipped to be the Trump Government’s Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. Her appointment, according to highly placed diplomatic sources in New Delhi, is likely to be announced “within a few days”.

Sources disclosed to STATE TIMES that during her recent visit to India, when she also visited Jammu and Kashmir, Curtis met with top functionaries of the Modi Government and the BJP top brass. Those campaigning strongly but silently for her appointment include the party’s all-important General Secretary and an architect of the PDP-BJP Government in Jammu and Kashmir, Ram Madhav.

“Curtis has a strong support from South Block to the National Security Council. We believe that the Indian diplomacy managers have campaigned for her appointment as Assistant Secretary South Asia. What Robin Raphel (1993) was to Pakistan, Lisa Curtis is to India”, said a senior diplomatic source. He, however, put in a caveat that her appointment was yet to be approved by the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

A conservative Republican activist, Curtis was reportedly part of the electoral campaign for Donald Trump in the US.

Immediately after the Republic Day ceremonies in Jammu, Curtis met with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh and a number of BJP leaders. She also visited Udhampur and held an extensive interaction with senior Army officers at headquarters of Northern Command. Sources said that the Government also arranged her visit and meetings with victims of the cross-border shelling on this side of International Border and LoC.

Curtis also flew to Srinagar and Gulmarg where, according to well-placed sources, she also met with a top separatist leader with the consent and knowledge of the Centre and the State Government. However, she did not make any such meeting public through social media.

A frequent visitor to J&K, Curtis is a Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation, in the United States of America.

Curtis regularly travels to the South Asia region to participate in conferences. She  has contributed chapters to books and academic journals, including a chapter on India in “Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics,” edited by Susan Yoshihara and Douglas A. Sylva (Potomac Books, 2011) and an article on Pakistan’s foreign policy in Contemporary South Asia (June 2012).

Before joining The Heritage Foundation in August 2006, Curtis worked for the U.S. government on South Asian issues for 16 years. From 2003 to 2006, she was a member of the professional staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where she was in charge of the South Asia portfolio for the chairman at the time, Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican representative from her State of Indiana.

From 2001 to 2003, Curtis was the White House-appointed senior adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs, where she helped develop policy to manage Indo-Pakistani tensions. Before that, she worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and, in the mid-1990s, served as a diplomat in the U.S. embassies in Pakistan and India.

In her numerous speeches at international conferences, besides her articles, interviews and panel discussions on the world’s top television channels, Curtis has unequivocally supported the Indian point of view on Pakistan, Kashmir and terrorism.

In a recent article, Curtis argued that the Chinese promised investment on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) had boosted Pakistan’s confidence and spoiled prospects of a dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi.

“The issue of China and its role in the Indo-Pakistani dispute was raised in a panel discussion on Wednesday at The Heritage Foundation. In that discussion, I mentioned India’s concern that China’s promised $46 billion investment toward CPEC projects in Pakistan has boosted Islamabad’s confidence in its regional position and discouraged it from engaging in dialogue with New Delhi. I further noted that Washington must convince Beijing that if it wants to see the Islamist extremist threat diminished in South Asia, it must convince Islamabad to crack down on terrorist proxies that attack India”, Curtis wrote in her widely read article.

Curtis also supported India’s surgical strikes on the Pakistan-administered terrorist bases across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir immediately after the fidayeen attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in September 2016.

“The Indian strikes demonstrate the Modi government’s unwillingness to merely absorb Pakistani provocations. The attack in Uri on September 18 was the second major Pakistani provocation in the space of nine months. In early January, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, attacked the Indian air base at Pathankot, just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Pakistan by paying a goodwill visit to Lahore. The Uri attack appeared to show Pakistani willingness to up the ante in order to draw international attention to Kashmir at a time when civil protests had been wracking the region”, Curtis wrote in another article.



Thursday, February 2, 2017

PDP’s yet another supreme sacrifice for the coalition with BJP
CM eats the humble pie, escapes to Gulmarg for snow carnival as business terminated dramatically in both Houses of Legislature

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 1: Six days ahead of the schedule and without any consultation with the respective Business Advisory Committees, the budget session in both Houses of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature was dramatically terminated on Wednesday even as the Leader of Opposition Omar Abdullah claimed on Twitter that the Presiding Officers had received the signal from the Government. This brings to an end high drama in the Legislature over the Chief Minister calling the anti-370 forces as “anti-national” and Speaker Kavinder Gupta saying that he would expunge the adjective not palatable to the BJP from Mehbooba Mufti’s speech.

There has been no confusion or ambiguity over the fact that no political party other than the BJP and its Sangh Parivar constituents has been vociferously struggling for abrogation of the Article 370 of the Constitution of India and other statutory provisions that grant and guarantee special status to Jammu and Kashmir in the dominion of India. Obviously, the Chief Minister and the coalition partner labelling the “forces weakening the Article 370” as anti-national has come as a major embarrassment for the BJP, unluckily ahead of Assembly elections in UP, Punjab and some other States.

Sensing the political deficit, BJP demonstrated tremendous alacrity in media management—it succeeded in playing down the news on TV and in newspapers. It also managed a damage-control action from the Speaker in a desired manner. On Tuesday, Speaker obliged a BJP MLA with his assurance that he would examine the records and expunge from Chief Minister’s speech if there was “anything like anti-national”. His disposal of the BJP MLA’s complaint stirred a hornets’ nest. The Opposition argued it was tantamount to censuring the CM who had lost the moral standing to act as the head of the Government.

In the thick of the hullabaloo, as the Opposition pressed hard that Chief Minister should make a clarification, own or discard what she had said about the anti-370 forces on Monday, Speaker attempted to douse the flames. He said that he had examined the record. “It appears that there was nothing wrong in her intention”, Speaker said without regard to what over 30 cameras had recorded live on Monday. Omar posted relevant part of the video of Mehbooba Mufti’s speech on his Twitter handle, making BJP’s position awkward before a larger audience. He has over 16 lakh followers on Twitter.

Speaker made an unsuccessful attempt to divert the slur to the Kashmiri separatists who, he said, used to exploit things to perpetuate disturbance in the Valley. It was not digestible for the Opposition and media as it is the BJP, not the Hurriyat or any other separatist organisation, that has been gunning for Article 370. In the video Mehbooba is clearly heard and seen as saying that nothing was “as big an anti-national act as weakening Article 370”. She makes her contention absolutely clear that when some forces speak or act against Article 370, the separatists on the prowl in Kashmir exploit it to disrupt peace and create disturbance.

In the videos through internet, Mehbooba endorses Omar Abdullah’s apprehension and assures him that her Government would leave no stone unturned to protect Article 370 and 35-A in the judiciary. She seeks NC’s and other opposition parties’ help in the Legislature to safeguard the State’s special position. This was enough to reclaim a part of the base lost in Kashmir in the last around two years.

However, the BJP lost no time to turn the tables. It succeeded to project that Speaker had expunged the “anti-national” remarks and admonished the Chief Minister. It ruffled a many feathers in the PDP but the party thought it opportune to surrender as it has been reduced to the weakest possible position and, for now, is left with no pigeons in its basket. The party’s crisis managers believe that any confrontation with the BJP could make it lose power at a time when the tempers at home were running terribly high over PDP’s failure to realize a single “pro-Kashmir” promise of the Agenda of Alliance. The other day only, Prime Minister’s office made it clear that the Centre was not going to hand over any of its hydroelectric power projects in Jammu and Kashmir.

Chief Minister’s continued absence from the Legislature for two eventful days, her party’s Ministers and MLAs being mute to the Opposition pandemonium and the BJP’s triumphant tones have significantly added to the PDP’s troubles and trauma. It remains to be seen if some ground could be reclaimed with some pro-people measures and decisions like providing jobs to the unemployed youths on the fast track and unleashing a visible developmental initiative across the Valley.

Speaker’s 3 statements in 3 hours make CM’s position more awkward

BJP high command wants Mehbooba to make ‘clarification’; no official release from Assembly Secretariat, Information Department

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Jan 31: Speaker Kavinder Gupta’s treatment to Chief Minister’s speech in Assembly, in reaction to the BJP MLA Rajiv Jasrotia’s objection to a part of her statement, has obviously made Ms Mehbooba Mufti’s position awkward in the State Legislature as well as the Government. The first casualty on Tuesday became a scheduled Cabinet meeting which was cancelled even after circulation of the agenda.

In her key speech on the grants of her departments, Mehbooba had, for the first time during PDP’s coalition with the BJP, labelled the votaries of the abrogation of Article 370 as “anti-national”. According to her it was the “biggest anti-national act” to seek abrogation of Article 370 that grants special status to J&K in the Constitution of India and serves as a link between the State and the Centre.

With elections in some crucial States drawing nearer, Mehbooba’s remarks are understood to have come as a major embarrassment for the BJP. Since decades, BJP has been the key sponsor of the movement for abrogation of Article 370. It is also alleged to be behind two writ petitions against the State flag and Article 35-A. Apparently under the instructions of his party high command, Jasrotia sought expunction of CM’s “anti-national” remarks, asserting that the BJP, the erstwhile Jan Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookerji and the MLA’s own family had struggled and given sacrifices for abrogation of Article 370.

“How could we all be anti-national?” Jasrotia asked on the floor of the Assembly. He urged Speaker to order deletion of CM’s remarks. Speaker responded to him favourably and said that if there was anything anti-national in CM’s speech that would be expunged. With this, Speaker stirred a cornets nest as the entire Opposition, led by National Conference MLA and acting President and the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, created a ruckus. They said it was for the first time that a Speaker had expunged a CM’s remarks and it would tantamount to a motion of no-confidence against the CM.

The House was adjourned by the Speaker for three times as the Opposition demanded the “official position” of the Government. It pressed to know whether the CM had exceeded her brief or the Speaker was wrong in ordering the expunction.

On the second occasion, Speaker said he would check the records and see if there was anything objectionable in CM's speech. On the third occasion, he claimed that he had not expunged anything from CM’s speech. He, however, added that Chief Minister herself needed to make necessary clarification. With nobody from PDP speaking on behalf of the absent CM, opposition maintained its ruckus and Speaker ordered another adjournment.

Even as a barrage of news stories asserted that Speaker’s action had triggered a storm in the coalition, mediapersons did not receive any clarification or official press release on this development either from Assembly Secretariat or from Department of Information of the State Government. With the Assembly being in session, such a statement or clarification from any other forum was unlikely.

Well-placed political sources disclosed to STATE TIMES that a section of the BJP high command was “pretty unhappy” over Ms Mufti’s label of “anti-nationals” on her coalition partners. Without speaking to Ms Mufti, important BJP leaders at the Centre established contact with the State party leaders and asked them to seek a clarification from Chief Miniter. They made clear that Ms Mufti should withdraw her phrase of “anti-national” that had made BJP’s position awkward in several States preparing for Assembly elections.

However, Ms Mufti, according to sources, declined to make any statement or clarification pleading that it would erode her credibility and make the already hostile ground harder for her party in the Valley. “We can’t be seen as making surrender after surrender to the BJP. We are already in the eye of a storm and the Panchayat and Lok Sabha by-elections in Kashmir are not far away”, said a senior PDP leader.

With no clarification pouring in from Department of Information, the PDP leader claimed to STATE TIMES that today’s Cabinet meeting was cancelled only because of the Speaker’s “uncharitable action” and the BJP building a stand for abrogation of Article 370.  He said that notwithstanding the discomfiture, some leaders in both the parties were in favour of playing down today’s developments. “We are told that the BJP has barred its vociferous MLAs, including Ravinder Raina and Rajeev Jasrotia from making any statement to the Press.

Towards the last moments of Tuesday’s mayhem, Speaker came out with the third statement. This time around he claimed that he had not ordered any expunction of CM’s speech. “Let her make a clarification”, Speaker said. However, rather than going to the Assembly, Chief Minister, who was in her office, drove straight to PDP’s Jammu office in Gandhi Nagar to attend a party function.

The problem for the coalition is that both, Ms Mufti’s speech as well as Speaker’s verbal order over Jasrotia’s demand, have been recorded on over 30 cameras. Reports indicate that the Opposition would again on Wednesday rake up the issue and press hard for PDP’s and BJP’s clarifications.