Mr Hope put to test

Jammu & Kashmir: Jammu & Kashmir

Mr Hope put to test


Ignoring the poll boycott call by separatists, conflict-weary Kashmiris came out in large numbers during the 2008 Assembly election to vote for change. DH information centre

While the young Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems to have won his personal battle against PDP in the sex scandal issue, he has to show political maturity now to deal with other burning issues in the politically sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Omar resumed his official work after his conditional resignation was not accepted by Governor N N Vohra, who gave him a clean chit stating that he was not involved with the infamous 2006 sex scandal. He had submitted his conditional resignation after the main opposition party PDP had linked him with the scandal.

Now the chief minister has to pull up his socks and bring the state back on rails as far as the peace process is concerned. The recent incidents of civilian killings and subsequent protests had put the state back on the path of confrontation. Due to the efforts of successive Central and State governments and some flexibility on the part of Pakistan since 2002, a new hope of peace, reconciliation and safety had generated in Kashmir.

Militant actions got reduced to a great extent, ceasefire by the armies of India and Pakistan brought much relief to the people living near the line of control (LoC) and international border. Reopening of roads between J&K and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) started bringing people close and resumption of trade between the two parts of Kashmir was a big step forward.

PDP takes over

Separatists, despite having free movement, were finding it difficult to make themselves relevant in the changing political scenario in Kashmir. Their space was being occupied by PDP, which was evident from 2008 Assembly polls, when the party not only increased its seats but also its vote percentage. Even the peoples’ participation in polls was higher. But due to the differences with Congress on the Amarnath land row last year, which led to fall of the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led coalition government, PDP could not form a coalition government with the former. Congress, whose  seats tally got decreased in the Assembly polls, preferred forming the government with National Conference (NC), whose fortunes remained unchanged.

Despite being in favourable circumstances and having a very supportive Central government, Omar government started facing problems from the very beginning. The killing of civilians at Bommai, Pulwama, Baramulla and Kupwara allegedly by security and police forces brought the people again on streets. Even the mishandling of crises after the alleged rape and murder of a teenaged girl and her sister-in-law in Shopian damaged the credibility of the Omar government. The separatists again got a chance to make themselves relevant. The State government reacted by sending them to jail and booking  them under Public Safety Act (PSA), which provides for jail terms from six months to two years without trial. Following confrontation, the resumption of dialogue between the separatists and the Union government hardly seems in sight. PDP is accusing the State government of suppressing its voice and weakening the democratic institutions in the state. After the alleged human rights violations, the militants suddenly resurfaced, particularly in south Kashmir, resuming their actions. The tourism sector again got shattered due to strikes, protests and curfews.

Union home minister P Chidambaram recently alleged that these agitations are being fuelled by the political party (PDP) since it lost power. Even the State government shared this view. But most people in the Valley do not agree with the government.

Govt at fault

“Stop killing of civilians, the people will not take to streets. When some untoward incidents happen, the separatists and PDP get a chance to exploit the situation politically,” said Abdul Majid, a businessman. He added that had the government registered a rape and murder case immediately in Shopian, it would not have become a big issue. “The government made all efforts to shield the killers, the local police men. This triggered widespread public anger,” the businessman said. Sharing his view, Reyaz Ahmad, a government employee said nobody in Kashmir wants agitations and general strikes. “Our economy has got shattered in the last 20 years because of strikes,” he said.

On the contrary,  NC supporters feel that the Central government must sincerely help the CM in avoiding occurrence of such incidents. “The Union government must make it clear to the army and paramilitary that the civilian killings go against national interests and causes further alienation among the people,” said Zubair Mohammad, an NC supporter.

He added that the government is taking action against the guilty security and police personnel as was evident in Bommai and Kupwara.

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti asserted that the CM, under whom  the security and intelligence agencies work, must ensure that no civilian is killed. “People during our party’s rule felt very safe as we had instructed that innocent people should not be targeted. The security forces followed our orders in letter and spirit,” she said.

With a young CM at the helm of affairs and a young Mehbooba as the Leader of the Opposition, most youth in Kashmir expect them to guide them sensibly without playing too much politics at the cost of human lives and honour. “Unlike their fathers, Omar and Mehbooba have greater responsibilities towards the people, particularly youth. They must represent our aspirations,” said Zuhaib, a university student.

Interview

‘Omar speaks and acts differently’

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti was again in focus after she threw the mike from the podium of Legislative Assembly Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone recently. As Leader of the Opposition she led her party legislators in their attack against National Conference, particularly after linking Chief Minister Omar Abdullah with the infamous sex scandal of 2006. In an exclusive interview with Zahoor Malik of Deccan Herald Sunday Spotlight, she talked about different issues, including her impulsive action in the Assembly and the allegation levelled against Omar Abdullah. Excerpts:

Governor N N Vohra and CBI have given a clean chit to Omar against your party’s allegation that the CM was involved in sex scandal. Do you feel the  serious allegation was a big political mistake?

It was not a mistake as we continue to stick to our stand, which we took in the Legislative Assembly. The Governor’s house and CBI have been misused by the Central government to give a clean chit to Omar. We have been saying since 2006, when the scandal got exposed, that CBI has tried to hush up the case after it came to know that top politicians were involved. This is because the centre had directed the premier investigation agency not to touch these big politicians. Subsequently, the investigations were left halfway.

We recently obtained an authentic CBI list, having the names of the persons involved in the sex scandal. The list was submitted to the division bench of the state High Court, monitoring the CBI investigations. The Court gave a split verdict with one judge favouring further independent investigations by CBI into the list, while the other directed investigations under court supervision. But the  investigations were never carried out.

CBI gave the clean chit to Omar on the basis of the first list of 18 persons, who were charge sheeted in the court.

The list we are talking about is a separate list and it is the second list submitted before the court and on which no further investigations were conducted. In the list Omar figures at Serial No 102 while his father Dr Farooq Abdullah at 37.

Most people did not believe your allegation since they think that Omar is innocent?

Let me make it very clear that PDP has nothing personal against Omar. We wanted to bring the sex scandal into the Legislative Assembly so that further investigations are conducted and those involved are punished under law. In the past, Omar’s party National Conference would use the sex scandal in and outside Assembly to target PDP since it had surfaced during our rule. But at that time the names of big politicians had not figured.

There is a view that your party suffered politically after the CM announced his resignation in view of your allegation?

Surely Omar took a bold step in the Assembly by announcing his resignation. But he actually did not resign. The State government and the Centre misled the people on the issue. The CM did not submit his resignation to the Governor as he  claimed. Instead, he met the Governor and handed him a letter, which did not mention his resignation. He requested the Governor to get the matter investigated first and accept the resignation if he found some basis in the allegation. The Governor, after giving him a clean chit, asked him to continue working. Even the statements issued by the spokesperson of Governor’s house did not mention that Omar had resigned. It only referred to the letter of the CM to governor and the latter’s response.

Do you regret throwing the mike from speaker’s podium?

The speaker used abusive language against me. It was a spontaneous reaction. As a woman, I threw the mike to stop him from hurling more abuses on me. It was not an attempt to disrespect the chair of speaker, who was biased and used filthy language.

The chief minister said whatever has happened is a closed chapter and he has no bitterness. He has sought PDP’s cooperation in carrying forward the state. Are you ready to forget the bitterness?

There is a contradiction in the words and action of Omar. A judicial probe into the sex scandal is one among the major demands of our party. We are for troop reduction, end to human rights violation, and withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), self-rule and talks for the solution of Kashmir issue. But the present coalition government headed by Omar believes in suppression. Large-scale human rights violations are taking place, since he came to power.

Rather than holding talks, the separatists have been arrested. The government is trying to even target us and snatch our political space. Democratic institutions like the assembly are being suppressed in Kashmir. We are not being allowed to talk. This is proving very counter productive to national interests. Unlike the separatists, we are not demanding freedom but still every effort is being made at the national level to dub us as separatists.

We represent the aspirations of Kashmiri people, who are for the solution of Kashmir issue. And we want a solution within the Indian system.

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