While Shopian dominated 2009, there were other controversies too that hogged the headlines. Haroon Mirani lists the top 10.
CHINESE VISA ROW
The year 2009 has been special for Kashmir particularly the way foreign countries have been taking up the issue in one way or other. In October China embarrassed India when it started issuing loose sheet visa papers to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir while continuing to attest visas on passports of other Indians nationals. Enraged Indian nationalists came out with condemnations but China didn’t budge.
The issue came into limelight when Indian immigration authorities disallowed some Kashmiris with Chinese visa issued on loose paper sheets and stapled to their passports, to travel.
The Indian media described the Chinese stand as ‘brash, waking dragon’. The situation was further compounded by incursions of Chinese army in J&K’s Ladakh region.
The problem with such visas is that it does not describe Kashmiris as Indian, making India fume. To circumvent the ban, some Kashmiri students and businessmen travelled to China through a third country. They get the visa from Chinese embassy in New Delhi, but they don’t staple it to their passports. They then fly to Macau or Hongkong before proceeding to China.
WORLD BANK DISCLAIMER
This December a high level six member delegation led by state forest minister Mian Altaf Ahmad met union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee at his North Block office and told him the World Bank had stopped disbursement of a sanctioned loan and raised fresh conditions.
Mukherjee assured the delegation that the government will oppose the World Bank disclaimer put up for the Rs 740 crore loan sanctioned for a watershed project in the state. The Bank has asked the state government to give an undertaking that the loan would not be treated as a certificate that the “disputed territory” was an integral part of India.
The state has failed to get the World Bank funding worth Rs 740 crore for a ‘Participatory Watershed Management Project’ after the latter issued a disclaimer on Jammu and Kashmir, implying that the territory was disputed.
India had encountered similar difficulties earlier this year when China had objected to an Asian Development Bank loan in Arunachal Pradesh saying it was a “disputed territory”.
The World Bank appraised the project for Kashmir in May 2008.
Altaf said World Bank had funded two projects in J&K, in 1991 and 1999. Though the loan component was much smaller, the multilateral agency had never sought any disclaimer.
Ironically, the state government was not even aware of the fresh conditions until the union environment and forest ministry in a follow up meeting revealed that the bank had sought the disclaimer.
PRE PAID BAN
Home Minister P Chidambaram emerged as a ‘villain’ among the state residents particularly youth, as he pulled the plug on pre-paid mobile services in J&K. Millions of prepaid mobile connections in the state were banned a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the Valley.
With 90 percent of mobile connections in the state being pre-paid, the ban hit more than fourty lakh subscribers.
In their justification to ban the services New Delhi evoked the much maligned ‘security concerns’. The government said some militants had acquired SIMs without proper verification, “so four million had to suffer.” The ban left more than 20,000 people unemployed.
Initially the ruling National Conference raised hue and cry over the issue but when it was revealed that the ban was invoked after consulting state government, it humbly retreated. The PDP hugged the limelight with token protests against the issue.
Poor Jammuites were left reeling the fact that they have to pay the price of living with Kashmiris. Panthers Party Chairman Bhim Singh challenged the order in the Supreme Court and the case is lingering on.
The latest buzz is that the ban may be revoked after the old pre-paid connections become invalid and new ones will be issued with stringent customer verifications.
On 28 July 2009, the mother of all the dramas was played in the state assembly, when opposition leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig revealed that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s name figured in the list of persons being investigated in the 2006 sex scandal by the CBI.
Apparently crestfallen, Abdullah submitted his resignation to governor. The resignation, which turned out to be a “conditional letter” asked Governor N N Vohra to accept his resignation if he felt there was some truth in those allegations. What the CBI, police, CID and courts could not do in three years, Vohra did it in two days and proclaimed Abdullah innocent. He continued in office.
Congress and the CBI too backed the ‘young hope of Kashmir’.
Meanwhile, the great flip flopper Baig too toned down his allegation.
CRICKET MATCH CONTROVERSY
Even as army claims the situation to be normal in Kashmir, it’s own team refused to play a Ranji trophy cricket match in Srinagar, citing security reasons.
The Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) team was scheduled to play J&K at Srinagar from November 3 to November 6. Following its pullout, the Services team was disqualified for next edition of the Ranji Trophy.
After the incident, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju terming the decision as “unfortunate” said that it was taken at “lower level”.
However, the drama had another twist when Defence Minister A K Antony in a reply told Rajya Sabha that the decision was taken at the highest level. “The decision (not to play in Srinagar) was taken by the SSCB, President and Navy Vice Chief Vice Admiral D K Deewan on recommendations of the 15 Corps and Udhampur-based Northern Command headquarters,” said Antony.
The minister said the Services reviewed and revised their decision in the interest of the game and career of the players.
The Army was perhaps scared of facing possible hostile crowd which could have been attracted by the match of “Army Vs Kashmir.” The bitter memories of Santosh Cup football tournament of 2008 were the grim reminders of people’s passions.
HURRIYAT COUNCIL SUSPENSION
Unable to cope with the occasional outbursts, from its own constituents , the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq in an unusual move suspended its general and executive council. The differences over “quiet dialogue” were embarrassingly coming out in public. A gag was ordered on public statements. Number of its top leaders, including former provincial president of Hurriyat Nayeem Khan, rejected backdoor diplomacy and asked leaders to “retire”.
According to reports the Hurriyat faction was virtually heading for a split as serious differences cropped up over proposed “quiet dialogue” with Centre.
So the decision to suspend the organisational set up, including office-bearers, was taken at a meeting of the executive council.
A section of the general council, which had openly questioned the “dictatorial attitude” of the executive council, wanted a role in the decision-making meetings, which was not liked at the higher echelons of separatist conglomerate.
In December Mohammed Yousuf Naqash, president of Islamic Political Party (IPP) and a general council member of the Hurriyat Conference, was suspended after he wrote an article in a newspaper rejecting the “quiet diplomacy” between the separatists and the Centre.
The year proved that the democratically elected government believes in ghosts and fears them too. After exorcising the ghosts from Joint Interrogation Centre (Papa 2) turned guest house the administration conducted elaborate rituals at the new assembly complex which elected representatives believe was haunted.
So some trusted legislators conducted the secret rituals. Twenty-five senior Muslim clerics of the Kashmir valley were invited for the ritual held in the newly constructed legislative complex. The clerics recited ‘durood-e-najaat’ – a Muslim prayer believed to help ward off the djinns and black magic.
The foundation of the assembly complex was laid by the then chief minister late Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah on September 27, 1981. A year later he died and its construction stopped. Its construction was resumed in 1997 but again stopped in 1998. Azad got it restarted again in September 2007. The complex was built at a cost of Rs.37 crore in record nine months.
The new complex held its first session on July 7, 2008. The then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was forced to resign on the same day over the bitter Amarnath land row. The assembly was dissolved soon after, and elections were held in November-December last year. When the house met for its Budget Session on July 27 this year in the new complex, it began with chaos and confusion.
On the first day of Budget Session of 2009, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti had a ‘mike fight’ with Speaker Mohammed Akber Lone. Next day, Abdullah was accused of involvement in 2006 sexual exploitation scam. Abdullah offered to resign but later withdrew it after he was given a clean chit. The third day of the session was equally chaotic.
ARRESTED IN BANGALORE
Cricket had another controversy when on October 18, two players of J&K cricket team, Parvez Rasool and Mehraj-ud-in, were detained after traces of RDX was allegedly found in his kit bag but were subsequently released for lack of solid evidence, prompting nervous organisers of the Champions League to delay the start of its Twenty20 matches.
From Bangalore to Bijbehara, wherefrom the poor player hailed, everybody went into a tizzy. Rasool was detained after detectors allegedly found traces of RDX in his kit bag during a security check. The entire team was thrown out of their state accommodation. They were literally on roads as everybody suspected them.
Parvez’s bag was sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis, where tests proved no such thing. The J&K police was also asked to do the background check on the players. Parvez’s brother in an interview had termed the incident as the act of vengeance. “Parvez has incensed the security personnel by not allowing them to use sniffer dogs on his bag which contained the Holy Quran,” he said.
When everybody was behind the poor cricketer Farooq Abdullah played the villain by saying that “somebody from Kashmir has passed on the information to Bangalore police.”
Most of the peple in Kashmir said that the team should not have played in the tournament in protest against the incident. “It would have been a fitting reply if the team would have refused to play and come back to heroes welcome,” said a young man in Srinagar, who wished not to be named. The authorities rather pressured the team to stay back.
Around 1000 jobs in government sector were lost by Kashmiris to Jammuites as the district cadre recruitment became open to all. In Kashmir division big districts encroached on the jobs of small districts, thus the controversy was set rolling. Kupwara being he worst hit lead the charge against this “discrimination”.
On October 12, 2009, a complete shutdown was observed in Kupwara. They were demanding leaving district level jobs for local youth only. Politicians, traders and representatives from other groups have come together to form a committee and asked the state government to pass a law, banning “inter-district appointments”.
Five MLAs representing Kupwara, three from National Conference, one from PDP and another independent, even threatened to commit suicide inside the Assembly during the Budget Session, forcing the government to assure them that a bill would be tabled soon.
However, sharp division among ruling party MLAs stalled any such move.
The backward places like Kupwara and Poonch became the main victims of inter-district appointments and candidates from more educationally forward places like Jammu, Kathua and Srinagar got selected for these low level district cadre posts.
The anger over inter-district and inter-division appointments is more palpable in the valley as people believe that candidates from Jammu division walk away with a majority of jobs, as seen in recent appointments for Naib Tehsildars.
So stark is the division in the ruling alliance, more along the regional lines than party affiliations, that one cabinet minister from Congress, Raman Bhalla, opposed banning the inter-district appointments while another cabinet minister from the party, Taj Moiuddin, supported it.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has admitted to the gravity of situation and its potential to inflame further and said his government had prepared a legislation, which would be brought during the next Assembly session.
CENTRAL UNIVERSITY ISSUE
Even if there was not a single protest in favour of setting up Central University in Kashmir and not Jammu, still it was made into an Jammu Vs Kashmir issue. Jammuites, hell bent on getting the university, went on for continuous strikes. Kashmir remained indifferent towards this mega university. In the end New Delhi gave two universities one each for either divisions. But for getting an additional university, first of such an instance in India, the state had to sacrify the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) that it was promised. New Delhi too had to amend its legislation, which limited one university for one state. People from Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban pitched in with their demand of setting up the university in their Chenab Valley region.
As government has almost zeroed in on the thousands of kanals of land in Ganderbal for the university, a certain section remains apprehensive regarding the CU, where recruitment for jobs and admission to students will be done on All India basis, and not exclusively for the residents of Jammu and kashmir.