When the former lawmaker, Altaf Kuloo, was caught in Nigeen last fortnight, it triggered a chain reaction: he was placed under suspension by his party, the lady lost her anchoring berth and the director of local Doordarshan was shifted out. Suhail A Shah profiles the cash rich brat who wants to wield more power and be a leader
The ruling National Conference (NC) recently found itself in a tight spot after one of their ex-MLC’s from Pahalgam in south Kashmir’s Islamabad district, known for his proximity with the party top brass, was booked by J&K police for ‘causing obscene act at a public place.’
The incident took place on Sept 10 when the police raided a houseboat in Nigeen Lake and arrested a female anchor of Doordarshan Srinagar, while the armed NC leader managed to escape and evade arrest with the help of an anticipatory bail. Taking a rather strong note of the case, Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, asked the state police to carry on the investigation in a transparent manner without entertaining any pressure from any of his party members.
Born in an upper-middle class business family in Aishmuqam area of Islamabad, Altaf Ahmad Wani alias Altaf Kuloo has seen a meteoric rise within the NC in rather a short span of time. Top NC sources said Kuloo is in the good books of the party top brass and enjoys the kind of patronage, which other party members with a standing of decades in the party don’t have. An engineering dropout from Bengaluru, Kuloo’s quick ascent has been seen a fair share of controversies. “How he has been able not only to hush up his misdeeds but also stride up the party ladder has been a mystery to most of us,” said a lower rung NC leader from south Kashmir, wishing anonymity.
He said Kuloo ‘dubiously’ got an NC ticket to fight the 2008 assembly elections for Pahalgam constituency. However, he lost to People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Rafi Ahmad Mir. “There were other strong contenders for the party ticket but, being the blue eyed boy of the party top brass, he managed to secure it,” said the NC leader. The leader said the nomination of Kuloo as a member of the Legislative Council was as shady as he being given a party ticket.
With a family business background, Kuloo had an instinct for business into which he ventured immediately after dropping out from the college and partnered his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) in the establishment of a high school in Islamabad town. However, sources reveal the partnership soon went awry after an altercation and Kuloo was asked to leave, apparently for some embezzlement of school funds. “In 2004, the telecommunication sector arrived in Kashmir and Kuloo, along with his new business partner, Bashir Ahmad Sofi, got a distribution license of Bharti Airtel for Islamabad district,” said a businessman from Islamabad, who is also associated with the telecommunication sector.
The partnership too didn’t go down well with the lower rung of the NC, given the fact that Sofi happened to be the brother of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) MLA from Homshalibugh constituency of Shopian, Abdul Ghaffar Sofi. “When it comes to money, ideologies don’t matter. All of a sudden, they become brothers across the party lines,” said a NC worker from Islamabad.
Other players from the telecommunication sector said Kuloo was nowhere in the fray of getting the license as there were a lot of other stronger contenders in the market, “However, with his strong connections in the political circles, he somehow managed to get the contract which is still remains with him,” a source said.
Soon after that, in 2005-06, Kuloo and Sofi ventured into the education sector with three other partners, Adil Jan Nisar, a resident of Azadpora, Islamabad and Munawwar Allie of Sangam, Islamabad and another person. Together, they formed ‘Mars Educational Trust’ and bagged the franchise of Delhi Public School for Islamabad.
“They took three term loans amounting to more than Rs 3 crore from Bijbehara and Bus Adda Anantnag branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank in 2006 and 2007 for construction of the school building,” said a bank official from the area. However, almost six years after sanctioning the term loans, the Bank is yet to receive the first instalment from the trust.
Subsequently, on Feb 15 this year, the bank served a notice to these five people declaring them defaulters and threatened to confiscate the school building in case they failed to clear their dues within two weeks of the notice. However, till date, nothing has been done to recover the money from the defaulters. The term loans remain unpaid. “This has been only possible because of strong political connections Kuloo has,” the bank official said.
According to the parents, whose wards study or used to study in Delhi Public School, Sangam, the fact that the school owners are defaulters of the bank, has severely dented their faith in the school administration and most of them have already got their wards enrolled in other schools, while others are contemplating to do the same.
Kashmir Life talked to some concerned parents who were planning to enrol their students at other schools. Kuloo’s fast growing reputation of being involved in immoral activities has left them deeply worried. At the same time, it is hampering the working of the school. “I was thinking of getting my daughter enrolled in the school when an insider from the school told me how Kuloo’s behaviour led to the resignation of a senior teacher,” said a parent from Bijbehara.
People close to Kuloo say the school is not the only thing that has suffered because of his reputation in the society and his immoral activities. His family life too has been severely disturbed. He got married to a girl from a business family from Islamabad town, “The couple has two daughters and were recently blessed with a son,” said a neighbour of Kuloo. He, however, said Kuloo’s wayward lifestyle has put fissures in his relation with his wife and in-laws. “For a long time, he lived alone in a flat in the Government Housing Colony, Khanabal,” he said. A source in the district administration said Kuloo has never paid any rent for the place occupied by him in the housing colony, hurting the state exchequer.
“He had a confrontation with his in-laws once. In a drunken state, he fired several rounds at their house with his licensed pistol,” a neighbour of Kuloo’s in-laws told Kashmir Life. “He has got an escort gypsy, a car from the state garage and a fleet of armed men guarding him. So how does the need of carrying a licensed weapon arise?” a lower rung NC leader asked.
Locals allege Kuloo hunts extinct birds along the banks of Lidder River in Pahalgam using his licensed weapons. “While visiting government offices, he keeps his pistol on the officer’s tables to get himself favours from the concerned officers,” said a contractor hailing from Islamabad town. People who know Kuloo say he is short-tempered and often lands himself in a tight spot. “He once had a scuffle with the SHO of Seer Hamdan police station, Mohammad Akbar, neighbouring his native village, Aishmuqam. Kuloo snatched the rifle of one of his PSO’s and ran frantically after Akbar. His PSO’s somehow managed to cool him down,” a police source told Kashmir Life.
Ironic as it might seem but no case was registered against Kuloo. Instead, the SHO was transferred within days of the incident. When contacted, the victim SHO refused to talk about the matter saying he had to suffer for a year because of the incident and he no longer wants to talk about it.
Only recently, sources say, Kuloo used abusive language and manhandled the Conservator of Forests, south Kashmir when he was leaving for Namaz in the holy month of Ramzan. “Kuloo asked him to revoke the transfer orders of an employee and the official refused to do so. Things got heated up but no case has been registered in this regard either,” said an employee of the Forest department.
Sources in the police department say Kuloo has also been booked a couple of times; once for being in the possession of a fake currency printing machine and another time when a girl complained that Kuloo tried to molest her. “The police had then seized a currency printing machine and some fake currency notes from him, while working on a tipoff. The case however has been lingering on,” a police source said.
“Kuloo was also accused of molestation by a fellow female member of the Legislative Council. The case however was settled out of court after a mutual compromise,” sources said. Now that the Pandora’s Box has been opened with the arrest of DD anchor caught with Kuloos, it will be interesting to see how far the police will be willing to go with the investigation. “He has filed a defamation case against the state and has managed to evade arrest. We will be following the case very minutely and keep our fingers crossed,” said a police official.
The allegations levelled against me in the media are baseless and fabricated. The truth will come out when I decide to speak. I am not going to do that now. Regarding the J&K Bank loan, I am not the lone proprietor of the building for which the loan was taken. Four others are also a part of it. It will be wrong on my part to comment on their behalf. There was no altercation between Seer Hamdan SHO and me. I had gone to meet the Munshi of the police station which led to an argument. The issue was blown out of proportions in the media. The SHO was not even present at the police station when I went there. The Conservator of Forests, south Kashmir, used an unparliamentary language against me. How could I tolerate it? How could a sane person tolerate non-sense! It is not a crime to carry a licensed weapon. Besides, it is not only me who has a personal weapon. There are a number of politicians who carry weapons. People are jealous of my stature and my generosity. You are accusing me of arrogance and short-temperedness. Did I sound arrogant to you? “People feel jealous about me. I am always available for my people. If is a crime then I am guilty. People are with me. You have eye-sore for some politicians!