A War Within

Infighting and scandals seem to be chasing state congress, with its senior leaders hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Tasavur Mushtaq reports

After playing the king maker in the state post-2002, the Congress in J&K seems to be in a mess. Its erstwhile president and minister Peerzada Sayeed is in face-saving mode after allegation of “purchasing” his legal son success in matriculation made newspaper headlines. Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand has been proved to have blocked funds for Kashmir. And the squabble between Taj Mohi-ud-Din and Abdul Gani Vakil seems to be getting murky.

Irrigation and PHE Minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din is one of the most vocal Congress ministers in the state. Very close to the chief minister Omar Abdullah, he is being considered ‘another faction’ within the Congress party apart from the two led by Prof Saif ud Din Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad. Taj leads J&K’s open war against the NHPC, which many believe is a trump card to strengthen his position in state politics.

A confidant of Ghulam Nabi Azad, former minister Abdul Gani Vakil, released a letter he had written to Taj Mohi-ud-Din, to the media. It was a huge surprise. Vakil sent the same letter to Sonia Gandhi, president of All India Congress Committee (AICC) and terming Taj as inept and partisan besides suggesting the Congress president to sack him in the “interest of the party and probity in public life.” In the letter, Vakil had given details of various allegations of corruption against the minister.

“Despite revelations of so many scams and financial mismanagement published in various newspapers and also brought into your notice all along these years,” the letter that made front pages in the newspapers said, “You had chosen to maintain a criminal silence which speaks of your irresponsive attitude and lack of will to fight corrupt practices rampant in your department.”

Taj is actually fighting a case in the court in which a Jammu resident has accused him of grabbing his ancestral land and distributing it within his daughters. There was another land grabbing report in the Kashmir press as well.

The letter triggered a crisis. Taj reiterated by leveling allegations against Vakil, terming him a “habitual blackmailer who needs to be taught a lesson”.

Taj claimed that Vakil wrote the letter to the party high command and leaked it to media to “settle personal scores.” “He (Vakil) had come to me to get some people transferred but I refused to oblige him. I told him categorically that he should not meddle in the affairs of my department,” the minister claimed.

Vakil, however, maintained that he would continue to raise his voice against corruption “come what may”. “I have raised a genuine issue and I don’t think there is any harm in it. My conscience is clear and Congress’s stand on corruption is clear. It won’t be tolerated,” Vakil claimed.

Taj threatened to file a defamation suit against Vakil and claimed that the Congress high command was taking action against him as 12 leaders have supported disciplinary action against him. But as many as 21 party leaders openly came out in support of Vakil. They accuse Taj of failing to check corruption in his ministry and tarnishing the image of the party. In a joint statement they want High Command to take action against Taj for being “neck deep in various corrupt practices and land grabbing”.

Putting the leadership in dilemma, the situation forced almost every top leader from state to centre to react. State congress president Prof Soz termed the bitterness between Taj and Vakil as “unpleasant”. “Whatever is going on between the two senior party leaders is not pleasant situation for Congress.” Union Health Minister and AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad blamed Vakil of “gross misconduct” by resorting to mud-slinging against his senior colleagues.  “It is the worst instance of gross misconduct and can’t be tolerated,” Azad said.

Senior AICC leader and in charge J&K affairs Mohan Prakash reacting to the brawl said, “These matters are not discussed in media. We will go through the version of both the leaders first and then act accordingly.”

As the war within Congress was going on Greater Kashmir “exposed” how the senior functionaries of the State Board of School Education (BOSE) personally facilitated copying of answers for education minister’s son Aman Sufan when he was writing his secondary school examinations in 2009. The newspaper carried photocopies of the two handwritings –alleging that part of it had been written by a board official to help the minister’s son pass the exam.

A vigilance squad that found the minister’s son copying, according to newspaper seized the answer sheet along with the handwritten chits and handed over to the academic officer for registering a case of resorting to unfair means.

But no case was registered. An officer of the rank of deputy director was assisting him in resorting to unfair means and fled from the spot on seeing the vigilance squad.

Another teacher posted at the centre also lodged a complaint with the BOSE authorities against the student, but despite that result of the candidate was announced and declared as having passed the exam.

Though Peerzada denied the reports, the pressure forced chief minister Omar Abdullah to ask the Crime Branch of police to investigate the case within seven working days. Chief Minister’s action did not satisfy the people. Students came to the streets with placards: “Down with Peerzada”.

Taking a cue independent lawmaker from Langate, Engineer Rashid drove a huge group of his supporters to Srinagar to protest against the minister. By then, Aman passed his twelfth with flying marks.

The issue had been raised earlier also. A Jammu-based NGO on October 25, 2010 had made a representation to Governor’s Secretariat seeking action against the Education Minister in “impersonation case against his son”. Raj Bhawan had forwarded the representation to principal secretary to chief minister on October 28, 2010 with a note that Governor N N Vohra has desired a report in this regard by November 10, 2010.

The CM’s secretariat forwarded it to General Administration Department (Vigilance) on December 15, 2010 and it eventually landed in the education minister’s office.

After going through several offices it reached the School Education Department on December 27, 2010. There, an under Secretary in his letter on August 18, 2011 to Secretary BOSE, sought action. However, there was no forward movement on the allegations at BOSE level.

Giving a twist to the copying controversy Peerzada said that the BOSE disposes off the answer scripts of the examinees after six months of the examination.
“I am surprised that the answer script has surfaced after three years though BOSE disposes off such documents after six months of the examination,” the minister said, claiming that he was a victim of an “internal conspiracy and tug of war within the BOSE”.

Chairman of BOSE Dr Shiekh Bashir who allegedly connived with the minister said, “The case is two years old and we do not keep the old papers but sell those. Even then we tried our best to retrieve the answer papers of the candidate but failed to trace them from our secrecy section.” He believes the issue “is being raked up by an official”. However, another BOSE official said the answer scripts of the minister’s son were preserved as an investigation was going on.

In an interesting twist, a Jammu newspaper reported that Peerzada had threatened to reveal how the son of a NC minister, known for his proximity to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, had been “helped by BOSE officials in the same way”.

The boy, whose actions have been causing embarrassment to the Congress leader, is actually the son of a slain JKLF commander. Peerzada’s foster son had hogged headlines last year when he and six of his associates allegedly rampaged residential houses and shops in the minister’s residential village in Kokernag, reportedly in inebriated condition. Police had arrested Aman and lodged a case under FIR No: 271 of 2011 against him on August 4, 2011.

Peerzada married Dr Tabbassum, daughter of one-time senior Congress leader, Abdul Aziz aka Tourist after his first wife passed away in 1997. Dr Tabbasum had married prominent JKLF militant Pervez Ahmed alias Pervez Billa in 1990. She gave birth to Aman Sufan next year. A year later, Pervez was killed in internecine feuds.

Meanwhile, the demands for Peerzada’s resignation are getting louder. Earlier Azad loyalist Ghulam Mohammad Saroori was dismissed from cabinet when an impersonator appeared in a competitive exam (Common Entrance Test) in place of his daughter. The case was refered to the CBI.

But this is not the only case against Peerzada who has many cases in State Accountability Commission. A couple of years ago his name figured in a multi-crore scam in education department. Recently, the minister has been accused of issuing Resident of Backward Area (RBA) certificate to his close relative in gross violation of the rules. A Jammu newspaper claiming to have access to the documents reveal that one Sheeba Jan daughter of Late Shamsudin resident of Anantnag town was issued RBA certificate under no. 594/NTK dated 23-10-2009 showing her as the wife of Peer Farhat Hassain Makhdoomi resident of Dhamhal (native village of Peerzada Mohammed Sayeed).

Peer Farhat Hussain is Peerzada’s nephew who married Sheeba Jan in May 2010. Sheeba was later selected as a teacher under RBA category. Interestingly, when she was given the benefit under RBA category she was not married to Peer Farhat. More interesting is the fact that the RBA certificate to the said beneficiary was issued under the seal and signature of Tehsildar Ghulam Hassan Rather who had actually retired at the time the certificate was issued.

The minister’s second wife Dr Tabassum also was at the centre of a controversy on recognition of ETT Schools in 2006-07. Then MLA of Sangrama, Shoaib Lone (who is now head of Youth Congress in J&K) had rocked the assembly session with the allegation that Education Minister’s wife had demanded and accepted bribe of Rs 40,000 from the MLA’s sister on account of recognition of her ETT school in Baramulla district. The then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, subsequently, forced Peerzada to resign as education minister and also got him removed from the post of president of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee.

The two cases came at a time when the lawmakers in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have conclusively established that deputy chief minister Tara Chand, who is a congressman, ignored Kashmir in releasing the funds while the funds for Jammu region were released on time.

In gross violation of rules, funds worth crore of rupees meant for development of Srinagar and other municipalities of Kashmir valley have either been blocked or diverted to other regions by the Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD) headed by Tara Chand, sources said.

State Assembly’s PAC led by NC legislator Mir Saifullah found that under Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme (UIDS) for small and medium towns, central government released Rs 30 crore for solid waste management for 12 towns across J&K. While 92 percent of funds stand utilized in seven targeted towns in Jammu, not a single penny has been spent in the Kashmir in last two years. Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker from Shangus, Peerzada Mansoor Hussain who is member of committee termed it as “unfortunate”. “As a member I cannot divulge details but whatever has happened is unfortunate. I will say that the department is in a complete mess. There are many more disturbing things that have come to fore. The committee will put them in public domain at appropriate time,” he said.

The committee now has decided to seek the intervention of Chief Minister and Chief Secretary Madhav Lal to get the messy and partisan affairs in H&UDD thoroughly investigated.

Congress party in J&K is ridden with factionalism. Earlier it was Soz versus Azad but now Taj Mohi-ud-Din is perceived to be emerging as another power centre on the scene. Single handedly, Taj openly sided with the chief minister on various crucial and controversial issues including the rotation of chief ministership.

Congress managed to be in power for the second time is finding it hard to stop internal bickering. The war within seems to erode their base in the state. “Let them settle their internal issues before trying to solve common man’s problem,” said Mohsina Majid a student of Kashmir University.

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