Above censure

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May 21, 1990…Chanting slogans and beating chests, thousands of mourners, carrying the body of late Mirwaiz Farooq had gathered in the old city of Srinagar.

Then Director General of Police Ghulam Jeelani Pandit and a senior Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officer were putting their heads together in the Police Control Room, frantically trying to contact governor Jagmohan. They had recommended lifting of curfew and allowing procession to perform last rites of the assassinated Mirwaiz. But, surprisingly Jagmohan had some other thoughts.

As the frenzied wireless clamours went louder and louder, Jagmohan switched the frequency of his set. The callousness finally claimed 47 lives at Hawal Chowk, when a CRPF bunker fired on the procession. The incident changed the contours of militancy in Kashmir. Taking serious note of Jagmohan’s callousness and his ignoring wireless messages from PCR, the then prime minister V P Singh kicked him out of the coveted Raj Bhawan, even though the governor enjoyed support of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a key ally of Singh’s Janata Dal government.

Almost two-decade later, in June 2010, a jilted administration was once again frantically attempting to receive orders from Chief Minister Omar Abduallah, who was holidaying with his family in Ladakh.

Srinagar was on boil. Instead of passing orders and returning to Srinagar, young chief minister repeated Jagmohan’s act, switched off his wireless set and his mobile phone and drove his Land Cruiser straight to Kulu-Manali. After five days, he rang up his office for a helicopter to airlift him from Manali resorts. This helicopter had earlier made nine sorties to airlift relative of his wife, Payal Singh, to Ladakh monasteries.

Again in July when Srinagar was in flames, CM was spending the weekend in Gulmarg. But this time, he took the helicopter flight on Sunday morning, and headed cabinet meeting at the Srinagar airport itself.

The cabinet meeting ordered transfer of the SSP of Srinagar. And after doing this much, he returned to Gulmarg in the same helicopter to spent rest of spoiled weekend.

Insiders in the power corridors in Delhi say, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram were in agreement to roll heads in Srinagar.

But Omar’s godfather Rahul Gandhi had firmly put his foot down. A senior Congress leader even confided to Kashmir Life that off late, Congress president Sonia Gandhi would cut short any discussion on Kashmir. Message is clear, to let Omar’s government continue, in whatever way you can.

A senior BJP leader and a ministerial colleague of Omar Abdullah in the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee recalls that soon after December 13 parliament attack, the prime minister had ordered all central ministers to return to New Delhi. India was amassing troops along the LoC. A punitive action against Pakistan was gaining clamour.

But Omar, who was also junior minister for external affairs left for London on what looked like more of a holiday than work. And later on May 14, 2002, the day militants attacked an army camp and a bus in Jammu, Omar accompanied his wife to a fashionable store in New Delhi’s Khan Market to help her select a pair of designer glasses.

Though for Kashmiri youth, Omar was never a promise, his vitriolic ten minute speech in parliament on July 2008 had made him an instant hero. He may be an ideal nationalist and a secular Muslim show boy for Delhi to show off to the world, because he is born to an English mother and is married to a Sikh. His sister is married to a Hindu, Sachin Pilot, a Union minister. But even after having spent 10 years in politics, he is still unable to speak Kashmiri, and, therefore, could not effectively even communicate with his cadres.

HIS ELECTION: As per 2001 census, Kashmir Valley had 54 lakh population, but voters in November 2008 were 32, 6331. The population of Jammu was 41 lakh and voters counted 31 lakh, that means in Kashmir Valley, 22 lakh people were outside electoral rolls or were below 18. In Jammu only 13 lakh people were outside the electoral rolls. Nine lakh genuine voters in Kashmir were not registered in rolls.  And to top it, PDP got 28.5 per cent votes, but got just 21 seats. Omar’s party National Conference (NC) got 27.5 per cent votes, less than one percent though it contested more seats and got 28 seats.

In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, NC polled two lakh votes less than PDP. Analysts in Kashmir do believe that last phase of polls which saw eight Srinagar seats falling into the lap of NC made the difference. This could be a partial answer to the unrest that swept Srinagar steers.

And the way, Omar Abdullah was anointed as chief minister. His own party hadn’t even projected him as CM during poll campaign. But a pilot project scripted in Delhi engineered and mediated by Sachin Pilot between Omar Abdullah and Rahul Gandhi had already declared Omar as CM. Even two months before polls in October 2008, former intelligence chief A.S. Dulat, a long-time friend of Abdullahs had declared Omar as CM, in a TV show, which NC had strongly contested.

Historically as well, a cocktail of NC and Congress has proved disastrous for Kashmir. Another Pilot, Rajesh, 20 years ago, had scripted Rajiv-Farooq Accord which together with other factors proved catastrophic and gave birth to militancy. Government of India should have learnt enough lessons.

GOVERNANCE DEFICIT: On September 13, 2010 Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in its meeting in New Delhi acknowledged “trust deficit” and “governance deficit” as two problems afflicting the approach towards Kashmir. Ironically, the 8-CBMs announced a fortnight later did not announce any step to bridge “governance deficit”. Though, Kashmir was never a well governed state, but the absence of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah from the capital at crucial times made situation worse.

Even after two years, since Omar Abdullah assumed office, the backbone of the state administration, three important commissions – Information Commission, State Accountability Commission and Vigilance Commission, are yet to be constituted. A bill on Vigilance Commission was passed by the Assembly and government went around announcing former additional director general police Ashok Bhan as its chairman at the fag end of last budget session. It was noticed later that provisions of the bill stipulate only a principal secretary of IAS rank can be head of the Commission, thus diluting its authority. Since Assembly had been adjourned, a request was made to governor to issue an ordinance. Still there is no news of this ordinance, or a new law. Omar’s alliance partner, Congress, is now openly questioning functioning of the chief minister.

Therefore, almost everybody in either South or North Block now believes that no amount of CBM would work in Kashmir in absence of “non-governance” and without addressing the primary problem of a dilapidated administration and frayed police forces.

Realising that the family at 10-Janpath was backing him fully, Omar Abdullah, told a select group of journalists that he has unmatched access to the power corridors of Delhi. The kind of access no chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has ever enjoyed. So he believed he is best suited to settle the issue of Kashmir. Even he claimed that Congress president has promised him every support even at the cost of her own party’s interest in the state. He continued to have an unrestricted access in the corridors of power in Delhi. Congress leaders also believe that Omar has received an unprecedented support from the Congress high command which even the Congress chief ministers have never enjoyed.

Past chief ministers or prime ministers from Khwaja Shamsuddin to Farooq Abdullah have been shown the door for even minor follies. On the advice of B N Mulick, the chief of Intelligence Bureau, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru packed Bakhshis out of Kashmir politics following holy relic agitation.
Many Congress leaders in the state were circumspect about his statement on conditional accession, fearing that it may give their rivals in the Hindu majority Jammu region a strong handle against the Congress. Contrary to the expectations of his rivals, Abdullah’s statement was supported by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Sources close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi say she had made it clear that “New Delhi would not commit the mistakes of the past when elected governments were brought down in Jammu and Kashmir because of differences of perception between the centre and the State”.“Omar must be supported to put his house in order”: this was her clear message to the Congress party and the central government.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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