To start afresh, a number of senior government officials joined politics seeking rebirth through EVMs in recent elections, but failed. Safwat Zargar reports how people rejected the new avatar of ex-officials
When Omar Abdullah led NC-Congress coalition government was nearing its end by the second half of 2014, a switch-trend of ex-government officials and police officers seeking “rebirth in power” through politics picked up in the state. Months before the official announcement of elections, retired bureaucrats and middle-rung officials, some of them preferring voluntary retirement, trying their luck on the “anti-incumbency” wave and “change”, had flocked political parties. However the December 23 results show that voters mostly favoured full-time politicians than former government officials.
While the trend, showing an upward graph since last decade, runs through almost all the parties, it was “change” advocating Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which absorbed most of them. Interestingly, none of the four former top bureaucrats fielded by the party could win.
PDP’s mandate to former commissioner secretary from Chenab valley, Bashir Ahmad Runyal in Banihal assembly seat didn’t sail party to victory. Corruption-alleged Runyal, who was welcomed by PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at a rally in June 2014, lost to Congress’s Vikar Rasool Wani by a difference of 4349 votes.
The party’s Bhaderwah candidate, Sheikh Mehboob Iqbal, an accused in J&K cricket scam and for “misusing provisions” under Roshni Act in Gulmarg land scam, joined PDP in 2012. In 2014 polls, Iqbal secured around 17000 votes but failed to win the seat.
Former top police cop Raja Aijaz Ali, who was named in NC’s Haji Yousuf death case, was given mandate by PDP from Uri. However, the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), who was head-to-head with NC veteran Mohammad Shafi Uri, failed to exert a pull on majority of voters.
During the first week of April 2014, State Vigilance Organization (SVO) registered an FIR No: 9/2014 against Faqir Chand Bhagat, then Director Urban Local Bodies and other officers, for illegal appointments. The retired KAS officer Faqir Chand Bhagat, contesting from Bishnah assembly seat on PDP’s ticket remained 21268 votes away from victory
On the other hand former Food and Supplies department employees’ – Mohammad Khurshid Alam and Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din Bhat (Muntazir) – also disappointed PDP. While the PDP won five out of eight seats in Srinagar district, the multi-crore worth government-employee-turned-businessman Alam failed to oust NC’s Ali Mohammad Sagar in Khanyar. In Budgam’s close contest, Muntazir Mohideen remained short of victory against NC’s Aga Ruhullah by 2787 votes.
In 2008, chief secretary B R Kundal resigned from his post to join Congress. His political journey started after becoming a Member of Legislative Council (MLC). Expecting a Congress mandate for 2014 assembly polls from RS Pura, Kundal quit Congress weeks before first phase of assembly elections and filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate. Kundal was the second runner-up for the seat.
Bureaucrats after their tenure at secretariat aspiring political power had drawn criticism earlier from many quarters. “One of the prime reasons for former top level government officials to join politics is to get the impunity from the past. Not all, but majority of them have serious allegations of corruption and other cases while serving the office,” says Mohammad Shafiq, a political science student.
In recent-memory the political leanings of ex-government officials thread from the path of predecessors like– Sheikh Ghulam Rasool and Vijay Bakaya – who after retiring as chief secretaries joined National Conference immediately after their retirement.
Before elections, former director Information and ex-SMC commissioner, Farooq Renzu Shah floated his new political party ‘Kashmir Development Front’. But it was not his debut. Shah, “author of 11 books” and known for his “promotion” of Kashmiri culture, had joined Congress immediately after his retirement in October 2013. On December 23, the candidate’s supported by Shah’s KDF were mostly seen in the bottom of results table.
“Connection with the public matters,” says Noor Ahmad Baba, a Political Science professor, who recently retired from Kashmir University’s Political Science department. “The nature of a bureaucrat’s work is specific to upper levels of the administration and it is usually hard for them to approach common people with a sellable package for getting votes.”
“Most of the ex-bureaucrats, though having expertise and stature of working at policy making levels, don’t work in the field like a politician. This is why, most of them, if elected, find their place in Upper House of the legislature,” he adds.
In Kupwara’s Langate assembly seat, National Conference and Congress had fielded former government employees. NC’s retired Block Development Officer (BDO) Wali Mohammad and Congress’s self-retired additional deputy commissioner Bashir Ahmad Wani stood at fifth and sixth position in overall vote tally respectively.
Another Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) officer, Saraf Singh, who had taken voluntary retirement, fought as an independent candidate from Reasi assembly seat. The 40-year-old Saraf took more than 20000 votes but couldn’t win the seat.
Lesser known parties also accommodated government officials. Sajad Lone led Peoples Conference (PC) candidate in Rafiabad, Khurshid Ahmad Khan, was a former police officer. Alleged of being involved in the firing incident near Chahal in which senior Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz was killed during Muzaffarabad Chalo in 2008, Khan, then Station House Officer (SHO) Gantamulla had faced the ire of angry protesters, who torched his house in Baramulla. In a contest in which more than 50000 votes were polled, Khan could only bag 3080 votes in his favour.
BJP had also fielded retired government officials in Kargil and Kulgam. Abdul Aziz, a retired Tehsildar, stood at fourth rank in Kargil. In Kulgam, retired government teacher Ghulam Hassan Zargar took only 1944 votes.
=While most of the bureaucrats didn’t make it to assembly, some did break the jinx. In the high-profile contest of Ganderbal, Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar, a self-retired police officer, defeated PDP’s former MLA and minister for forest, Qazi Mohammad Afzal by a thin margin of 597 votes.
Another government official who tasted victory was BJP’s candidate for Bani assembly segment in Kathua district, Jewan Lal. Lal jumped in to politics after his voluntary retirement as Tehsildar. The 44-year-old Lal defeated senior NC leader Ghulam Hyder Malik by 4412 votes.