Batting at the partners

The unrest in the coalition has stooped so low that now a Deputy Chief Minister picks up a fight with a hospitality official. But a well connected Tara Chand bothers least for bad publicity as long as he bats in the name of Congress at NC’s cost. A Kashmir Life analysis.
The Kashmir House at Chanakyapuri in Delhi has hosted many dramas, shady deals and rackets. Even some influential people were caught making the linen dirty. But last week’s incident involving Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand was different.
No explanations and no denials. Government’s spin doctors remained silent over the allegations that Ikram Fazili, in-charge manager of Kashmir House, made in a seven-page compliant addressed to his boss, the Resident Commissioner Delhi. It all started with a guest, a former minister, leaving the accommodation and later returning in the midnight for shelter. Initially he goes to stay with Tara Chand but the latter, apparently feeling intrusion in privacy, seeks an additional room past midnight when almost everybody in the Kashmir House was fast asleep. The room is somehow arranged but the delay pains the Deputy Chief Minister to the extent that he scolds Fazili.
If everything that Fazili quotes Tara Chand speaking in a fit of rage and anger is taken at face value then Congress party seems to have deteriorated much more than it feels it has in J&K. The official has accused the Congress leader of using nasty language against Muslims, Kashmiris and the Chief Justice, who incidentally was in occupation of the suite that usually is meant for governor but is kept under Tara Chand’s disposal when unoccupied. Whether police registered an FIR or not, the issue has been ignored apparently because the chief minister is holidaying abroad and there is nobody higher in status than Tara Chand available in the state (governor excluded).
Given the fratricidal tendencies that various Congress factions have been exhibiting for a long time, some officials very close to Tara Chand say the complaint was an outcome of strings pulling by one Congress camp to outwit the other. Currently the bipolar Congress in J&K has been reduced to two camps that Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz and Ghulam Nabi Azad lead. Tara Chand is an Azad stalwart.
Offering a political colour to the issue is taking away the plain governance and administrative issue off the focus. In the Kashmir House case everybody is talking about Chotay Lal but nobody wants to understand the character who is just a driver but so important that even Resident Commissioner can not talk about him. “It sounds strange that why this driver is so important that all the most powerful men in the government who visit Delhi are being driven by him,” said a senior officer privy to the mess Kashmir House is in for many years now. “He is so powerful that nobody in the government can talk about him simply because he holds everybody’s secrets.”
Over the years, Kashmir House has not only emerged as the mess of hospitality but also a major battlefield of different lobbies. There are three types of employees – Kashmiris, Indian Muslims and Hindus. These three power centres are always at loggerheads with each other as a result of which upkeep and maintenance of the vital outreach office suffers. It has 57 rooms, four VIP suites and 40 quarters for staffers serving the Kashmir House.
Insiders in the government say that Kashmir House case is just tip of the iceberg. The coalition partners are fighting larger battles with each other even as there are various lobbies at loggerheads both in the NC and Congress. It is taking a toll on the governance as well as the coalition.
The last cabinet meeting even produced some juicy quotes like “let NC take care of Kashmir and leave Jammu for Congress.” Both the parties are said to be tired of each other and Congress is even thinking in terms of staking claim to the leadership of the coalition after Omar Abdullah plays his innings.
In this situation, however, NC is missing the point. NC, people privy to the cold wars suggest, needs to understand that it is in coalition where it lacks absolute power, a situation the party has historically enjoyed. At the same it lacks any moral ground to question various decision-making when it has already surrendered most of the vital ministries to it.
Inter-district recruitments were one instance in which NC tried to assert and failed. Transfers are the second major issue in which there was more of squabbling than action. In a situation when it can neither run the government on its own numbers nor can change its alliance partner, NC can, at the best, be a watchman to guard its interests. “That is precisely what he (chief minister) is doing,” said a well placed official. “He met the central leaders last time and requested them to reign in some of the Congress ministers who have created records in corruption and mis-governance.” Knowing fully well that the Congress actions are hitting hard the NC in its vote bank in Kashmir, the party has given the Congress high command a list of the “scandals” that Congressmen have resorted to in over 15 months of the coalition governance.
The X-files do include many things that the Deputy Chief Minister has resorted to. The latest is that his ministry is overlooking the rehabilitation of the non-state subjects in Jammu city through slums. A portion of the 2077 families living in the slums are reported to be non-locals and urban development ministry has set up some dwellings by debit to the Basic Service for Urban Poor (BSUP) scheme. Well before they could be allotted to them in Rajiv Nagar and Bhagwati Nagar, the issue was raked up in the state legislature forcing a re-verification.


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