CAN OMAR REGAIN KASHMIR?

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Omar Abdullah – Photo by: Bilal Bahadur

For J&K’s youngest ever chief minister there is more to hide than show in the first six months of governance. The road ahead is a bigger challenge, and the question remains will Omar deliver. HAROON MIRANI reports.

Six months down the line Omar Abdullah has divested most of the ministries under him to new faces in the government. That creates some hope of resurgence for one of the most watched governments of South Asia, as analysts say the overburdened chief minister was unable to attend to all his jobs.

As the new team with some young faces moves ahead trying to push aside the ghosts of government’s past record, everyone has his fingers crossed.

On Jan 5 when Omar Abdullah took oath there were more hopes, less questions. Today there are low hopes and lots of questions. The biggest question however is that can the Omar government deliver now, or will the ghosts of its first six months haunt it for ever.

Analysts divide last six months into two major portions. One, limitation by model code of conduct, two, huge law and order problems and their mishandling. The tenure saw one protest agitation after another. A cycle of killings and violent protests kept the government on its toes.

Some how the government seems to have started on a bad omen. Two days after Omar took oath, troops shot a deaf and dumb villager in the neighbourhood of CM’s residence in Srinagar. Troops said the slain Abdul Rashid Rishi, 45, was planning a Fidayeen attack on cantonment. The allegations were found unfounded. Rishi’s death was followed by more killings in the state. (See illustration) The incidents fuelled violent demonstrations, ruthlessly dealt by the authorities. Each incident increased alienation of people with the government. Omar’s greatest challenge, now, would be to bridge the gap.

The last time Omar generated some good will was when he ordered the shifting of infamous Bomai Rashtriya Rifles camp, but his inability to punish the troopers of the same camp who murdered two local youth let much wanting. The disturbing law and order situation has increased alienation of people with the administration. The last six months saw 38 days of strikes including 16 days of undeclared curfews. The 47 day long strike in Shopian was a continuous embarrassment. Reflecting the hard fist approach, there were no efforts to weigh the “political option” and starting a dialogue with the agitated populace of the town.
Fifteen civilians were killed in the state during these six months. These include four custodial deaths.

Detentions have also increased. The continuous arrest of ailing Syed Ali Shah Geelani even as his health deteriorates has become a major indicator of government intolerance. Nayeem Akhtar, spokesperson of main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) says, “the government has gone into reverse gear during their six months of rule as they have cracked heavily on people,” says Akhtar. “They have contradicted their own manifesto by slapping Public Safety Act on people and putting everybody behind bars.”

Prof Gul Wani of Political Science department University of Kashmir says that there is a cocktail of problems that has plagued the Omar Abdullah government. “No avenues left for people, economy is in shambles, Indo-Pak peace process has long been a disappointment, separatists not engaged by government, besides the presence of large number of troopers and ongoing human rights violations.”

“With Abdullah unable to come to the expectations, alienation an frustration has only increased,” remarks Wani.

Assertion of CM

From day one Omar has not been able to assert himself. With pulls and pressures from every side and huge expectations, Abdullah was always left in precarious situations, say experts.

Prof Rekha Choudhary of Political Science department of Jammu University said, “It is not justified to judge the Omar Abdullah’s government on basis of these six months as too little time has been given to him to assert himself.”

Omar’s six month rule has been divided into election code of conduct and law and order situation and in between people have hardly seen the fruits of a democratic government.

According to Choudhary the pressures on Omar have been too much. “There was a tremendous ‘pressure to perform’ for Omar right from day one.”

“Besides external pressure groups have also been playing their role from various angles.”

Given the previous experience experts say that the functioning of Omar government would not be smooth. The ally Congress presents its own baggage of problems and so are the situations in Kashmir.

However government functionaries like to deny any serious problems. Congress leader Abdul Gani Vakil says the government has been going well on most of the indicators despite number of constraints. “Most of the time of coalition government was spent on the elections and there was also a period of disturbance, which left little time for the government,” says Vakil. “But even in that time the government has been engaged in development process and their performance has been satisfactory.”

Akhtar says that the present government has failed to take off dashing all the hopes associated with it. “The government has disappointed even its well wishers” says Akhtar. “Although no miracles were expected from any government in six months but it was enough to show the intentions and ability of the government by which people could have judged it,” said Akhtar. “There is no policy or plan with them and even if they have it is not shared with public.”

Powerful police lobby

The biggest blow to Abdullah came from the powerful police lobby in the state. First Abdullah boasted of the now infamous preliminary reports on the death Shopian women describing it as a case of drowning. Abdullah is still to undo the huge damage done to his reputation. The first action government took in Shopain case was the transfer of SP Javed Iqbal to Ramban. The action was seen by people as a kind of continued patronage to police. It was later on Jan Commission’s recommendations that the SP was suspended and ultimately arrested on High Court’s orders. However, the much awaited Jan Commission report itself proved to be an embarrassment for the government. As people bashed the Commission for unsubstantiated character assassination of victims, Justice Jan distanced himself from part of report released by the senior minister Abdul Rahim Rather. Justice Jan said police has inserted annexure in the report with which he did not agree.

According to Prof Wani, “Over the years Kashmir has been turned into a conflict industry with different vested interests like political parties, security agencies, police lobby and others, who are not ready to work in the presence peaceful dispensation.”

“All of this ends up being unfavourable for the government.”

Eating humble pie

Call it short sightedness, political immaturity or New Delhi’s heavy grip, Abdullah’s two populist slogans of withdrawal of troops and revocation of AFSPA met a dead end. Army has made it clear that there would be no reduction in troop strength in Kashmir even if violence comes down.

The AFSPA revocation was also vehemently opposed by everyone ranging army to BJP. Ultimately New Delhi has to decide on any amendment in AFSPA leave alone revoking it.

On phased withdrawal of CRPF, Abdullah himself seemed to backtrack presumably under New Delhi’s pressure. His assurances for securing withdrawal ended with a statement that overnight replacement of CRPF by police was not possible.

Development plank

Development is a primary issue for governments anywhere, but political issues always outweigh them in J&K. Be it Mufti Syed or Ghulam Nabi Azad everyone had been stressing on development but ultimately the internal situation of Kashmir proves detrimental.

GULAM NABI AZAD

Omar Abdullah talked both of development as well as peace process and both seem to go haywire.  According to Choudhary no state government in India can play any big role in the peace process. “In a situation like this it is the dialogue between India and Pakistan that matters and the state government of Jammu and Kashmir on the maximum can prove a facilitator for the same.”

PDP says that the present government has not been able to provide any relief to the people at any level. “The government has failed to deliver in every sector and people are suffering immensely,” says Akhtar.

Hope

The cabinet expansion of coalition government has given it more hands to work for the people. Omar is relieved of many of his portfolios and surprisingly the expansion has seen a young brigade take charge. The average age of council of ministers has come down to 49.30 years which has its only comparison to Sheikh Abdullah’s pre 1953 council. Call it his assertion or a political gamble Abdullah trimmed Rather and empowered Sagar with an eye on Srinagar. Mubarak Gul’s appointment as political secretary also seems to be a step in the same direction. He left some veterans from his party like Choudhary Ramzan and Mustafa Kamal.

Fingers are still crossed as to whether the new cabinet will deliver. Experts say it is the dynamic persona of the leader which ultimately determines the future of his group. Will Omar be able to exhibit that dynamic ability will be tested in the near future.

Vakil is hopeful that the performance of government will be more efficient after the present cabinet expansion. “The thrust will be on eradicating unemployment, development and peace process.”

However not many agree as according to them the cabinet expansion will hardly affect the performance of the government.
People’s Democratic Forum Chairman Hakim Yasin holds the view that cabinet size doesn’t matter, “what matters is the commitment of the government towards the development and its preferences.”

According to Yasin, “if the government works on its own manifesto only, it will be a great help.” Yasin says that the performance of government has not been good in the last six months and people have been facing problems on more than one count.

“There are number of problems facing the people including human rights violations that need to be tackled with utmost seriousness. There is still some hope as couple of months of the present government were lost in election process and we need to wait for some more time to see the performance.”

Choudhary says dynamism is required. “Rather was old but he was dynamic so there is no relation between age and dynamism,” says Choudhary. “If Omar shows that dynamic quality things will appear different. The command has to be there which will deliver.”

NAYEEM AKHTAR

Akhtar doesn’t see any hope for the government as according to him if the beginning is such end can only be imagined.
Prof Wani says that there is some hope left for the Omar government. “Internally cabinet has expanded and Omar has sort of stabilised and externally India and Pakistan may also re start their dialogue process”, says Wani. “If the government is able to build a strong channel of dialogue for the separatists the silver lining will expand to full sun light.”

The story so far

January 07, 2009: Abdul Rashid Rishi, 45, a deaf and dumb from Pahalgam was shot dead by Army at Gupkar near CM’s residence. Police claimed he was on a recce for fidayeen attack and had climbed eight feet wall wearing pheran along with kangri. Probe ordered.

January 31, 2009: Ali Mohammad Bhat son of Ghulam Rasool of Vewan, Bandipore was allegedly killed by Army in their custody. Army claimed he died of prolonged illness.

February 02, 2009: Army allegedly kills a tailor, Fayaz Ahmad Mir, 32, of Lolab Kupwara. Army claimed that Mir died in exchange of fire. Police registers case after massive protests.

February 22, 2009: Army personnel at Bomai Sopore, killed two youths Mohammad Amin Tantray, 23, and Javed Ahmed Dar, 24, triggered massive protests across the valley. Bomai residents launch a month-long agitation demanding the removal of the Army camp from the area. On March 29, the Army camp was removed from the area but troopers are yet to be punished.

March 06, 2009: Mohammad Shahid Ahanger is killed by the paramilitary forces at Nowhatta during a demonstration. The policed registered a case against the CRPF.

March 18, 2009: Ghulam Mohiuddin Malik (33), a carpenter is killed by CRPF troopers at Pakherpora after they barge into his house. Violent protests follow.

April 19, 2009: A retired policeman Sham-ud-Din is allegedly killed by during an encounter with militants at Kandi Nathnusa village in Baramulla. Protests follow.

May 07, 2009: Mohammed Sadiq is allegedly killed by army in their custody at Doda. A team headed by ADC records the statement of locals and family members. Army denies allegation saying Sadiq was killed during cross firing.

May 12, 2009: Amina, 17 is killed in an “exchange of fire” between militants and troops in Kishtwar. Locals denounced the official version and accused the army of gunning her down. Protests follow, compensation is given by administration.

May18, 2009: A car dealer Manzoor Ahmad Beigh 40 is killed by special operations group (SOG) of police in their custody. Protests follow and an inspector of SOG is dismissed from service.

May 29, 2009: Asiya Jan 17 and her sister in law Nilofer Jan 24 are raped and killed by unknown persons. People suspect security forces. Violent protests engulf Kashmir valley injuring hundreds of people. Reluctant government confirms rape and murder on June 10 after number of denials. Shopian opens after 47 days of strike when High court orders arrest of police officials for their role in the episode.

June 29, 2009: Four youths are killed by CRPF in Baramulla during demonstration to protest the alleged eve teasing of a woman by a police official on June 29. Massive demonstrations follow, hundreds are injured and curfew had to be clamped in Baramulla.

Sakina Itoo V/S Abdul Aziz Zargar

Daughter of Wali Mohammad, the former speaker of the assembly who was killed by insurgents in Jammu, Sakina – then a school girl, was admitted to a Bihari medical college. Well before she could conclude half of her studies, Dr Abdullah got her back and baptized her into politics. Her maiden election in 1996 was a smooth sailing. But 2002 was terrifying for her. Every time she would move out of her Noorabad home, she would invite an attack. There were dozens of assassination bids on her. Security men had to raise a net wall around her house to prevent grenades being tossed towards her residence. But the run up to the 2008 polls made Madam very ruthless. Operating with a vengeance, she did not stop her workers from actually murdering a PDP supporter. Her victory and now elevation to the cabinet status obviously marks the end of very, very long career of Abdul Aziz Zargar, who is perhaps one of the few surviving politicians associated with the constituent assembly. For the sake of reputation, nobody in Zargar’s progeny has the potential to challenge the lady, at least for the time being.

Rather V/S Sagar

Insiders for a long time have been insisting on multiple power centres in the NC run government. With Dr Farooq Abdullah in Delhi, there are three groups. Apart from Omar, it is Abdul Rahim Rather and Ali Mohammad Sagar. For the last six months, the two factions seem to be at loggerheads and desperately trying to woo Omar. It eventually has led to the trimming of Rather and empowering Sagar. But it will be too early to say if it will have any kind of the impact on functioning of the government.

Rather is veteran who has worked with Sheikh Abdullah while Sagar emerged as a young leader from the city in 1983 election. The two have little in common. They belong to two different socio-geographic backgrounds, age groups, temperaments, competence and delivery levels. Even their respective support base lacks any comparison. Interestingly, Sagar has never mustered even half of the votes that Rather has polled post-1996. But one thing is sure, Omar Abdullah has indicated that empowering Sagar means NC is serious to get Srinagar back to its fold, a Herculean task in deed. This is perhaps why Sagar spends more time in the city than the periphery despite being the Rural Development Minister.

NC critics say that the major factor that led to Rather’s clippings of wings is to show him his place and prevent any destabilizing effort from him. The same could be attributed to Sagar, a city veteran, but there is a huge difference. Rather can afford to do something because he has nothing much to lose. However, Sagar can not afford to play a mischief because it would impact his son Salman’s future prospects.

No Sonny politics

Kins, sons and lovers have throughout remained problems for the politicians. It is quite well known that Abdul Aziz Zargar’s ministry was being run by his son. Abdul Rahim Rather had to once painfully tell the house that he did not favour his son, now a successful entrepreneur. Tariq Hamid Karra once felt very embarrassed when his son clashed with cops in Hazratbal. Son of a cleric politician showed a pistol to a non local businessman and actually fired four rounds to stop him from demanding certain debts. Ghulam Nabi Azad in his tenure as Chief Minister had to handpick B R Kundal to sit over a probe that involved his kin working with forests. In every regime and in every place it is a problem.

But in case of new ministers that were sworn in, there is a bit of difference. In most of the cases, the sons of new ministers are either in primary school or about to reach the intermediate. That means they will take some more time to become the problems and the weaknesses of their fathers. They might be inexperienced but this part of theirs could be an asset till their wards grow up.

Ruhullah Vs Ansari

Aga Ruhullah has been given a cabinet berth, despite his inexperience. Omar is clearly propping him up as a contender to the influential Shia cleric Maulvi Iftikhar Ansari, who happens to be the vice chairman of PDP.

Although the two families traditionally command rival loyalties, Omar sees a potential in Ruhullah to woo more voters. Ruhullah is youngest of the lot too, giving him another edge in the new formation. The Ansari-Ruhullah tussle has already turned violent for their supporters on a few occasions in recent times. Ruhullah campaigned strongly against Ansari in the Shia belts of Budgam during the parliamentary elections denying the influential cleric any chances of a win. A cabinet berth to Ruhullah will help him consolidate his vote bank in coming years. With age on his side, he is seen as a long shot.

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About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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