Congress’s ‘Omar Group’ Headache

While the growing factionalism within J&K Pradesh Congress Committee led by ‘Azad Group’ and ‘Soz Group’ is old news, it is the emergence of third ‘Omar Group’ faction led by Taj Mohi-ud-Din that is keeping the political rumor mills busy these days, Shah Abbas reports.

TAJ_ASSEMBLY-28The politics of Jammu and Kashmir is apparently becoming murkier after every passing year. There are serious charges of corruption against the ministers and top bureaucrats of the state. Even the state’s chief minister last week in a written answer to a question in the state legislature said that “cases against four sitting ministers and six former ministers are pending for probe before State Accountability Commission (SAC)”.

Not only this, but almost every political party has broken into factions led by senior leaders, thus ‘creating parties within a party’. While the J&K Pradesh Congress Committee is known for this factionalism with two groups – ‘Azad group’ and ‘Soz group’- it is the formation of the third ‘Omar group’ led by controversial Taj Mohi-ud-Din which is keeping political circles abuzz with rumors.

Just a day before Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz was re-appointed as the JKPCC president, Taj Mohi-ud-Din claimed that his name was under consideration for the position of JKPCC president and some people were trying to malign his image. Taj was reacting to the allegations of irregularities in the procurement of pipes, and an awareness program in Public Health Engineering Department (PHE) during his regime.

“This is a plot of settling personal scores as my name is under consideration for the position of JKPCC chief. My successor (Sharma Lal Sharma) and some others in my party are out to defame me to achieve their purpose,” Taj had said. But when Soz was declared as the JKPCC president, the beleaguered Taj, reacted by saying: “My chances of become JKPCC chief got sabotaged due to prevailing controversies.”

Taj is said to be very close to chief minister Omar Abdullah. The closeness between the two has given rise to a notion that the group which Taj leads is supported by Omar himself. “I think it is now ‘Omar group’ in our party led by Taj Mohi-ud-Din,” said a senior Congressman from Kashmir wishing not to be named. The same leader is believed to be close to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the former Chief Minister of J&K.

Taj supported Omar throughout the coalition period. He was very vocal in his support to Omar when, after the end of the first three years of the government, a change in the chief ministership was being talked about from Srinagar to New Delhi. It was Taj from the state Congress who repeatedly advocated that Omar Abdullah has to head the government for full term.

Omar even enjoyed Taj’s unconditional moral support during 2010 when the whole valley was bathing in blood and the rumors of Omar’s resignation were going viral. “Taj is considered among the front liners apart from Dr Farooq who encouraged Omar in 2010 uprising when the later decided to resign,” said the Congress leader.

The infighting within the JKPCC turned dramatic recently as two of the party’s cabinet ministers, Taj Mohi-ud-Din and Sham Lal Sharma, traded charges publicly. They even filed complaints before Omar Abdullah and the All India Congress Committee headquarters in New Delhi.

Taj targeted his successor Sharma openly after Chairman of Legislative Council, Amrit Malhotra, refused to set up a House Committee and endorsed the Public Health Engineering Minister (PHE) Sharma’s action of holding a departmental inquiry into the irregularities in the procurement of pipes and an awareness program.

In the last four years, Taj handled the PHE and Irrigation portfolios while Sharma held the charge of Health and Horticulture departments. In February this year, Omar shifted Sharma to PHE and Irrigation and Taj to Medical Education.

In reply to the discussion on the PHE grants, Sharma revealed in the Legislative Council on March 26 that he had set up two departmental inquiries to investigate the “large scale irregularities” noticed in the procurement of pipes and the funds drawn on account of the expenditure on Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU) of the PHE.

Sharma revealed that the CCDU officials, headed by a retired Chief Engineer and Taj’s close relative, Najibullah Mir, allegedly swindled Rs. 45-47 crore for generating awareness about the quality control maintenance among the PHE department’s staff in the last three years.

Sharma claimed a Jharkhand-based NGO’s banner had been used to swindle the CCDU funds. He said a four-member departmental inquiry headed by Chief Engineer Irrigation, Jammu, KK Gupta, had already taken over the investigation into the CCDU scam and the alleged irregularities in the procurement of pipes.

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