Economic politics

Prime Minister Dr Singh did not say much on his day long visit to the state except hoping for cooperation from all sections of public opinion.  A Kashmir Life report.

Barring announcing the resumption of peace process – a decision taken much earlier – and talking to Islamabad on all issues including J&K, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had nothing much to talk about in his day long Jammu visit. Embroiled in problems in Delhi, he concluded his visit by taking the moral responsibility of appointing tainted IAS officer P J Thomas as CVC, a decision that apex court termed illegal.

He did talk about the “problems of J&K” and the “issue of J&K”. He termed himself “eternally hopeful” who foresees a “bright future” for J&K. But it did not impress many who saw “nothing very positive” in the utterances.

Dr Singh, who has been gracing J&K a visit a year ever since he took over in 2004, has set up a series of committees and groups on Kashmir. Almost every group submits the report. But he insisted that the reports are being implemented as well. On Dr C Rangarajan’s earlier report, Dr Singh said it was implemented barring the transfer of a power project. It surprised even the state government that has been hoping the report (one of the five Working Groups) may sometimes become the PMRP-II.

By all accounts, Dr Singh hopes the three interlocutors will trigger a turnaround. He seems impressed by the peaceful atmosphere that was created after the visit of the all party delegation followed by the appointment of the interlocutors.

Interlocutors, he told a news conference after winding his day long visit, were appointed to “listen to the voice of the ordinary people particularly (those) who are not part of the mainstream opinion.” It will be after they submit the report that some kind of debate on the centre-state relations would take place. Again, their report will form the basis of any new thinking whether “something fresh needs to be done.”

Prime Minister was not aware about the extradition requirement of an army deserter Major Avtar Singh sought by the court for as many as 11 murders, including that of lawyer Jalil Andrabi, from California. He said his government is committed to zero tolerance on civil liberties.

His major statement was about the “arbitrary arrests” – if at all they are taking place. In presence of the chief minister, he said he will be talking to him and these arrests must stop.

“We recognize that there are genuine political, social and emotional grievances of the people,” Dr Singh told the Convocation of the SKUAST-J, adding, “We are trying honestly to address these issues.” He referred to the “complex problems” of the J&K which are endemic to the three regions. “There is no way forward but sustained dialogue and the resolution of all problems under a constitutional framework,” he said. “I believe the constitution has the flexibility to accommodate honourable and durable solutions for all.”

Within these limitations, Dr Singh sought the cooperation of the separatists with whom he has had two meetings in his first stint as Prime Minister. “We seek the cooperation of all sections of public opinion including those who are not part of the mainstream politics but I do not think we should give any group a veto,” he said. He still hopes that separatists will find “to everybody’s advantage that they should be part of the process of finding solution to the long time problem of this beautiful state.”

Regardless of ambiguity that still continues to be an ingredient of the public official discourse, Dr Singh’s visit came during J&K’s, as many say, “interesting times”. Apart from the efforts underway to prevent a repeat of restive summers in Kashmir, the government is busy managing the crises. While the first was a confrontation of the coalition within, the other that broke on eve of Dr Singh’s visit involved the opposition PDP. The two crises involved both the houses at a time when it started functioning after the winter break.

The first crisis started in the first week of February when the secretary of the state legislative council retired. Immediately, after that Deputy Chairman Arvinder Singh Micky promoted Mohammad Ashraf Shah, an officer in the council to the position of secretary. However, the state law ministry appointed Mohammad Sayed Shah, a senior officer in the law department as the new secretary. There were two officers for the single post and both sides stuck to their guns.

It snowballed into a major controversy especially because the session was about to start. “There were a series of meetings,” an informed source said. “The case finally reached Delhi and Congress president Mrs Gandhi got also involved.” Micky flew to Delhi and was camping there for many days to ensure his decision sustains. He believed he was right because the parliament is used to taking these decisions like this. But in J&K the system is different and the law ministry makes all such appointments. “At one level the case was being handled by Oscar Fernandes and later Ms Gandhi asked PCC chief to settle it,” sources said, adding, “Governor N N Vohra also had a number of meetings.”

The government did not want to land in a public embarrassment when there will be two officers trying to sit on the chair when the session starts. As the bank keeping the accounts of the Council got two letters for operating the account, they refused both adding to the problems. Finally Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had a meeting with the Deputy Chairman. “The government offered three new names for the position but Deputy Chairman said no,” sources said. “Finally the two sides got a consensual choice in Mohammad Ashraf Mir, a law ministry officer barely two hours before the joint session of legislature begun last week.” Interestingly Mir has been asked to stay put for “some time”.

Within three days it was another crisis in waiting. A day after governor’s address, the PDP moved an adjournment motion seeking a debate on the situation in Kashmir. Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone disallowed and it created a ruckus in the house. As the opposition members entered the well of the house, marshals were asked to clear it and one MLA suffered bruises. Ms Mehbooba Mufti accused the Speaker of running the “nizam” of Col Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator.

Lone talked to a Jammu newspaper taking a strong note of his Deputy Sartaj Madni joining  the party protest in the house. “It was not the duty of a Presiding Officer to defend the party he belongs to. On previous occasions also, he made some speeches and passed strictures against the Presiding Officer and his functioning. I hope in future, Mr Madni will not cross the limit of his responsibility by ignoring the fact that he is basically a Presiding Officer and not a spokesman of the PDP,” the Speaker was quoted saying by the newspaper. He suggested him to resign.

Madni obliged him by putting in his papers the same day. But the letter was more of an indictment than a simple resignation. “You are obviously following not the established parliamentary practices and traditions to run the House but are following your party’s policy of beating everybody into submission,” Madni wrote in his resignation. “If the government run by your party has converted the State into a large prison and a constitutional wasteland, you Mr Speaker Sir, are trying to run the House, as personal estate that would be run through marshals and not in the democratic spirit of accommodation, debate and discussion.”

Accusing his Speaker of being partisan and un-parliamentary, Madni said the interview compromised the dignity and decorum of the house. “You have been hauling up government functionaries and prosecuting media persons for daring to speak the truth, under the cover of legislative immunity. Would the Deputy Speaker of the same House not be entitled even to the courtesy of a private discussion if he does not enjoy even a fraction of the similar constitutional safeguards as your majesty does?,” the “resignation” read.

It proved an embarrassment. Within hours after the resignation, Law Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and Chief Minister’s adviser Devinder Singh Rana were seen talking to Madni and requesting him to cool down and skip insisting on resigning. So far, Madni has stuck to his guns but the government says it will continue working to get him withdraw his resignation. The Speaker may talk on the subject in coming days of the session.

This all seem to have had an impact on the visit. If there was something left, it was done by Ms Mufti who met the Prime Minister and sought his intervention in stopping repression in the state and restoring civil liberties of people especially the youth. She told him that unless “a congenial atmosphere was created in the state well meaning initiatives like the internal dialogue or resumption of Indo-Pak talks will fail to takeoff.” That was perhaps what Prime Minister had on his mind when he responded to the Greater Kashmir reporter’s question on the situation in Kashmir.

But Prime Minister who had earlier said he is keeping his fingers crossed over the fate of summer 2011 believes he has the impression that visit of all party delegation and the appointment of interlocutors has created a peaceful atmosphere. “I think, all political parties should have a vested interest in ensuring peace and tranquility in all parts of the state,” he said.

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