The Magisterial inquiry into the Haji Yousuf case has given a clean chit to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his aides. The inquiry report has concluded that Yousuf died of a heart attack “without any external physical assault, force, injury or mischief upon his body or due to negligence of any authority”. The report has come as a shot in the arm of Omar who in Yousuf’s death had come face to face with the worst crisis of his government, bringing him under enormous pressure to step down as CM.
But the exoneration has run up against severe criticism from the opposition People’s Democratic Party while people have generally looked askance at the report. “We couldn’t have expected anything else but the cover-up. This inquiry was a farce,” says PDP president Mehbooba Mufti. “This was destined to happen. It was a case of an official holding inquiry against his own boss. The outcome could not have been different”.
Similarly, the senior PDP leader and the former Deputy Chief Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Baig has termed the inquiry a drama. “If the Chief Minister has been exonerated then there is no purpose of Bedi commission now,” says Baig. “This is fixed like a cricket match. This whole episode has been fixed”.
In public quarters, the report has been along expected lines. “It is very difficult to see how the inquiry officer in this case could have come up with a report other than this. He is himself a part of the government-run by the people who are accused, and who in the case happens to be the chief minister and his aides,” says Dr Altaf Ahmad. “Inquiry itself depended on the government departments and the servants who wouldn’t dare go against the CM”.
The report has termed Yousuf’s death on September 30, 2011, as natural, a result of the cardiovascular arrest and “not an act of any other person from CM’s camp office or Crime Branch headquarters or from Police Hospital.” The findings, says the magistrate Muhammad Akber Ganaie, are supported by post mortem report and other medical reports including oral and documentary evidence. “Any kind of misbehaviour, torture is a distant dream, as during the stay at Honourable Chief Minister’s (HCM’S) camp office, the deceased was not alone for a single minute and during that time the CM was having various engagements with different persons from BBC crew to head of the civil society,” the report states. “They would have found some foul play as the meeting hall (where the CM met Yousuf) is a small one and has adjoining waiting room where other persons wait for their turn to meet the CM. Besides, the hall and the waiting room have a common entrance through verandah.”
Terming the allegations levelled in the media about the cause of Yousuf’s death as “just imagination,” the report states that CM was with the deceased “just for ten minutes,” in the presence of Muhammad Yousuf Bhat, Abdul Salam Reshi and Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani.
The report also pieces together the elaborate sequences of events right from the circumstances leading to Yousuf being called to CM’s residence, his questioning there about the alleged bribes he took from the two middle-rung NC leaders in lieu for the promise that they will get a place in the government. And as things didn’t sort out, Omar sent him into police custody where he died.
Will the exoneration help Omar to finally put the episode behind him and move on? “I think exoneration has hardly made the difference. Omar is already out of the woods as the people have already forgotten about the case,” says Naseer Ahmad, author of Kashmir Pending.
But even though Omar has somehow wriggled himself out of a very difficult situation, the incident has left lingering questions about the role of his government in the death. “The inquiry has floated the heart attack theory about Yusuf’s death. They have not probed the all-important question of what precipitated the conditions for heart attack. After all, when Yusuf went into CM’s house he was hale and hearty. But soon after coming out, he started vomiting blood,” says Mehbooba Mufti.
Besides, the death has also brought into focus the unedifying spectacle of the use of money in the distribution of council seats and the ministerships within the NC. Now, a Crime Branch investigation has established that Yousuf took money from his colleagues in the party. But the question ‘where did this money go’ is still unanswered.