Guru Plank

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In a remarkable turn-around the unionist parties of Kashmir seem to be brimming with sympathies for Parliament attack convict, Mohammad Afzal Guru, a year after he was sent to the gallows. Courtesy: commutation of the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi by the SC. Shah Abbas analyses how these parties are trying to make Guru’s execution an embark to sail through the election waters ahead

Afzal-used-as-Vote-Bank-by-Political-PartiesSensing ‘autonomy’ as outdated, and people not impressed by it now, the ruling National Conference (NC) has decided to create a new election jingle, interestingly the Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru’s hanging is the issue chosen as the row over new administrative units continues to be used to the same effect.

Guru seems to have become election board for the unionist political parties especially in Kashmir and signs in this regard have emerged even before the notification for the said elections is to be issued.

In the second week of February, the ruling National Conference (NC) held a working committee meeting in the winter capital that passed a 10-point resolution unanimously. The resolution sought restoration of autonomy and expressed its “anguish” over the fact that Afzal Guru’s family was not allowed to meet him before his execution.

Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar Jail Delhi, on February 9, 2013 followed by strict curfew in the whole valley for almost ten days by the NC led state government.

Since then the separatist political parties are making it a point not to miss any chance to condemn the “secret” execution. State government run by National Conference which after a year of Afzal’s execution passed the resolution, imposed curfew like restrictions on Guru’s first anniversary and detained more than 500 separatist leaders and activists. Separatists had announced a protest to press for the demand of return of mortal remains of Afzal and Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. Bhat was hanged in the same Tihar jail, 30 years before, in 1984. Both are buried side by side in the jail premises.

After the execution of Afzal Guru, a resolution was brought before the State Legislative Assembly, by the Independent Lawmaker, Engineer Rashid to seek his body, which “tactfully” was not allowed for the discussion.

“NC did not react at that time, even though the fact that they had legal grounds to demand for it,” said a PDP lawmaker.

But, now when the elections are approaching, the unionist parties have started making Afzal a Poll Plank to “sail” the election waters. “The sole aim of the parties like NC and PDP is to reach the throne so they can use any ladder for the purpose,” a Political Science Scholar, Shawkat Ahmad Parray, told Kashmir Life adding “these parties now will raise even K-issue in a much louder tone than the separatists.”

National Conference President and Union Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah on February 18, 2014 called Guru’s hanging “absolutely unjustified”.

He went on to say that the Central Government had not consulted his party before taking the decision about Guru’s hanging. “They never asked us, they did not tell us, they just hanged him…It was absolutely unjustified.”

He is the same National Conference President who in February 20, 2012 when Afzal Guru was alive advocated that Guru should “pay the price for attacking India.”

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on February, 12, 2013, three days after the execution of Guru openly said that the central government had informed the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, about the execution of Guru, a day before the hanging.

“I personally told Omar Abdullah on February 8 that we are going to hang Afzal Guru tomorrow. This was a sensitive matter,” Shinde had said in his statement.

SAR Geelani, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in Parliament attack case, also claims that chief minister Omar Abdullah was privy to the decision on Afzal Guru’s hanging. Professor Geelani alleged that Omar was called to Delhi for a detailed meet, a week before Guru was executed.

After, ruling National Conference President, Dr Farooq Abdullah, it was Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Prof Saif-u-Din Soz who, after one year of Guru execution called it “an irony”. “Guru was not given a fair trial,” Soz said.

Soz even went on to accuse the Indian Judiciary saying “the same judicial system reduced the death sentence of Late Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins which earlier failed to do justice to Mohammad Afzal Guru”.

Not only the coalition partners but the Principal opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) also continued to cash on the people’s sentiments. PDP President Mehbooba Mufti also reacted very sharply when the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi to life imprisonment.

“Hurry shown by the Government of India to hang the parliament attack case convict Muhammad Afzal Guru has left a blot on the very idea of India,” Mehbooba said.

If sources are to be believed, Congress has rejected any pre-poll alliance with its coalition partner in Jammu and Kashmir, much against the will and wish of NC.

Although, the announcement to this effect is yet to be made but NC has already smelled it and the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is upset that even his close friend Rahul Gandhi did not do anything.

Manypolitical commentators are of the opinion that NC in particular is more upset after the exit poll was made public by a media organization predicting results against it that is why the party has started exploiting the public sentiment.

“National Conference is now trying to compensate its losses by exploiting the sentiments of common masses particularly in Kashmir by raising the issue of Afzal’s execution,” Raashid Maqbool, a Srinagar based Journalist told Kashmir Life adding “even state Congress has joined in the run only because it too wants to gain more and more public support keeping in view the upcoming elections”.

The lawmakers have even started accusing each other of using Afzal Guru as an election tool, now.

“This is nothing but vote bank politics. When everybody was agitating for the return of Afzal Guru’s body, the Congress kept quiet and now when the elections are drawing close, they support the return of his body,” the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said.

A New Delhi based media organization recently came out with an exit poll showing the ruling alliance in J&K is in a big trouble. The results of the opinion poll predicted the main opposition-PDP- as well as the rejuvenated BJP getting 2 parliamentary seats each while as NC and Congress bagging one each.

The exit poll also predicted that BJP could reach its highest tally ever and the Congress its lowest point particularly in Jammu, the region on which both rely and concentrate more than the valley.

Earlier, another Indian media organization also predicted trouble for the ruling alliance in J&K in the upcoming parliamentary polls.

The NC-Congress combine had swept all three seats in 2009 and leaders of both the parties privately admit that things seem to be far more complicated now. With the BJP riding high on Modi wave and each new exit poll predicting tough times ahead for Congress, it is also quite possible that fence sitters would vote for the possible winners rather than waste their votes.

The opinion poll believes that out of 3 seats in the valley NC will lose two to the opposition PDP, in case that happens it would be an extreme embarrassment for the NC just ahead of the assembly elections.

The opinion poll also predicted PDP will be winning 35 to 39 seats in theAssembly elections. It said that if elections are held right now NC will get only 15 to 18 while as congress will win only 13 to 17 seats.

Though, the J&K coalition partners have out rightly dismissed these opinion poll results as opposition propaganda but to many commentators they may well ignore it at their own cost.

The people’s interest exhibited on the exit polls also is a worrying factor for the ruling NC because most of the social network users were seen jubilant over the predicted loss of the NC. Even from the NC hub, Noorabad constituency, social media users were seen favouring NCs loss. “We want to see every voter of Noorabad into PDP. Thereis no doubt that PDP will start winning its seats from Noorabad,” posted a facebook user Taleeq. “Winning of PDP will start from Lolab and will get 40 seats Inshallah,” answered Bhat Zahoor, to Taleeq.

The worry of NC caused by the exit poll became obvious with the fact that it decided to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of Peoples Act-1957 to “introduce some major electoral reforms.”It comes up with a legal framework against the publication of exit polls during the Assembly elections.

The decision in this regard was taken in a cabinet meeting held just after the exit poll was out. The meeting approved the amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of Peoples Act-1957 which, among other electoral reforms, puts an impediment on the publication of exit polls during the elections.

The proposed amendments restrict the publication of exit polls till the end of the last polling of an election. Though the Parliament had amended the Representation of the Peoples Act-1951 in 2009 to ban the exit polls from beginning to end of polling in a multi-phase election, it had no impact on JK’s Assembly elections as the same are held in accordance with  the State’s Act of 1957.

The amendments also state that permanent State Subjects living abroad can cast their votes.

The proposed amendments also prohibit contesting of election by a candidate from more than two seats during Assembly elections.

Pertinently the elections to the State Legislative Assembly are likely to be held in November-December this year as the six-year term of Omar Abdullahled government expires on January 4, 2015.

Worth the mention that Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Speaker Mubarak Gul rejected a resolution, seeking return of the mortal remains of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru to his family, in the month of March, 2013 when the state legislature was in session in the summer capital, just after a month when guru was hanged.

The resolution was moved by independent member Engineer Rashid, seeking the return of the body of Guru to his family.

Rashid was informed about the rejection of the resolution through a letter by Speaker Mubarak Gul.

“The letter read that he is disallowing my resolution,” said Rashid adding “No specific reasons were cited. It stated that is being disallowed under section 179 of the rules of conduct of the Assembly”.

PDP also had submitted a separate resolution in this regard which too was not entertained.

On the contrary, the state legislature of Tamil Nadu came to the rescue of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. It unanimously passed a resolution favoring to save the killers. Later, the supreme court of India commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment and even just after SC verdict the Tamil Nadu government decided to free the killers encouraging son of a very senior National Conference leader to ask in one of his facebook posts “What is the logic in keeping DrQasim behind bars, when Tamil Nadu government has decided to release the killers of Rajiv Gandhi?”

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