As controversies trigger a lot of heat and dust, the unionist political camp is suddenly hyperactive. While Chief Minister makes his problematic “relative” to eat his words, almost every third Panch and Sarpanch is dreaming to be in the Legislative Council that is filling its four berths next month. Interestingly, the Council boss is in a sort of crisis. Courtesy; a probe that he instituted and withdrew, R S Gull reports.
NC ‘leaders’, who do not matter much these days, admit that Dr Mustafa Kamal is historically right but not politically. A politician, they say, has to be politically correct and leave past to academicians and historians. But that is something Sheikh’s elder son is unable to help understand the younger one. And in this crippling communication failure, it is the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, who faces problems.
Ever since the ruling coalition was cobbled together in a hurry in the last week of 2008, Dr Kamal has always remained a preloaded anti-Congress chip that would always fetch the best space on newspaper front-pages. In the midst of these statements, when NC appointed him as the party spokesman and additional secretary general in the wake of Shikeh Nazir’s protracted health problems, it seems as if Kamal was being rewarded for what he believed in. But that proved short-lived. As the Congress reacted to the diatribe, Kamal was sacked.
The party managed the Congress criticism and Kamal’s status was partially restored. Taking him back at some party position was the only option left for father-son to somehow keep the party in the safe family hands. He was made additional secretary general. But that could not bring about any change in the lawmaker who represents Hazratbal in the state legislature and feels disempowered for his absence from the cabinet his nephew heads.
Last week, Kamal was in Kishtwar. He said India was an enemy of J&K if it is not signing a no-war treaty with Pakistan. “We do not know (what) the exact reasons (for) why India was not signing a no-war treaty (with Pakistan),” Dr Kamal was quoted saying. “If India will continue to raise this issue, then I have no hesitation in saying that Pakistan is not our enemy. Our enemy is our own country.” Apparently frustrated over no-movement, Kamal said the entire world was seeking resolution of Kashmir issue. “We have opened our border to carry out trade activity with Pakistan. We could have introduced some more relaxations,” he said. Reports also quoted him saying that presence of army in J&K is the “biggest stumbling block” and certain laws in vogue are a source of suffering for the civil population.
Adding spice to the political grapevine, Dr Kamal regretted that voters did not offer a clear verdict and a split verdict forced a coalition on the state. “We thought it is appropriate to form the coalition government with Congress,” he said. Reason: “Omar (Abdullah) Sahab had said – ‘Azad is ‘sweet poison’ and Mufti is ‘bitter poison’. So NC opted for ‘sweet’ over ‘bitter’. Instead of offering a clear mandate, Kamal said the voters “forced these two enemies to chase us” and “we jumped in and formed the coalition to keep them at bay.” Had PDP and Congress joined hands to form the government, Kamal argued, “They would have created havoc for us.”
Hell broke loose this time again. Terming the statement ‘irresponsible’, Dr Farooq Abdullah said, “His (Kamal’s) statement is irresponsible. Delhi has never been the enemy of Kashmiris.” His son, Omar, took to Twitter after a long time. “Funny thing is I don’t need anyone to make things difficult for me when I have relatives to do it for me,” he wrote in one tweet. “They say never work with animals and children. I think it’s safe to add relatives to that list as well,” he added in another. Finally came the intervention from the Azad. “We have taken a strong exception to Mustafa Kamal’s remarks. This is (a) serious issue. This not the first time that this gentleman has been giving statements like this,” Azad said during his recent Jammu visit. “It is high time that NC clears its stand on which side of the page they are on. Individual statements can be tolerated but no Indian can tolerate anti-Indian statements. We cannot tolerate it.”
As the ‘sweet poison’ turned sour, there was no option left other than an unqualified surrender. “I am pained and deeply hurt by a section of media. I was projected as an anti-national and accused of sedition and it deeply hurt me,” Kamal told reporters. “My family’s legacy and political career of several decades was testimony of my credentials…Nobody is a better Indian than us (Sheikh family). I am part of the Sheikh family, which played an important role in bringing democracy to J&K and facilitated joining of J&K with Indian union… For heaven’s sake, at this age and stage of life, don’t accuse me of something that is not in my grain and blood.”
But this is not the only things that happened in the coalition, especially Congress. Last week, when the Congress summoned its meeting to thrash out some issues in Jammu, all its lawmakers from Chenab valley – Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban and parts of Reasi, skipped the meeting. They had a genuine issue. They are the dominant force in the region but they lack representation in the council of ministers. Congress, otherwise, has a problem. They have two of its portfolios with the chief minister – education and R&B. At the end of the last assembly session, it was credibly rumored that the cabinet expansion will take place after the durbar goes to Jammu. It did not happen as it seems it may take a bit of time.
Now the recent addition to the crisis was made by former deputy chief minister, Muzaffar Hussain Beg. Speaking to a gathering in Tangmarg, Beg said Omar was unable to go for cabinet expansion because it would disintegrate the party. Both the parties are actually trying their best to have faces acceptable to the party and to the coalition. Under the law of the land, J&K can have 25 member Council of Ministers. Right now, there are 17 cabinet ministers (9 from NC and 8 from Congress), besides five MoSs.
Cabinet expansion apart, there is a larger battle being fought within Congress and that NC has encouraged. It is now Irrigation Minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din versus Chairman legislative council Amrit Malhotra, also a Congressman. During the Srinagar session, Panthers Party lawmaker, Rafiq Ahmad Shah accused Taj of grabbing forest land at Sedow in south Kashmir near the Ahrabal health resort. Shah submitted a number of documents to the council chairman that included a revenue report confirming the land belonged to forests. The debate led to the setting up of the house committee to probe the allegations, if any. Headed by PDP’s Murtaza Khan, its members included accuser Shah, two NC lawmakers – Najeeb Suharwardi and Bashir Ahmad Shah Veeri, besides a lone Congressman, Bashir Ahmad Magray.
Taj retaliated. Initially, he wrote to Malhotra explaining his position. Then, he wrote in detail to the Speaker of the assembly, requesting him to intervene because some people were out to paint him black. Then Congress’s party leader in the Council minister, R S Chib, wrote a detailed letter to Malhotra, suggesting him to dissolve the penal, something that Chairman had resisted in his response letter. It was followed by the parties taking decisions within. First NC asked its two members to resign from the committee and they did it. Last weekend, Congress member Bashir Ahmad Magray put in his papers while trying to claim that his resignation was forged.
With Congress and NC out of the panel, Malhotra dissolved it. “The Committee does not seem to be in a position to serve any purpose without the participation of the largest political party in the House i.e J&K NC,” Malhotra said in the dissolution order. “I had constituted the Committee in good faith to investigate the allegations and bring facts to light, keeping the rules and conventions of the august house in view.” He denied there was any “malafide interest or any personal angle to this issue.”
The order hit the NC. Responding to the order, NC lawmaker, Ajay K Sadhotra, blamed Malhotra for constituting the panel without taking the party on board and dissolving it suo moto.
“The onus of this decision either to constitute or dissolve the committee both lies with none other than the chairman of the LC,” Sadhotra said. “Democracy is in consultation, confabulation and decision after deliberation and consensus. Arbitrary, unilateral decisions lead to confrontations, misunderstanding and chaos and as such have no place in parliamentary democracy.” He said the committee could have been permitted to go ahead with its mandate even after the two NC members resigned.
Winding up of the panel encouraged Taj. A few days after he held a news conference in which he termed the constitution of penal unconstitutional, Taj was quoted saying Malhotra was behaving “like a monkey” and empowering him was ‘like giving the monkey a razor.’ He asked the ruling coalition to bring in a no-confidence motion against Malhotra. “He (Amrit Malhotra) poses danger to the party (Congress) and to the coalition government,” Taj was quoted saying.
Sources in NC said the Taj crisis, even though being in public domain for a long time, is essentially a manifestation of the crisis within. Congress initially existed in Kashmir by proxy and finally when the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad formally joined the party, it survived in groups. There could be many groups right now but two are vital – one each led by former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and another by PCC chief, Prof Saif ud Din Soz. Of late, Taj had remained equidistant from the two and that had created a situation that he was being referred as a third faction that was in direct control of Omar Abdullah. Taj is one of the closest ministers enjoying Chief Minister’s confidence, something which doesn’t go down well with either the NC or the Congress factions. At one point of time in the recent past, both the Congress factions were gunning for him. Now, post panel fiasco, Taj has to be part of one group, apparently that Azad leads. How will this crisis that has dented credibility of the coalition impact the happenings remains to be seen! A general argument is that Taj should have avoided bulldozing the panel. Now PP and PDP are claiming they will move a breach of privilege motion against Taj for his ‘foul mouthed and ill-bred expressions’ against the Council.
Oblivious of what is happening in the legislative council, the Panchs and Sarpanchs are on a high these days. The Council is filling four berths reserved for Panchayati Raj Institutions – two each for Jammu and Kashmir regions. Right now, there is race for announcing candidates for the four seats. Though opposition PDP is still silent, BJP and Panthers Party have already announced their decision to contest all the four seats. There were initial issues between the coalition partners as Congress was seeking mandate for three of the four seats. It was finally decided last week that the two partners decided to have equal stakes. They, however, are shortlisting the names for the candidates. Even independent lawmaker, Engineer Rashid, has fielded his candidates.
More interesting is that Panchs and Sarpanchs have given birth to a party – All J&K Panch Sarpanch United Forum (AJKPSUF). Last week, they announced the candidature of two of its members – Khursheed Ahmad Malik (Kokernag) and Sheikh Ashiq Hussain (Kupwara), for the two seats from Kashmir division. Within an hour, the same room in the same hotel hosted another news conference. This time, a new group claimed to be the “real AJKPSUF” and announced unqualified support to the ruling coalition.
Elections to the four seats are slated for December 3. Election Commission has finalized the location of 145 polling stations on block basis across the state and at every station two Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would be set up. Every panch and sarpanch will have to cast two votes for two candidates. J&K has 33540 voters for this election including 15628 (13678 Panchs and 1950 Sarpanchs) in Jammu and 17912 (15767 Panchs and 2145 Sarpanchs) in Kashmir region. Though any person eligible for contesting any election under Representation of People’s Act (RPA) can contest this particular election, candidates of Jammu division cannot compete for the reserved two seats for Kashmir division and vice versa.
These four seats remained vacant since 1974. In the 36-member house, four berths are reserved for PRI’s and two for urban local bodies. Since the last election for Panchayat’s was partially held in 2002, these seats remained vacant and were not filled. Twin berths for ULBs were filled in October 2005 after ULB elections were held in January 2005 after a gap of 26 years. One was taken by PDP and the other by Congress. Both the seats fell vacant because PDP candidate, Nizamuddin Bhat, resigned and successfully contested 2009 assembly elections and the Congress candidate, Arvind Singh Micky, who headed the Council, completed his tenure and retired in September 2011. ULB elections were not held despite being due since February 2010 and the seats in the Legislative Council are lying vacant.
The interesting part of this new race is that Panchayat members were elected in an election held on non-party basis in September 2011. The election to the four berths will offer the first estimate of which party figures where in the huge army of Panchayat members. This will make guessing the outcome of still-illusive block development council (BDC) polls easy. Wait and watch!