Lal Singh’s Red Line, The Complete Story

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by Umar Mukhtar

SRINAGAR: Doing it for one more time, the controversial Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) lawmaker Choudhary Lal Singh and former BJPDP minister Friday, threatened the valley based journalists to ‘draw a line’ while reporting to avoid the ‘Shujaat’ like situation.

People running for their lives after the attack on Rising Kashmir Editor Shujaat Bukhari’s car on June 15, 2018. KL Image: Shams Irfan

In a press conference demanding the CBI inquiry into the Kathua case, Singh alleged that the Kashmiri journalists had created a strange atmosphere on the Kathua case. He was quick to warn them and reminded of the fate Shujaat Bukhari met, who was killed by some unknown gunmen in the press colony on June 14, minutes before breaking the Ramzan fast.

The journalist bodies in Kashmir have taken the utterances of Singh as a threat and have asked police to investigate the lawmaker who seems to know many things about Shujat’s brutal assassination.

Though the controversial politician has remained in news throughout his political career, especillay in the state, his role was very confrontational in police investigations in the Kathua kidnapping, gang-rape and murder of a minor Bakerwal girl early this year. He was the one who led a full-fledged BJP delegation to encourage the people seeking inaction against the rapists. Asking for transfer of the case to CBI, Singh alleged the state police of distorting the facts. He rallied with Hindu Ekta Manch supporters where tricolour was unfurled in support of the rape accused. They were demanding the release of the alleged rapists.

Following his controversial role, he was sacked by the government for trying to defend the accused in the Kathua rape-and-murder case. Former Chief Minister had taken a strong stand against him after keeping her ally, the BJP in loop. Interestingly, BJP high command was keen to see Singh out of the cabinet for their own unknown reasons, informed sources said.

Politicians React

The Friday statement of Singh drew a huge reaction and almost every one condemned his threatening remarks on the journalists.

Former Chief Minister and NC vice president Omar Abdullah took to twitter and pricked the journalists of the intimidation that Singh threatened them of. “Dear journalists, your colleagues in Kashmir just got threatened by a @BJP4India MLA. It seems Shujaat’s death is now a tool for goons to use to threaten other journalists.”

“Lal Singh’s open threat to the media fraternity in Kashmir had exposed an intolerant, vituperative and criminal mindset that threatens to subvert freedom of speech and democracy in the State,” said the National Conference spokesperson Junaid Aazim Mattu.

National Conference has also demanded an FIR against the Singh for his remarks. “We condemn this outrageous threat in the strongest of terms. It should be treated as a criminal attempt to incite violence against journalists and the J&K Police should register an FIR under the relevant statutes of the law. There is absolutely no legal excuse for inaction in this case and an attempt to brush this under the carpet would be unacceptable and will discredit both the writ of the Administration and also muzzle free speech in the State,” said in a statement.

Peoples Democratic Party has urged Governor N N Vohra to book and arrest Lal Singh for his “derogatory remarks” against Kashmiri journalists, terming him a “serious threat” to the state’s communal harmony. “Keeping in view Singh’s continuous rants against the people of Kashmir and efforts to stoke the communal passions in the state, it is highly unfortunate that elements like him are allowed to roam freely,” PDP general secretary Mansoor Hussain said in a statement.

Kashmir journalist fraternity on Monday held a silent sit-in protest at Lal Chowk against the murder of Rising Kashmir chief editor Shujaat Bukhari. Kl Image by Bilal Bahadur

“His statement against the scribes is condemnable, bizarre and malicious and merit immediate action against him as per the law of the land. We urge the Governor administration of the state to immediately book and arrest Singh for his instigative comments and jibes against the Kashmiri scribes as vicious elements like him if allowed to roam freely would turn the situation into an inferno and have a tendency to tear apart state’s secular fabric,” Hussain said. “PDP at that time too demanded action against him and succeeded in getting him sacked from the council of ministers. Singh’s brother is already facing charges for his derogatory remarks against the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and was arrested in the recent past.”

Congress has also condemned Singh’s remarks terming his utterances as provocative. The spokesman for the party said the politician is habitual of hurling abuses and threatening people and called for action against him.

Independent lawmaker Emngineer Rasheed was blunter. “Whatsoever Lal Singh has been doing from day one after Kathua rape and murder case, he has complete blessings of his masters in New Delhi and has been given a free hand to use even Indian tri-colour to give Rasana incident a communal colour,” Rashid said in a statement. “Everyone knows how difficult it is for any journalist to work in conflict zones like Kashmir. Threatening journalists by someone who has been a minister and is a sitting MLA is unacceptable and administration must ensure action against him. Lal Singh proved so ignorant by saying let Kashmiri journalists not forget what fate Basharat Bukhari met, forgetting that Basharat was his colleague in the cabinet and Shujaat was his brother. His statement makes one think about whatsoever he was talking seemed as if he knew why, how and who killed Shujat Bukhari.”

Journalists React

Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) has also reacted to Singh’s controversial remark. “Invoking the brutal assassination of senior editor Shujaat Bukhari, Singh has suggested to the Kashmir media to draw a line and to decide if they have to work the way he (Bukhari) was working. Singh has moved way ahead and issued a direct threat to the media in Kashmir,” the KEG said in a statement. “Lal Singh has accused the Kashmir media of creating a wrong atmosphere.”

The KEG said Lal Singh had invoked Shujaat Bukhari’s murder at a time when police in Srinagar was investigating the case and that his statement indicated that he holds some information about the murder which must be investigated.

Kashmir Press Association (KPA), another body of the newspapers also condemned the utterances.

But this is not for the first time that Singh has resorted to threats. He is used to resorting means methods in attacking the people he dislike. Earlier, during his fag days in Congress, he had used demeaning adjectives to describe the BJP’s Prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. Interestingly, however, he later joined the same party, won an election and became a minister. Lal Singh was a Congress MLA and an MP till, in 2014, when the parted denied him a ticket.

For the last few years, as Forest Minister in the state, Singh has threatened Gujjars and Bakerwals’s throughout. A Gujjar delegation was shocked when the minister reminded them of 1947, a reference towards the large scale communal massacres of the Muslims in the region that changed the Jammu demography completely.

Twitter Times

A day after his threat, Singh took to twitter and wrote a series of tweets on the weekend afternoon. “There is need to draw a line between reporting facts and supporting terrorists and their sympathisers. Misinterpretation has become a norm and reporting facts a rarity. Journalistic freedom is absolute but not at the cost of nation and nationalism,” Singh said in one tweet. “We Indians argue over ideologies and terrorists kill those who stop toeing their line. Shouldn’t I caution my Journalist friends in Kashmir to stop being terrorist sympathisers since they know nothing beyond killing those who do not work according to their wishes.”

Singh later tweeted: “They love you as long as you provide them space in your newspapers and media portals. The moment you talk sense and ask terrorists and their sympathisers questions over killing innocents, they bump you off. Then, why shouldn’t I ring the alarm bells?.” Quickly he added: “A coterie of so-called mainstream leaders supported by separatists are trying to stifle my voice by creating issues out of non-issues. This is meant to silence me, frighten me from seeking CBI probe in Rasana Case. I won’t fall silent come what. Jai Duggar Jai Dogra Jai  Hind.”

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