One Last Time

With elections round the corner, the assembly had a brief six-day autumn session. But it was unimpressive and unruly by all means, excepting that the ruling NC pushed a resolution seeking resumption of talks in one house and made a serious bid to checkmate opposition in another, reports Shah Abbas

Given the BJP threatening to create history by emerging J&K’s largest party in elections, pressure was palpable on every MLA’s face.  Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Given the BJP threatening to create history by emerging J&K’s largest party in elections, pressure was palpable on every MLA’s face.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Reporters were a terrible lot in the press gallery of J&K’s twin legislative bodies. Usually, they pounce on the question hour records to get the best of news. Unfortunately for them, the thick files lacked any major news. MLAs restricted questions to their respective constituencies with development as top priority.

Given the BJP threatening to create history by emerging J&K’s largest party in elections, pressure was palpable on every MLA’s face. So everybody flouted rules to play to the galleries. Perhaps for the first time, there was not a single sitting in which the Question Hour would follow the rules. Lawmakers force other issue and Speaker Mubarak Gull lacked means to avoid the situations.

They created ruckus for the time and they got it, they just wanted to convey that they are winning! After lot of high-voltage disruption that PDP triggered over stone pelters amnesty, when Speaker finally granted them time, party leader Abdul Rehman Veeri made a few brief references to the issue and ended by claiming his party has 41 berths in hand and will improve it to 50, this fall.

Almost a similar situation was created by BJPs Ashok Khajuria who sought time to speak. “There is massive load-shedding and taps are running dry in Jammu,” Kahjuria said. “But do not worry; this government’s days are numbered.”

In the midst of an off-the-script debate one day, Panthers Party lawmaker Balwant Mankotia shocked the house by revealing that after he had inaugurated a building, one of Omar Abdullah’s ministers visited the venue again: to break the actual plaque and replaced it by fresh one carrying his name!

Following it up, PDPs Veeri, went a step ahead alleging he was never invited by the government for such functions. “Ministers avoided my presence because they did not want my name to be associated with the inauguration of any facility,” Veeri alleged. Prompt came the reply from Mohammad Akbar Lone, Omar’s minister known for his body language: “Let Veeri prove it, I will resign or he should!”

But nobody bothered to take the talk forward as the house witnessed an unprecedented scene: BJPs elderly lawmaker Durga Dass from Hiranagar beating his chest and head and crying to get attention. When he finally got time, he took less time in revealing his problems than the time he consumed in seeking the attention of cameras: he wanted reduced power outages and improved water supply.

For the first time, people felt the absence of Mehbooba Mufti and Muzaffar Hussain Beig who knew the art of walking the talk. Mufti Sayeed continued his ‘boycott’, now for the sixth year, of the house. The session was so boring that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who graced the house on the first day briefly, skipped the session completely.

NC’s Kashmir Province president Nasir Aslam Wani making a point in the on going assembly session. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
NC’s Kashmir Province president Nasir Aslam Wani making a point in the on going assembly session.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

In such situations, reporters look towards the Elders, members of the legislative council. For at least three days, it was dominated by one issue: border situation and Delhi’s failure in resuming dialogue with Pakistan. But the details of this ‘crisis’ are interesting.

On Tuesday when NCs Dr Shehnaz Ganai moved a motion to discuss the situation arising out of shelling in areas straddling the LoC. As shelling on IB was dominating decision-making from Delhi to Srinagar, every MLA wanted to participate. The house finally upgraded it to a full length discussion for the next day.

On Wednesday when the business was out, it had listed a resolution moved by NCs Dewinder Singh Rana seeking a recommendation to Delhi that it must resume the dialogue, instead. It angered people across party lines. But Rana knew the art of managing the TV. “You do not want to discuss the issue because you are more concerned about your name that you are desperate to see in the newspapers,” Rana shouted. “People are dying on the borders and you are seeking brownie points.” After the TVs recorded the ruckus for half an hour, Rana walked out in protest. By the time, TVs were running the pandemonium; most of the Elders were at home, busy in lunch after the house was adjourned.

The resolution finally came up on Thursday and was sponsored by Chairman Amrit Malhotra. Supported by the secular trio – Congress, NC and PDP, the non-BJP house urged Delhi to resume dialogue with Pakistan for stability and peace. It also wanted centre to take “effective steps” for preventing shelling on IB and LoC and rehabilitate the displaced population.

There were not many interesting speeches excepting that of Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy (NC) and Naeem Akhter (PDP). “We lost eight thousand workers (during militancy) and now they (BJP) tell us we are anti-national,” Suharwardy said. “This is despite the fact that neither we flew militants to Kandhaar nor we tried to make money from the coffins in Kargil war.” He alleged that efforts were underway to create a situation akin to 1947 in J&K. “And this all (snapping of talks and border shelling) is being done for just an election,” he asserted.

Akhter said Kashmir, unlike India and Pakistan, rejected the two-nation theory and joined a secular India. “This is the only instance in more than 1400 illustrious years of history of Muslim world in which a Muslim majority area rejected a Muslim theocracy and joined a secular state. “While both the countries are free, we are reduced to slaves of the guns, who always seek protection and who have always been denied stake-holding in peacemaking and justice.”

Negotiations being inevitable, Akhter said war mongering is deliberately done to promote arms dealers, appeasing strategic communities and improve TRPs of TV channels.

The same day, when BJP literally threatened them for the resolution, nobody from either of the two houses reacted!

Both the houses, however, successfully managed a taint on PDP. NCs ‘stuntmen’ Bashir Veeri who came with an instance of conversion of a marsh in south Kashmir’s Marhama into a vast field for initially FCI go-downs and later a housing colony. This, according to the documents he placed on record, was done through a hiba (that usually is done in case of personal inheritance) and then a bank loan was raised against the wishes of the local population.

Done by a PDP district president, one of the documents had signatures of deputy speaker as witness. Veeri said the land grab is worth Rs 1600 crore and the party intends to use these funds for elections. In a bid to explain his position in the assembly, deputy speaker brought the issue to the assembly. And then it was out of PDP control.

While Chief Secretary is submitting a report to the legislative council, the case was already sent to the Police Crime Branch for a specialized investigation to be submitted within a fortnight. Ice on the cake was a mobile video showing top PDP leader defending the deal that sounded blatantly illegal.

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