Rare Return

Last week, when Sajad Ahmad Kichloo took oath of office within four months after resignation, and was restored all the portfolios he held earlier, he proved to be a rare instance in politics, reports RS Gull

SAJAD-KICHLOOIn the incumbent government, Sajad A Kichloo has an interesting story. His powerful pedigree apart, he is the only NC member who could make it to the assembly from Chenab Valley. All other seats are with the Congress. For many years he was campaigning within the party that with Congress having better representation in the council of ministers, the party is gradually being sacrificed in the region by, obviously, not inducting him.

The campaign got into slow motion after Congress’s hyper-active minister G M Saroori was asked to put in his papers in the racket involving the proxy appearance of somebody in place of his daughter in a professional examination. A well connected contractor, Saroori represented Inderwal, which is part of Kishtwar district – the hometown and political base of Kichloos’.

As Omar rejig his council in January,2013  Sajad got what, Nasir Aslam Wani, a close friend of Chief Minister lost. His ‘slap slide’ and a public brawl with Congress minister Abdul Majid Wani over the issue of decision-making apart, Kichloo’s ascend to the ‘real power’ reached an anti-climax in 2013 summer.

Barely a few days ahead of the Eid, Kichloo lost a close relative that drove him home from Jammu. The clan was still in mourning when the month of fasting concluded. As people were on way to Eid prayers on August  9, communal clashes in the restive and communally sensitive town took place and Kichloo – state’s junior home minister, was caught in the crisis.

Two persons, a Hindu and a Muslim, were killed in Kishtwar as a Hindu Village Defence Committee (VDC) kidnapped an aged Muslim in remote Padder belt and killed him. For one complete day, till the town was handed over to the army, massive destruction of property took place. While 65 persons from both the communities were injured, losses to the property were assessed at worth Rs 13.86 crore.

Kichloo became instant target of his opponents (read BJP) because he was present in the town. A gun factory belonging to his family was among 22 business concerns that were looted.  Rioters took away forty one 12-bore guns with 1338 ammunition rounds, 1250 grams of gun powder and 32 percussion caps, part of which is yet to be recovered. Though Kichloo was attacked twice by the rioters, the police skipped registering FIR on his complaint, notwithstanding his status of being the MoS (home) and the locally elected representative.

Sangh Parivaar was keen to use the Kishtwar clashes to feed its politics. After “well informed” Rajnath Singh expressed his concern with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Sushima Swaraj fought a battle with Omar on twitter, Arun Jaitely air-dashed to Jammu to drive to the town at a time when the state government was still managing the mess. He was arrested and sent back.

As the clashes continued a TV story for a few days and the BJP consistently attacked Kichloo, Omar was pushed to stay defensive. It was at that point that the party asked Kichloo to put in his papers. For all practical purposes, Kichloo was made a scapegoat. He resigned on August 12. But he was assured that his status would be restored once a Commission of Inquiry will issue him a clean chit.

Constituted on August 23, the Commission led by Justice (retired) R C Gandhi recorded statements of 357 witnesses. It submitted a 160-page interim report that exonerated Kichloo. The Commission passed scathing remarks against some of the officials including the Deputy Commissioner and the district police chief. Within hours after the report was submitted, Omar summoned Kichloo, who was in Chandigarh, to Jammu and advised him to get ready for the weekend oath-ceremony.

“Justice Gandhi in his report said that Sajjad was made victim and he is not responsible for the communal violence,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said. “I saw the clean chit, inducted him in the ministry and returned all portfolios to him”.

Omar said some people were unhappy with him and they targeted him and made his ministry an excuse. “Sajjad set an example of being a responsible politician and resigned making clear that he would return only after he is cleared by the Commission.”

Interestingly, there were 71 affidavits against Kichloo and 41 in support of him. When the commission cross-examined them personally, they disowned the contents of the affidavits. Most of the affidavits were attested by particular notary.  Apart from recommending action against the Deputy Commissioner, Superintendent of Police and DIG, the Commission has recommended strengthening the VDC network by inducting more Muslims into it, reports in the media suggested.

Even though Ghulam Nabi Azad attended Kichloo’s oath ceremony, a section in the Congress was unhappy that the man is back to the centre-stage. Some of them even said if Saroori did not get his status restored even after the CBI issued him a clean chit, how did Kichloo get it back. But it was BJP that made the last ditch effort to get what the issue could only offer.

J&K’s Modi-revived BJP and its allies appeared on Jammu streets within hours of the oath taking ceremony and announced the beginning of 48-hour strike in Jammu. They accused the former high court judge of being in nexus with the government and termed his report an eye-wash. “Chief minister secured the interim report in Kichloo’s favour on Friday afternoon and within a hours, invitations were issued for the weekend swearing-in,” BJP spokesman Dr Jitender Singh said. “It all seems pre-planned.”

Even PDP seems peeved over Kichloo re-induction. “It was an eyewash then and it is an eyewash now”, PDP spokesman and lawmaker Nayeem Akhtar said. “What about the other recommendations that Commission has made? Why NC has not shown same haste in implementing other important suggestions?”

However, Singh’s brother Dewinder Singh Rana, who heads the NC in Jammu region said the Commission has vindicated our stand. “Findings of the probe have exposed the BJP and PDP which worked overtime to weave a cobweb against NC,” Rana said. “The truth has prevailed and the probe has vindicated NC.”

But what makes Kichloo a rare precedence is that he was assured of fair-play, post Commission report submission and the word was kept by the incumbent government. It is rare in politics and rarest in state politics.

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