Ever since his elevation to cabinet, senior Congress leader Peerazada Mohammad Sayeed is in news for all the wrong reasons. Be it multi-crore rural electrification scam or his foster son’s skirmishes with the law, Peerzada manages to survive. But it’s the development that concerns the voters, reports Suhail A Shah
In 2009 Abdul Gani Rather, an iron smith was busy erecting the gate of a Fish Hatchery in Kokernag, when a red light mounted VIP vehicle hit him, paralyzing him for life.
The locals allege Imam Souban Bhat, foster son of the senior Congress leader Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed, was in the driver’s seat. No FIR was lodged in the case.
However, on 2nd of January, 2014 the Crime Branch did lodge an FIR against the Congress Minister’s foster son after establishing a case of using “unfair means” to pass his matriculation exams in 2009.
Peerzada, presently the Minister for Public Enterprises, Hajj, Auqaf and Floriculture, expressed shock at the development. He had, when exam-gate surfaced in 2009, offered his resignation which was rejected by Congress President, Sonia Gandhi.
Moreover, Peerzada distanced himself by saying that his foster son has publicly disowned him.
“My wife was a victim of militancy and I rehabilitated them,” Peerzada was quoted as saying this by the media, following the FIR by the Crime Branch.
Tell this to anybody in Peerzada’s constituency, Kokernag and he will laugh into your face straightaway.
“A disowned son does not have 3 Policemen guarding him while he drives his red light mounted vehicle ruthlessly around the village, without giving a damn if anybody gets hurt,” says a doctor from Kokernag, requesting not to be named for obvious reasons.
This is not the first time that the Congress Minister, known for his proximity to the Congress High Command in New Delhi, has been in news for allegations of corruption. The voters in the constituency, however, are not much bothered with the scams tumbling out, all they need is development. But the Congress leader seems to be failing on that end as well.
The corruption charges against the Minister started in 2004, during Peerzada’s stint as the Rural Development Minister in the Mufti Muhammad Sayeed led coalition government. The State Accountability Commission (SAC) indicted him for his “Knee Deep” involvement in the multi-crore Rural Electrification Scam.
The case died a subsequent death after a stay order and allegations of bribery against the then SAC Chairman’s son, Anil Sethi.
Whether the indictment by the SAC had an impact on the 2008 Assembly elections or not is a debatable issue, however, Peerzada managed to secure his seat in the State Legislative Assembly, defeating his nearest competitor by a narrow margin of just over a 1000 votes.
Peerzada kept fishing in troubled waters after that as well. In 2008 the then MLA Sangrama, Shoaib Lone on the floor of the State Assembly accused Peerzada of taking a bribe of 40,000 Rupees from him to clear his sister’s file.
Amid mounting pressure, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad asked Peerzada to step down as the President of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). He was asked to resign from the Education Portfolio, he held, as well. He was later re-inducted into the State Cabinet.
Peerzada has been in politics since 1971 and has represented Kokernag in the Legistlative Assembly thrice. He held a ministrial portfolio for the first time in 1988 and had a smooth sailing until he got married again in late 90s.
It was during his tenure as the Education Minister that his constituency saw most of the developmental work being carried on. The work mainly included up-gradation of schools and health centres.
While a good number of new schools were established the already existing ones were upgraded.
The Primary Schools were turned into Middle Schools and the Middle Schools into High Schools, without bothering about the infrastructure and the quality of education being imparted.
The Kokernag Constituency was so much in the good books of the Education Department that two Government Degree Colleges were established in two villages located at a distance of less than 10 Kilometres. All this was done keeping the Sarwa Shikhsha Abhyan (SSA) and other norms at bay.
While the efforts were clearly seen as a vote garnering exercise, they later proved out to be so. One of the colleges is running from a dilapidated rented accommodation another from the local Higher Secondary School. Unavailability of the teachers is another issue hindering the functioning of these ‘misadventures’.
After the initial hype around the so called development died down, the locals, who were supposed to vote in return, have been able to see through the things logically.
“Why did we need two colleges while most of the places don’t have even one,” asks Khursheed Malik, an independent Sarpanch, a Social Activist and the General Secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Association.
Malik questions the quality of education being imparted in these colleges and schools, in absence of qualified teachers and dismal infrastructure.
“Matriculates have been employed as teachers at these schools and the colleges have been left at mercy,” says Malik, “The hasty up gradations, to garner votes, has actually deteriorated the education scenario here.”
The same more or less has been done with the Medical facilities across Kokernag. The dispensaries have been upgraded to Primary Health Centre’s (PHC’s) and the PHC to Sub-District Hospital. The infrastructure at these facilities remains dismal as ever.
The people in Kokernag say that they do not feel any difference whatsoever.
“We don’t care about the scams,” says Abdul Majeed Dar, a labourer from Takia Magam village of the Constituency considered to be a stronghold of Peerzada.
Dar feels that the scams are to be tackled by the authorities. What worries him however is what has been done in the area in the name of development?
Takia Magam village recently witnessed an outbreak of Hepatitis-C. More than 60 per cent of the population in the village and some adjoining ones have been tested positive for the virus.
Repeated assurances of treatment, to the affected population have been given, but nothing concrete stands done at the ground level.
“What is the fun of changing the names of medical facilities while they remain in poor condition,” asks Abdul Rahim Rather, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the constituency.
Rather says that every week a person dies in the area due to Hepatitis-C and it was better to get them treated than to change the names of Health Centres.
“It is a bomb the whole Kashmir is sitting on and it’s going to explode, sooner than later,” says the doctor from Kokernag, “It needs to be addressed on a priority basis.”
Reports say that more than 10 people have died of Hepatitis-C for last over two months.
Another issue that Peerzada faces and needs to tackle at the earliest is the antics of his foster son and some of his henchmen in the vicinity.
While his foster son is accused by the people of severe high handedness in his native Damhal village and the adjoining areas, Peerzada’s henchmen showed their muscle might recently when they attacked a young entrepreneur, who is in a process to establish a Mineral Water Plant in Sagam area of Kokernag.
Sameer Daril, a young IT professional left a lucrative job in Gulf to establish a Mineral Water Plant in Sagam.
The Kokernag Development Authority (KDA) razed Sameer Daril’s more than 20 Lac worth of ground work allegedly on behest of Peerzada Sayeed. The Revenue authorities in the area maintained that the KDA had no business messing around with the complex.
Following the demolition, Sameer was attacked by more than 50 people and beaten to pulp, “Even though I gave police the photographs of the goons who attacked me, the FIR stands registered against ‘unknown assailants’!”
Sameer, however, is adamant to fight and establish what he has dreamt of.
According to reports, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the KDA, Khurshid Ahmad Sinai, admits having received a representation from Peerzada to stop the construction at the plant.
Rather is of the opinion that Peerzada himself wants to venture into the trade and is going to establish a Mineral Water Plant in the area, “He just does not want any competitors.”
While there is widespread resentment among the masses for Peerzada’s misadventures on the developmental front the numbers seem to be in his favour in the upcoming Assembly Elections.
In 2008 Assembly elections 5 candidates, including Peerzada, contested polls in Kokernag. National Conference’s (NC) Ghulam Nabi Adigami was the runner up in the elections.
The rest of the candidates, PDP’s Sehar Khanday and two independent candidates Abdul Salam Reshi and Abdul Raheem Rather were left far behind.
Sehar Khanday since then has quit politics. Reshi after his disgruntlement with the PDP has joined back and Rather is the new PDP candidate.
If analysts are to be believed, the equation weighs more in favour of Peerzada as of now.
“The NC candidate since then has lost lot of ground, thanks to the coalition government,” says Mudassir Qadri, an Islamabad based journalist.
Qadri feels that even though Rather has made a lot of ground since 2008 elections, he has a long way to go.
“Peerzada, to me, is the only viable option right now left for the voters in Kokernag constituency,” says Qadri.
Whether ‘resentment’ with Peerzada works in favour of Rather or the NC candidate, or not, will be worth waiting for.