The man, Syed Yousuf Shah, whose death in custody triggered a political storm in Jammu and Kashmir, had a very humble beginning. His personal journey appears like a roller coaster, from a teacher in adult education department to a political dealmaker of immense access and power in the National Conference. Although he never held a party post, Yousuf lived many lives simultaneously.
Mohammad Yousuf Shah had reportedly built a network of officials of School Education Department, including over a dozen headmasters, Principals, Zonal Education Officers and three Chief Educational Officers in Anantnag district. According to some reports he managed to appoint 100 to 150 youth as teachers at different schools. According to one report, “ZEOs and CEOs would issue “transfer orders” shifting “teachers” (who had never been appointed) from one school to another. Fake LPCs followed and all of them took home salaries.”
A commissioner rank officer who has known “this character” for a long time said Yousuf had an innovative modus operandi. “Never ever he might have asked any officer for a favour but he would usually come, sit, sip tea and leave in order to create an impression outside he is very close to the officer,” the officer said. It was this influence that he would use at the clerical level to do whatever he wanted.
The main charge against him is that he “appointed” a number of people including nine of his family members as teachers using a method nobody ever has tried. A secretary rank officer informed that during the Ghulam Mohammad Shah government, the appointing institutions were temporarily suspended in order to give ministers authority to appoint people. They were all ad-hoc employees who were regularized around 1989. Yousuf took the advantage of that decision and issued a “transfer order” from GAD sending “teachers” from one school to another. “There were officials in league at lower level especially in the districts who honoured it despite the fact that it lacked all the ingredients that make a government order. It just looked like an order,” the officer said.
Interestingly, the order carried a number of GAD, which was faked. “But the original order that was issued by GAD under that particular number is still missing from GAD records,” the officer said. Once it became known, various organizations of the government started investigations. It included State Vigilance Organization and the State Police Crimes (investigation) branch.
Yousuf and his group proved more intelligent. It managed registration of FIR at two south Kashmir police stations suggesting that the education department clerks, who were carrying records to present before the investigators, were kidnapped by militants and left after their records were snatched and destroyed!!
Most of these “teachers” were “appointed” in Kokernag constituency which had become a stumbling block for the Education Minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed to make appointments in his area. “This had created a situation that there was no vacancy for even appointing a Rehbar-e-Taleem so a few years back they were genuinely transferred to other places created an appetite in the education sector of the education minister,” sources said. These “teachers” nicknamed “Yousuf-made teachers” continue to be dispute lot and are serving the state government on court orders.
Yousuf had also reportedly used militancy to his “advantage”. He would carry letters “written” by militant “commanders” to officers for “concessions”. He had domesticated a small group of “militant sympathizers” in his area who would stand up for him in crisis, but once the militants came to know of it the situation changed. Some of Yousuf’s trickery was slowly exposed to the officials at various points in time.
“Yes, we have been investigating a number of cases against him,” a senior State Police Crimes Branch officer said. “The unfortunate death has forced us to create a dossier on the man but I am sure we have filed charge sheets in a few cases and the trial is going on.”
But the shady background did not impact Yousuf’s prospects and he cruised into power corridors. Sources in Kashmir’s mainstream political camp reveale that in 2004 when state’s main opposition, the NC had decided to split the ruling coalition, Yousuf was the main figure.
“The purchasing rate was one crore a member and those wishing to be ministers had to crossover free,” a senior politician who has served J&K at vital positions said on the condition of anonymity. “It was almost ready as there were many lawmakers from PDP and Congress to crossover but there were only two problems. One, Ghulam Hassan Mir had staked the claim for becoming the chief minister and Dr Farooq was not ready for that. Second, the then Prime Minister Vajpayee told Dr Abdullah that NDA will not permit it. The idea was shelved.”
Some reports suggest that it was after 1996 that Yousuf gained proximity to Farooq Abdullah. “He influenced distribution of tickets to some extent in 2002 Assembly elections. Six years later, Yousuf was a veritable kingmaker in the party that returned to power after Amarnath turmoil,” the report said. “Yousuf had ultimate say in distribution of NC’s tickets in Assembly elections on 2008 in south Kashmir. “Contributions” ranged between Rs 7 Lakh and Rs 30 Lakh,” according to a newspaper.
The report claimed Yousuf ultimately decided who would be picked up as MLC and who would go to LokSabha and RajyaSabha. “According to party sources, he cleared two young NC aspirants, who were both defeated candidates of Assembly elections, for two vacancies in Legislative Council in March 2009 only after receiving cash payment of Rs 30 Lakhs. One of the duo was picked up as MLC in spite of having dubious past and shared business with PDP’s MLA of Home Shalibugh and former Minister of State for Health Abdul GaffarSofi.”
The report adds that Yousuf is believed to have “handled transactions of over Rs 10 crore in the last three years of Omar Abdullah’s government” alone and he managed to get over a “half-a-dozen defeated candidates nominated or elected as MLC, all on cash payment.”