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Saturday, September 8, 2012

NC’s tribute of silence to its founder Sheikh Abdullah!

Leaving all the space to PDP and separatists, J&K’s largest political party has now reconciled to oblivion

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 8: They call their organisation as Jammu and Kashmir’s largest political party even after reducing its base in Legislative Assembly from 58 seats in 1996 to 29 in 2008. They claim other distinctions: Being the only political outfit that has base and representation in all the three regions of the state; having maximum number of its representative, among all state parties, in Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the state’s own Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. They also claim that maximum of the Panches and Sarpanches elected in 2011 Panchayat elections are affiliated to their party. But, conversely, leaders of the ruling National Conference (NC) are not going to hold any congregation to remember the party’s founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on his 30th death anniversary tomorrow.

In fact, the process of forgetting Sher-e-Kashmir began a few years back when Government of Jammu and Kashmir withdrew gazetted holiday from its calendar over 25 years after Sheikh’s death in 1982. It was followed by cancellation of the remembrance ceremony at Sheikh’s mausoleum at Hazratbal. A tribute paying still takes place on the NC founder’s birth anniversary every year on December 5th but the number of participants has drastically reduced in the last five years.

Even as few of Sheikh’s devotees, like late Maqbool Shah Khaksaar, mustered courage to turn up at his tombstone on occasion of his birth and death anniversaries in the worst of times from 1990 to 1995 and most of today’s Ministers and legislators did hide themselves in Jammu after publishing resignation advertisements and apologies to militants, a change in the ambience was witnessed in 1996-97. With Dr Farooq Abdullah functioning simultaneously as Chief Minister and NC’s President, multitudes of the party workers converged on Hazratbal to remember Sher-e-Kashmir on all of his birth and death anniversaries from 1996 to 2002.

Even the militants’ threats, an IED, thick snow accumulation and sub-zero temperature failed to stop thousands of Sheikh’s devotees from attending a massive remembrance event in December 1998. On one of such occasions, independent media reports put the number of participants between 15,000 to 20,000---one of the largest by the post-1990 Kashmir standards. Even after NC lost power to a PDP-Congress coalition in November 2002, Quran Khwani and Fatiha Khwani by thousands of the party supporters used to be a routine feature at the mausoleum in Hazratbal, both on September 8th and December 5th, from 2002 to 2007.

Enthusiasm was so overwhelming that Directorate of Information, first under KB Jandial and later under Farooq Reenzu, organized photo exhibitions at Sheikh’s mausoleum on his birth and death anniversaries even during Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s regime. Even on the Martyrs Day of July 13th, NC would organize well-attended public gatherings at Mazaar-e-Shuhada (Naqashband Sahab) and Sher-e-Kashmir Park in defiance of militant-sponsored shutdown. This age-old practice has also been abandoned now.

Even on the Martyrs Day in 2008, when the NC was in opposition and the Hurriyat-sponsored bandh was complete during the Amarnath land row, party’s workers stuck to their ground firmly. They clashed with invading separatists, repulsing their advances and breaking doors and windows of their houses in the neighbourhood and continued to pay homage to the Year-1931 martyrs at Mazar-e-Shuhada at a three-hour-long function. It was on this occasion that head of then ruling PDP, Mehbooba Mufti, had to run for life at the venue, leaving behind her shoes. Sympathizers of militants and separatist leaders trooped into a female Councilor’s house in the evening, thrashed her and her sister but failed to force her resign.

Nevertheless, Year 2008 seems to have come as a turning point as neither NC nor any other mainstream political party has been able to hold a presentable gathering on such occasions in Srinagar or elsewhere. With some changes, the number of participants on I-Day and R-Day functions too seems to have shrunk to a trickle post-2008. Prasar Bharti’s CEO, Jawahar Sircar, who was in Srinagar last month, noticed with surprise that even the Director of Srinagar Doordarshan had sent to New Delhi only the posterior visuals of her national flag hoisting event on the Independence Day to hide her face from the viewers. It has happened first time since 1989.

Notwithstanding some lackluster shows on such occasions in the first year of Omar Abdullah’s coalition government in 2009, there was no activity in 2010. A Policeman went to the extent of hurling his shoes on the chief guest and the Chief Minister on I-Day function at Bakhshi Stadium in Srinagar. Over a hundred civilians died on streets from June 10th to September 13th in clashes with Police and CRPF. Around Sheikh’s birth anniversary, Chief Minister as well as his father remained clung to Iftaar parties and visits to residences of Congress leaders in New Delhi to save their regime. They spent not more than 5 minutes in a floral tribute to Sheikh at Hazratbal and went back to Delhi.

Even after restoration of peace and normality, there was no activity at Hazratbal or any other place on Sheikh’s birth anniversary next year. On September 8th in 2010 as well as in 2011, State Information Department circulated brief four-paragraph handouts to cover Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s and Dr Farooq Abdullah’s remembrance rituals. On both occasions, bigger functions were in fact held in Jammu where Rattan Lal Gupta, Ajay Sadhotra and others delivered lengthy speeches on Sheikh at Sher-e-Kashmir Bhawan and MLA Bimla Luthra led a rally of the party workers.

“We have lately organized a big rally at Hazratbal on occasion of Madr-e-Meherban’s death anniversary on July 11th. Now, we will be holding another on Sher-e-Kashmir birth anniversary on December 5th. We can’t trouble people so frequently”, said a senior NC leader and former Minister. Party’s official spokesman, Tanvir Sadiq confirmed that there would be no public gathering at Hazratbal tomorrow. “Omar Sahab and others are scheduled to visit for a Fatiha Khwani in the morning. Then there would a collective Fatiha but no speeches”, Tanvir told Early Times. He said that instead of holding a major rally at Hazratbal, party workers would gather at all district headquarters and pay tributes to Sher-e-Kashmir.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Mirwaiz confidante alleges ‘rigging’ in Bar elections

‘Urdu daily editor, Police and Revenue officers, among bogus voters’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Sep 2: Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s confidante and a member of his Awami Action Committee (AAC), Advocate Shahidul Islam has leveled allegations of “largescale rigging and bogus voting” in the lately conducted elections of High Court Bar Association (HCBA). He has complained that despite being a licensee advocate and a genuine voter, he was among a large number of voters who were denied right to participate in the elections even as a number of ‘ bogus voters’, including editor of an Urdu daily and officers of Police and Revenue departments, were allowed to cast vote.

“I will not take it lying down. I will raise my voice and fight for my right’, Aftab Hilali Shah alias Shahidul Islam, who claimed to a member of Hurriyat Conference’s Working Committee and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s AAC, told Early Times. Once a top ranking commander of then dreaded militant outfit, Hizbullah, Shahidul Islam has distanced himself from guerrilla warfare after his arrest and subsequently release from a jail over 15 years back. Over a decade ago, he joined AAC and has been asserting as Mirwaiz Umar’s personal spokesman. He has been occasionally attending Hurriyat’s meetings on behalf of Mirwaiz Umar---the separatist amalgam’s founder-chairman and incumbent head.

Now a Police-protected Hurriyat activist and Mirwaiz Umar’s spokesman, Shahidul Islam is the first in the Valley’s entire separatist camp who has come out with serious allegation of rigging and bogus voting in the HCBA elections, held on Thursday last. Since 1990, HCBA has been an open advocate of Kashmir’s “freedom” from India and it has been reaffirming its political resolve after its elections and round-the-year by staying away from all government functions including the official ones, like swearing-in of judges, held by J&K High Court.

From 1993 to 2003, HCBA functioned as a General Council constituent of ‘All Parties Hurriyat Conference”. After Hurriyat’s split in 2003, it has been asserting as an independent “pro-freedom organisation” while issuing statements, staging demonstrations, contesting detention and charges slapped on separatist activists and militants besides organizing conferences. All the 600-odd advocates, practicing at J&K High Court in Srinagar, excluding those recruited or engaged by Government of India and Government of Jammu and Kashmir, qualify to be its members. Prominent separatist leaders, like Mian Abdul Qayoom and Nazir Ahmad Ronga, have been HCBA’s Presidents for most of terms in the last 23 years.

While talking to Early Times, Shahidul Islam alleged that the HCBA elections were being held in “completely non-democratic atmosphere”. “There’s no transparency. Even in the recent elections, electoral roll was surreptitiously changed just two days before scheduled date of polling”, Shahidul Islam lamented. He complained that a number of genuine voters, including he, were prevented from casting vote and their names were removed from the electoral roll. “Everything was hijacked”, he alleged. According to him, even the officers of Police and Revenue departments cast votes.

“A large number of bogus voters were incorporated in the list and allowed to cast vote. They included about 150 members from district bars who have been admitted as voters only on account of their loyalty and liaison to a former HCBA functionary. Many of those, who are not practicing lawyers and members of HCBA, were allowed to cast vote. They included an editor of a local Urdu daily besides a spokesman of a politico-religious organisation. I don’t want to name them as both are my good friends”, Shahidul Islam asserted. He claimed that he had completed his LL B from University of Kashmir in 1988-89, got himself registered as a legal practitioner and obtained Advocates License No: 2041/89 from the competent authority.

Nobody from HCBA could be reached for comment over telephone. However, a couple of HCBA members argued on condition of anonymity that despite having obtained license in 1989, Shahidul Islam had never practiced law in any court and thus he was not entitled to being a member of HCBA or a voter for the elections. “He practiced different things but not law”, said one of them. He claimed that the elections were held in a transparent and democratic manner under the supervision of a senior advocate who had been duly appointed as Election Commissioner by the HCBA Governing Body. “Why doesn’t he name the Police and Revenue officers who, according to him, cast votes?” he asked.

Shahidul Islam admitted that he had not worked as full-time legal practitioner but asked: “Those having completed Bachelors in Law through correspondence course are not qualified to become HCBA’s members or voters. Isn’t it a fact that a number of such individuals did cast vote in the elections on Thursday last?” He claimed that, until last year, he had voted in all the HCBA elections and nobody had ever objected to his enrolment as a voter. According to him, bogus voting took place in order to ensure victory for a particular candidate faithful to a former Bar chief.

In the annual elections held last week, senior advocate Zaffar Qureishi defeated Mirwaiz loyalist advocate Nazir Ahmad Ronga as President of HCBA with a margin of 104 votes. Mohammad Ashraf Bhat was elected as General Secretary, defeating advocate Ghulam Nabi Shaheen. Advocate Aijaz Ahmad Bedar was elected as Vice President.