When Naeem Akhtar and 4 others were dismissed for being ‘threat to India’s security, sovereignty and integrity’
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR, Oct 21: With the volcanic eruption of armed insurgency, coupled with a separatist political movement, the administrative machinery was falling brick by brick January through March in 1990. Hundreds of thousands—and once a full million—of the Kashmiris used to march to the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan at Sonwar, demanding separation from India and implementation of the UN resolutions on Plebiscite.
Suddenly the separatist movement received a shot in the arm when senior IAS officers, including the stalwarts Hindal Haider Tayyabji, Ashok Jaitley, M.L, Kaul and Mohammad Shafi Pandit, signed and issued an appeal to the UN to intervene and stop human rights abuse by security forces in the Valley. Historic political developments took place when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was Prime Minister, Mufti Mohammad Union Home Minister and Jammu and Kashmir was under Governor’s, followed by President’s rule, in 1990. Many of Kashmir’s bureaucrats besides civil and Police officers became part and parcel of the secessionist movement.
Deputy Commissioner Excise Naeem Akhtar’s official residence at Government Quarter No: J-22 became the postal address of the movement as almost all the separatist politicians had been detained and lodged in different jails outside the Valley. Trade unions merged into a coordination committee which chose former Chief Engineer of Power Development Department Abdul Hamid Matoo as its President and Muzaffar Ahmad Khan as General Secretary.
Senior KAS officers like Muzaffar Ahmad Khan, then RTO Kashmir and General Manager with J&K Bank, Abdul Rashid Mubarki, additional Secretary Khizar Mohammad Wani and other prominent faces of the Kashmir Administrative Service came to be seen as the “real representatives of the Kashmir cause and sentiment”.
In months of the IAS officers’ memorandum, around 250 J&K officers, many of them between the ranks of Deputy Secretary to Commissioner-Secretary, issued another passionate appeal to the ‘Citizens of the World’. Believed to have been drafted by Akhtar in his Queen’s English, it called for Plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir under the UN resolution — euphemism for Kashmir’s secession from India and accession to Pakistan. The Kashmiris named it ‘Azadi’. It created ripples in India and abroad.
Governor Girish Chander Saxena declared five senior and influential officers — Abdul Hamid Matoo, Naeem Akhar, A.R. Mubarki, Abdul Salam Bhat and Muzaffar Ahmad Khan — as threat to the State’s security, sovereignty and integrity and ordered their dismissal from service. Within an hour, the dismissed officers and their colleagues, holding key positions in the Government, held a meeting at Akhtar’s official residence in Jawahar Nagar. The coordination committee called for an indefinite strike, making a host of demands. Not one was conceded by Saxena’s government.
The 72-day-long employees’ strike, that started on September 15, 1990, crippled the services in Kashmir. On behalf of Governor Saxena, Advisor (Home) Mehmood Ahmad Zaki (who later retired as GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps of Army) and Additional Chief Secretary Home Mehmood-ur-Rehman called on senior IAS officer Sheikh Ghulam Rasool (then Financial Commissioner Revenue, who was emerging as potential contender for the coveted position of Chief Secretary) and asked him to use his good offices to resolve the crisis.
There was no breakthrough till VP Singh’s regime ended and Chander Shekhar took over as Prime Minister on November 10. Governor Saxena and Chief Secretary R.K. Takkar did strongly refuse to revoke the five officers’ dismissal and their reinstatement.
President of the coordination committee Matoo had earlier played a key role in persuading the legendary Policeman and retired Director General of Police Ghulam Hassan Shah against accepting Jagmohan’s offer of appointment as Advisor to Governor. Shah did not join Jagmohan’s government even as the order of his appointment was reportedly issued after seeking his consent. Matoo’s daughter was married to Shah’s son.
One day in October, days before the annual Durbar Move, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool called over 50 officers to his Sonwar residence and urged them to bring home to Matoo, Naeem and others that shutting down entire services and systems could lead to miseries of the common people and poor employees, making it hard for them to sustain the agitation. Even the pharmacies and ration depots had not been exempted from the strike.
It was decided in the meeting that three officers — Ghulam Abbas (DC Srinagar), Aijaz Ahmad Malik (PCCF) and Ghulam Ahmad Lone (Law Secretary) — would meet the employees coordination committee members at Matoo’s residence near Al-Farooq Masjid in Jawahar Nagar.
On their return from Matoo’s house, the three senior officers narrated to Sheikh Ghulam Rasool that the coordination committee members were “extremely discourteous and rude”. “Sir, they treated us as traitors of the Kashmir cause and agents of the Government of India. They alleged that we are hobnobbing with Governor to fail the freedom struggle. Naeem said what nonsense of ration are you talking about. Kashmiris want freedom”, one of the them told Rasool.
“Sir we made it clear to them that Abbas Sahab is here in his personal capacity, not as DC Srinagar, so are two of us. We conveyed to them Zaki Sahab’s and Rehman Sahab’s assurance that they would be reinstated immediately after they call off the strike. But they didn’t relent. They addressed us as if they were the Governors and Chief Ministers and we were the class 4th employees”, another officer told Rasool.
Commissioner Secretary ARI & Training Nazir Ahmad Kamili told Rasool that he and some other officers had also received threats on phone. “They posed as militants but we are sure they were our own colleagues trying to intimidate us”, Kamili said.
The matter didn’t end there. Matoo and his team in their speeches at Srinagar Municipality and other places alleged that some officers were out on the mission of failing the employees’ strike and the freedom struggle. Then only functional newspaper, late Mohammad Yousuf Qadri’s Afaaq, carried a story on such whispers. It was decided in Rasool’s meeting with the officers that three officers would go to editor of Afaaq and publish a statement about their failure to convince the coordination committee members on suspending the strike. “If all of them want to carry on, we will say that we too are with it”, said Sheikh and others.
A group of three officers was deputed to Qadri Sahab. They boarded the red-cross marked vehicle of Director Health Services and handed over their “clarification” to the editor’s son, Jeelani Qadiri, at his office near Abi Guzar. Jeelani agreed to publish but told the officers that he would need his father’s approval as it was a “sensitive matter”. Soon the trio arrived at the editor’s home in Balgarden.
Director Health Services Dr Muzaffar-uz-Zamaan Drabu, who lived in Karan Nagar neighbourhood, went in to meet Qadiri Sahab who obliged the officer. While he was still with Qadiri Sahab, some residents gathered around the vehicle and asked its driver about the officers meeting the editor. As he narrated everything with naiveté and honesty, the small group of residents began saying loudly that someone should make an announcement on the mosque’s PAS that the “traitors” were meeting Qadri Sahab. Someone was heard saying that they should set the vehicle on fire and beat up the “traitors”. Law Secretary Lone, who was inside the vehicle, turned pale.
However, as the motley gathering of the residents witnessed Dr Drabu emerging out of the editor’s home, they saluted him. He made it clear to them that none of the officers was working against the interests of the Kashmiris or the employees’ strike.
Immediately after VP Singh’s and Mufti Sayeed’s government at the Centre ended and Chander Shekhar took over as Prime Minister, senior National Conference leaders Dr Farooq Abdullah and Prof Saifuddin Soz persuaded him to withdraw the dismissal of the five Kashmiri officers as a “goodwill gesture”. They assured the new PM that it could initiate a process of resolving the crisis by understanding and dialogue. On November 26 the employees’ strike was called off as Saxena, on PM’s instruction, revoked the dismissal orders.
Among the reinstated officers and bureaucrats, Abdul Salam Bhat later functioned as DC in Udhampur and Srinagar, Muzaffar Khan headed several departments including Handicrafts and Estates before his retirement. Naeem Akhtar functioned as Secretary Tourism before holding a tenure as Secretary to Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed. For some time, when R.K. Jerath was on leave, Akhatr also held charge of the key portfolio of General Administration Department. Ultimately, in 2013 he became PDP’s Member in Legislative Council and in 2015 Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed inducted him as Minister of Education. He retained his berth and portfolio in Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet in 2016.
[Published in today's STATE TIMES]
[Published in today's STATE TIMES]