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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Nirmal, Naeem hold meeting with 7 NIT students

Ministers don’t face Press; media barred from entering fortified NIT; students take out candle march

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, April 8: Two Ministers of Mehbooba Mufti’s government---Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh of BJP and Education Minister Naeem Akhtar of PDP---on Friday held their first meeting with the restive students of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) even as they were advised by the Government against visiting the campus and a small group of seven students was ferried for the meeting all the way from Hazratbal to Civil Lines in the summer capital of Srinagar.

A number of the leaders of the BJP leaders, including Ministers, had planned to visit Srinagar while as the union Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani was still assessing the situation when top J&K government functionaries pleaded with the Centre on Thursday that such visits could “vitiate the atmosphere further”, well-placed sources said. They said that J&K Director General of Police, K Rajendra Kumar, spoke to senior officials of the union Ministry of Home Affairs and made it clear that the politicians’ visits and potentially rhetorical speeches and statement could delay return of peace at the campus.

The DGP, according to the sources, warned the Central authorities that the politicians’ statements could evoke reactions from the momentarily mute Kashmir valley and the trouble could spill over to the nearby University of Kashmir and several colleges. As a consequence of New Delhi’s directives, Deputy Chief Minister, who had by then arrived in Srinagar, was diverted to an unscheduled meeting with officers of Power Development Department. Besides, two BJP MLCs, Ramesh Arora and Sunil Ambardar, were directed to cancel their programme.

According to sources, J&K Police provided video footage of the students purportedly assaulting the officers and resorting to heavy stone pelting on Police besides damaging the College properties.

Mehbooba Mufti’s Government also succeeded in convincing the Centre that the students’ interaction with media could multiply the tension. Consequently, none of the mediapersons, not even the crews flown in from New Delhi, were permitted to meet the students.

On the campus, the students from different Indian States, who have boycotted the classes, gathered in the evening and they staged a march while carrying candles to press their demands. Their demands included withdrawal of the two FIRs registered against them at Police Station Nigeen, permitting them to meet with the Press, restoration of Internet and wi-fi facilities at the campus besides action against the Policemen involved in the April 5th lathi charge on them, replacement of J&K Police with CRPF, migration of the students to other NITs and an assurance that the faculty would not harass them or reduce their ratings in the examinations.

In the wake of hectic developments, authorities decided to ferry a group of six male students and a female student in a CRPF-protected vehicle to Dy CM’s residence at Bunglaow No: 5, Maulana Azad Road. The meeting with Dr Singh and Naeem Akhtar was also joined by Chairman Board of Governors M.J. Zarabi and Director NIT Rajesh Gupta.

After the two-hour-long meeting concluded, the students were taken out from the Banquet Hall exit so as to ensure that they were not spotted by the media outside. Naeem Akhar drove straight to his official residence, Bungalow M-I, Gupkar Road while as Zarabi and Gupta left for NIT. None of them slowed down for an interaction with media.

Since the Government continued to remain tightlipped, nobody had inkling as to what transpired in the meeting.


[Published in today's STATE TIMES]

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Senior journalist, top businessman failed to protect Altaf Bukhari’s seat

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, April 6: Businessman-turned-politician Syed Altaf Bukhari, who functioned as Minister of Works in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Cabinet for 10 months, failed to protect his seat in Mehbooba Mufti’s Council of Ministers even as he employed some of his most influential friends and patrons to pacify the PDP President who was reportedly “shocked” to learn that her father’s confidantes had collaborated with some BJP leaders at the Centre to stage a coup and form the government without her.

Highly placed political sources of the ruling coalition disclosed to STATE TIMES on Tuesday that over a dozen of “extremely influential persons” tried their best to force Ms Mufti to change her mind of dropping Bukhari who is known to have maintained liaison with all the enemies of National Conference, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah since 1980s. It was Bukhari and his businessman father Syed Iqbal Bukhari who played a key role in engineering defection in NC in 1984, toppling Farooq Abdullah’s government and installing Ghulam Mohammad Shah as Chief Minister with the support of Congress.

Altaf Bukhari, the pesticide king who has huge stake in export of apple juice concentrate and dry fruit, is widely known to have managed PDP’s finances even before formally joining the party as Joint Secretary in 2008. Children of Bukhari and senior PDP leader Mohammad Dilawar Mir, who has served several times as Minister, are married to each other.

Source’s in the top rungs of the political establishment revealed that the last-ditch attempt to protect Bukhari’s Ministerial berth were assigned to two of his trusted friends rated to be the most influential in Jammu and Kashmir. One of them is a journalist and another runs a chain of hotels in Srinagar, Jammu and New Delhi in addition to a major business complex in Srinagar. The well-mannered businessman is known for his proximity to top politicians of different political parties and a number of judicial officers having functioned as Judges and Chief Justices of different High Courts.

“Madam put her foot down. She told them both that she would not change her mind under any pressure. She told them that she would not have anybody as Minister in her Cabinet who has backstabbed her or the party. They returned empty-handed. So it was more than clear to Altaf Sahab that he would not be inducted in her Council of Ministers”, said a source.

Bukhari, in a few interviews, has admitted to have been in touch with the BJP leadership in New Delhi but maintained that Ms Mufti was aware of it and his only objective was “to avoid another Assembly election”.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Over 20 NIT Srinagar students injured in lathi charge by Police

CRPF deployed, MHRD team flying from Delhi, Bandh call in Jammu



SRINAGAR/JAMMU: Over 20 non-Kashmiri students of National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, on Tuesday sustained injuries and fractures when Police struck on them with lathi charge as they were shouting pro-India slogans and carrying the national flag in an attempt to stage a march on the Hazratbal Road, in close vicinity of the University of Kashmir.

Till late on Tuesday night, Government did not issue any statement on the situation at NIT Srinagar as reports and rumours spread fast, suggesting that a large number of the students had suffered serious injuries and fractures in the Police action. It was only at 11.23 pm that Kashmir Zonal Police headquarters issued a press release.

“Today evening about 500 students of the NIT Srinagar in shape of mob carrying banners displaying their demands tried to take out a march and reached the main gate on the main road. They tried to come out on the main road. The Police deployment stopped them from doing so and told them to move back. The mob of students resorted to violence by assaulting the policemen including officers and started stone pelting. This resulted in damage to public property. The deployment chased the mob and in this melee some of the students got injured who were given first aid”, said the Police statement.

According to the press release, Police have registered case FIR no: 45 at Police Station Nigeen against the students and investigation has begun. “Situation has been brought under control. Senior police officers visited the spot and are monitoring the situation”, it added.

Independent sources maintained that “over 20” students sustained injuries. They were rushed to different hospitals for treatment. Some of them were treated at the NIT’s own medical facility at the campus.

SSP Srinagar Amit Kumar told STATE TIMES on telephone that the situation had been brought under control with a “mild lathi charge”. He said that over 300 students gathered at the campus in the evening. While shouting slogans and carrying banners and placards, they attempted to go out and stage a march on the road. “It would have evoked a violent reaction. They pushed a Dy SP and others and tried to go out forcibly. Thereupon we used mild lathi charge”, SSP said.

SSP Srinagar claimed that the unruly students pelted stones and damaged the public properties. He did not give exact number of the injured students and maintained that the Police did not know it as they had been treated at NIT’s own medical facility inside the campus.

Officers at Srinagar’s Bone & Joint Hospital said that four students with multiple injuries and fractures were under treatment there. They identified them as Akash Kumar of Patna, Ghansham of Rajasthan, Hafiz of Samba Jammu and Shubhang of Delhi. They said that all the four were stable.

Late night reports said that CRPF was deployed along with J&K Police and restrictions were imposed on movement of the students.

On Friday last, clashes and demonstrations had occurred at the NIT campus following India’s defeat in the T20 cricket match with West Indies on Thursday. Reports said that the clashes erupted when the Kashmiri students began celebrating India’s defeat and the non-Kashmiri students, who constitute over 70% of the roll of the trainees, staged pro-India demonstrations and marched while carrying a national flag.

Even as NIT was closed down for two days, it was opened on the assurance of Police for academic activity on Monday. However, the trouble started when students of 3rd semester did not attend classes and a large number of the students attempted to take out a march in the evening.

Following fresh tension, a high level team of MHRD is rushing to Srinagar on Wednesday morning to defuse the tension and to listen to the grievances of the non-local students. According to official sources the MHRD team, which was earlier scheduled to visit on April 11, decided to visit the volatile campus on April 6 to defuse the unrest.

A group of non-local students wanted to leave the NIT premises and return to their home states, saying they were "not feeling safe" inside the campus, a police official said.

In Delhi, HRD ministry officials said they were in touch with the management of the institute and the Director of the NIT had spoken to the students so that normalcy would be restored.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called up Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and discussed with her the situation at NIT Srinagar. "Spoke to J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti ji regarding situation in NIT, Srinagar. She has assured me to look into the issue and take immediate action (sic)," Singh tweeted.

Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh asserted that police had to resort to mild lathi charge to prevent students from moving out of the campus to meet media persons. "We assure security to the students of various states of the country studying in NIT Srinagar. Additional security of CRPF has been deployed at the campus," Nirmal Singh said.

Singh, who along with Minister of State (MoS) Education Priya Sethi, talked to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, DGP K Rajendra and Director NIT, said: "All measures are being taken by the administration of the NIT to instil confidence among these students and the issues raised by them are being resolved."

"We take responsibility all the students of the country studying in NIT. We have put in place all the measures," he said, adding that they are demanding security and postponement of exams. Director of NIT has said that the demands have been accepted.

"I appeal to the students to call on my number 09419149494 in case they have any problems on any front particularly on the security. We will look into that," Deputy Chief Minister added. "We assure the parents of these students that all measures have been taken for the safety of students," he said.

Meanwhile,  Shri Ram Sena, state president Rajiv Mahajan strongly condemned the incident of NIT Srinagar in which J&K Police cops brutally hit the students with rifle butts  Mahajan said it is very shameful and shocking act we will not tolerate such brutal attacks on innocent students. Mahajan urged to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to intervene in this matter immediately and take stern action against the culprits.

Rajiv Mahajan also gave a call for ‘Jammu bandh’ on Thursday 7th of April 2016. He further appealed to all political parties and social organizations to support the complete Jammu Bandh to teach them lesson that such incidents will not happen in future which can lead to communal riots.
Rajiv Mahajan also appealed to all citizens of Jammu and Kashmir to maintain peace and brotherhood.


[Published in today’s STATE TIMES]

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mehbooba Mufti sworn in as Chief Minister

With two slots vacant, Council of Ministers balanced as per BJP’s demand

Karra boycotts Mehbooba’s oath-taking, protests Naeem’s and Drabu’s induction

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, April 4: Ending nearly three-month-long Governor’s rule following her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7, Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti was on Monday sworn in as the 13th Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and head of the second PDP-BJP coalition, alongwith 22 members of her Council of Ministers at a low-key function at Raj Bhawan.

Even as nearly 1,400 guests, mostly leaders and activists of the two ruling parties, attended the swearing-in ceremony, very few of the prominent leaders were conspicuous by their presence. They included former Chief Ministers Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, even as all other National Conference (NC) leaders---with exception of Nazir Ahmad Gurezi, were absent and Congress boycotted the event to register its protest against the BJP regime’s treatment of the recent political crises in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Leaders of National Panthers Party were also absent. However, legislators of both the coalition parties participated in the swearing-in ceremony.

Low-key event

Contrary to Mufti Sayeed’s oath-taking on March 1, 2015, when a galaxy of the BJP leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, made it a high-profile event, the entourage from the Centre on Monday was limited to only three union Ministers---Venkaiah Naidu, Harsimrat Kour and Dr Jitendra Singh---besides BJP’s National General Secretary Ram Madhav. Senior television journalist Rajat Sharma accompanied Ms Kour.

Governor Narendra Nath Vohra administered oath of office and secrecy to 56-year-old Mehbooba Mufti at 11.00 a.m. when the Central leaders were still on way to Raj Bhawan. She took oath in Urdu. From the PDP side, all but Haseeb Drabu and Basharat Bukhari opted to take oath in Urdu. While as Drabu chose English, Bukhari took oath in chaste Kashmiri. On the other hand, all BJP nominees, except Abdul Gani Kohli, Chering Dorjay, Lal Singh and Sajjad Lone, took oath in Hindi. While as Lal Singh read out the script in Dogri, Kohli, Lone and Dorjay took oath in English.

Equal share

As compared to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s team of 25 Ministers---which had 11 Cabinet Ministers (including CM) from PDP and 8 Cabinet Ministers from BJP side, besides 3 each Ministers of State from PDP and BJP---Governor inducted 8 each Cabinet Ministers of PDP and BJP besides the CM. He also inducted 3 each of PDP and BJP as Ministers of Sate, leaving two slots vacant. With this BJP has significantly realised its objective of having equal number of Ministers, as that of PDP, in the Council of Ministers. Now both the parties have 8 each Cabinet Ministers and 3 each Ministers of State in the Council, besides the CM who is from PDP.

BJP activists sounded jubilant that the “anomaly” stood removed with the induction of 11 each Ministers from PDP and BJP. However, the PDP leaders insisted that Ms Mufti would induct two more of the PDP’s Ministers in her Cabinet “at an appropriate time”. They refused to accept that Ms Mufti had surrendered two of her Cabinet berths.

6 Mufti Ministers dropped

 In a significant development, six of Mufti Sayeed’s Ministers---4 from PDP and 2 from BJP---were not inducted in Mehbooba’s Council of Ministers. Mehbooba dropped high-profile Minister of Works in Sayeed’s Cabinet and longtime manager of PDP’s finances Syed Altaf Bukhari, Minister of Revenue in Sayeed’s Cabinet Javed Mustafa Mir besides Ministers of State Abdul Majid Paddar and Mohammad Ashraf Mir. BJP dropped Minister of Irrigation in Sayeed’s Cabinet Sukhnandan Kumar and the former Minister of State (Finance) Pawan Gupta.

Son of the senior BJP late Lala Shiv Charan Gupta, Pawan Gupta had associated himself with BJP after turning a rebel, contesting as an Independent candidate and defeating BJP’s official candidate in Udhampur in 2014 Assembly elections. He was a favourite of Rajnath Singh-led BJP but Amit Shah’s team did not grant him ticket.

4 new faces inducted

Even as PDP did not induct any new face in the Cabinet, BJP introduced MLA Suchetgarh Sham Lal Choudhary in place of Sukhnandan Kumar in the Cabinet. BJP repeated two of its MOSs Sunil Sharma and Priya Sethi and replaced Pawan Gupta with MLA Reasi Ajay Nanda.

 Of the three of Sayeed’s MOSs, PDP repeated only Asiea Naqash, MLA from Hazratbal and the Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha member Tariq Hamid Karra’s sister-in-law. It replaced Abdul Majid Paddar and Mohammad Ashraf Mir with Syed Farooq Andrabi and Zahoor Ahmad Mir. Andrabi, who defeated J&K Pradesh Congress Committee President and former Minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir in Dooru segment of Anantnag district, happens to be a close relative of Ms Mufti. Zahoor Mir, whose father Abdul Aziz Mir, then MLA Pampore, was gunned down by militants in 2002, has won all Assembly elections in Pampore since 2002-03.

Tariq Karra’s boycott

In another significant development, PDP’s founder member and incumbent Lok Sabha member from Central Kashmir, Tariq Hamid Karra, boycotted Mehbooba Mufti’s swearing-in ceremony. He said that with his boycott he was registering his protest against the induction of three of the PDP’s leaders---Altaf Bukhari, Naeem Akhtar and Haseeb Drabu. Bukhari was dropped but Naeem Akhtar and Drabu were both repeated by Ms Mufti. Karra alleged that that the high profile PDP troika were responsible for “failure” of Mufti Sayeed’s government and that they had secretly collaborated with the Centre in causing a split in the party.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

With RSS calling shots, Kohli may have to clear out for Khajuria

BJP may replace 2 Cabinet Ministers, 2 Ministers of State in Mehbooba Govt

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, April 2: With the RSS calling shots in selection of Ministers and distribution of portfolios of the BJP quota in Mehbooba Mufti’s Government, at least four Ministers of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Council of Ministers are likely to be replaced during formation of the new PDP-BJP coalition on Monday.

Unlike in February 2015, when BJP leaders like President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held the charge directly, this time around the task of the Cabinet formation and distribution of portfolios has been entrusted to the party’s ideological arm RSS. Even as the senior BJP leader and union Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley has virtually replaced General Secretary and RSS organisational representative Ram Madhav in the decision making with regard to alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagpur is holding key to constitution of Mehbooba’s Cabinet.

Parallel to Friday’s visible deliberations at the former Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh’s residence, and BJP’s two-day Executive meet that began on Saturday, hectic activity is underway for selection of BJP’s new team of Ministers and allocation of portfolios from Jammu to New Delhi.

According to the insiders, BJP leaders’ formal get-together at Nirmal Singh’s home on Friday evening was followed by a closed-door meeting attended by Ram Madhav, BJP’s J&K President Sat Sharma, Nirmal Singh, BJP’s J&K General Secretary and RSS organisational representative Ashok Kaul and senior RSS Pracharak Ramesh Pappa. It formulated a list of 10 would-be Cabinet Ministers. It decided to drop two of the three Ministers of State and shortlisted 5 names for the three berths in the lower tier of the Council of Ministers.

Well placed political sources revealed to STATE TIMES that the final trimming of the list was done thereafter by the three-member RSS panel comprising Ashok Kaul, RSS General Secretary Purshottam Dadeechi and Ramesh Pappa. “After clearance at various levels in New Delhi and Nagpur, the list would be forwarded to Governor Vohra in the afternoon on Sunday”, said a source.

Even as Ms Mufti is understood to have put her foot down and resisted BJP’s efforts to “balance the Cabinet proportion”---euphemism for having 9 each Ministers of PDP and BJP sides in the Cabinet---sources insist that the BJP-RSS rendezvous prepared a list of 10 names for the Cabinet. It included all the eight Cabinet Ministers of Mufti Government, including the associate member Sajjad Lone, plus senior BJP leader and MLC Ashok Khajuria and MLA Suchetgarh Sham Lal Choudhary.

“If BJP fails to get one or two additional berths in the Cabinet, (former Minister incharge Transport) Abdul Gani Kohli may have to clear out for Ashok Khajuria. This has been decided by the RSS panel. Among the MOSs, Pawan Gupta and Priya Sethi are likely to be dropped for inclusion of two new faces”, said a highly placed source. According to him, prospects of the former Irrigation Minister Sukhnandan Kumar and former Health Minister Lal Singh are only “fifty-fifty”.

In Mufti Sayeed’s Cabinet, the BJP team comprised Nirmal Singh (Deputy Chief Minister), Lal Singh, Bali Bhagat, Sukhnandan Kumar, Chander Prakash Ganga, Abdul Gani Kohli and Tsering Dorjay besides the BJP ally Sajjad Lone. With continuation of Lone, BJP is not under considerable pressure to retain its own Muslim face Kohli who was the only of its Muslim candidates returned in 2014. Charges of misuse of official position and indulgence in corruption against four former Ministers of BJP are also influencing constitution of the new team.

One of the senior leaders of BJP, Khajuria has served the party since long and he enjoys his long time RSS linkage. Sham Choudhary is also said to be the favourite of some men of consequence in BJP and RSS.

If the sources are to be believed, MLA Kishtwar Sunil Sharma is the only MOS of BJP side who will be retained. While Priya Sethi, according to sources, was being considered for an important party position, BJP could dispense with its Udhampur rebel Pawan Gupta who had contested and won the Assembly election of 2014 against the BJP’s official candidate. MLA Ram Nagar R.S. Pathania, MLA Kathua Rajiv Jasrotia, MLA Reasi Ajay Nanda and MLA Doda Shakti Parihar are being strongly supported for the two replacements of Mrs Sethi and Mr Gupta.

According to these sources, BJP side could affect a major reshuffle of its portfolios in both tiers of the Council of Ministers. This is likely to be finalised by Sunday evening.

As of new, there is no strong indication of a replacement of Minister from the PDP side, though well-placed sources insist that certain key portfolios would change.

[Published in today's STATE TIMES]