Speaker’s 3 statements in 3 hours make CM’s position more awkward
BJP high command wants Mehbooba to make ‘clarification’; no official release from Assembly Secretariat, Information Department
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Jan 31: Speaker Kavinder Gupta’s treatment to Chief Minister’s speech in Assembly, in reaction to the BJP MLA Rajiv Jasrotia’s objection to a part of her statement, has obviously made Ms Mehbooba Mufti’s position awkward in the State Legislature as well as the Government. The first casualty on Tuesday became a scheduled Cabinet meeting which was cancelled even after circulation of the agenda.
In her key speech on the grants of her departments, Mehbooba had, for the first time during PDP’s coalition with the BJP, labelled the votaries of the abrogation of Article 370 as “anti-national”. According to her it was the “biggest anti-national act” to seek abrogation of Article 370 that grants special status to J&K in the Constitution of India and serves as a link between the State and the Centre.
With elections in some crucial States drawing nearer, Mehbooba’s remarks are understood to have come as a major embarrassment for the BJP. Since decades, BJP has been the key sponsor of the movement for abrogation of Article 370. It is also alleged to be behind two writ petitions against the State flag and Article 35-A. Apparently under the instructions of his party high command, Jasrotia sought expunction of CM’s “anti-national” remarks, asserting that the BJP, the erstwhile Jan Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mookerji and the MLA’s own family had struggled and given sacrifices for abrogation of Article 370.
“How could we all be anti-national?” Jasrotia asked on the floor of the Assembly. He urged Speaker to order deletion of CM’s remarks. Speaker responded to him favourably and said that if there was anything anti-national in CM’s speech that would be expunged. With this, Speaker stirred a cornets nest as the entire Opposition, led by National Conference MLA and acting President and the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, created a ruckus. They said it was for the first time that a Speaker had expunged a CM’s remarks and it would tantamount to a motion of no-confidence against the CM.
The House was adjourned by the Speaker for three times as the Opposition demanded the “official position” of the Government. It pressed to know whether the CM had exceeded her brief or the Speaker was wrong in ordering the expunction.
On the second occasion, Speaker said he would check the records and see if there was anything objectionable in CM's speech. On the third occasion, he claimed that he had not expunged anything from CM’s speech. He, however, added that Chief Minister herself needed to make necessary clarification. With nobody from PDP speaking on behalf of the absent CM, opposition maintained its ruckus and Speaker ordered another adjournment.
Even as a barrage of news stories asserted that Speaker’s action had triggered a storm in the coalition, mediapersons did not receive any clarification or official press release on this development either from Assembly Secretariat or from Department of Information of the State Government. With the Assembly being in session, such a statement or clarification from any other forum was unlikely.
Well-placed political sources disclosed to STATE TIMES that a section of the BJP high command was “pretty unhappy” over Ms Mufti’s label of “anti-nationals” on her coalition partners. Without speaking to Ms Mufti, important BJP leaders at the Centre established contact with the State party leaders and asked them to seek a clarification from Chief Miniter. They made clear that Ms Mufti should withdraw her phrase of “anti-national” that had made BJP’s position awkward in several States preparing for Assembly elections.
However, Ms Mufti, according to sources, declined to make any statement or clarification pleading that it would erode her credibility and make the already hostile ground harder for her party in the Valley. “We can’t be seen as making surrender after surrender to the BJP. We are already in the eye of a storm and the Panchayat and Lok Sabha by-elections in Kashmir are not far away”, said a senior PDP leader.
With no clarification pouring in from Department of Information, the PDP leader claimed to STATE TIMES that today’s Cabinet meeting was cancelled only because of the Speaker’s “uncharitable action” and the BJP building a stand for abrogation of Article 370. He said that notwithstanding the discomfiture, some leaders in both the parties were in favour of playing down today’s developments. “We are told that the BJP has barred its vociferous MLAs, including Ravinder Raina and Rajeev Jasrotia from making any statement to the Press.
Towards the last moments of Tuesday’s mayhem, Speaker came out with the third statement. This time around he claimed that he had not ordered any expunction of CM’s speech. “Let her make a clarification”, Speaker said. However, rather than going to the Assembly, Chief Minister, who was in her office, drove straight to PDP’s Jammu office in Gandhi Nagar to attend a party function.
The problem for the coalition is that both, Ms Mufti’s speech as well as Speaker’s verbal order over Jasrotia’s demand, have been recorded on over 30 cameras. Reports indicate that the Opposition would again on Wednesday rake up the issue and press hard for PDP’s and BJP’s clarifications.