Afzal to Yousuf: Something rotten in the state of Kashmir
by Hari Om on 07 Oct 2011 1 Comment

The Kashmir-centric National Conference (NC) is in serious trouble. Its top leadership is under sharp attack and it is unlikely to withstand the opposition’s concerted attack. Indeed, since September 26, when the 9-day-long Assembly session started, the NC leadership, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, acted unwisely, giving the opposition endless opportunity to corner it and tell the public that the NC-Congress coalition is unfit to govern. 


The NC mishandled the issue of Afzal Guru, convicted in the Parliament attack case, and landed in a pit. It committed another blunder when the Assembly Secretariat accepted a private member’s bill seeking clemency for Guru. At that time, the NC think-tanks probably believed that discussion and adoption of the private member’s bill would enable them to isolate the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and capture its political space in the Valley.


But the NC leadership did not anticipate that acceptance of the highly controversial bill could boomerang, which is what happened. It could save the chair only after working out a strategy with the Congress party, which strategy only exposed both parties. Their joint strategy not only lowered the sanctity of the Assembly but backfired in the sense that the people of the state in general and Kashmir Valley in particular, came to believe that the NC, like the Congress, could go to any extent to retain state power and is a party that cannot be trusted.


As for the strategy that National Conference-Congress prepared to ensure collapse of the private member’s bill even before it was tabled on the floor of the House, the less said the better. Suffice it to say that the Congress ministers and MLAs converted the Assembly into a fish market with the Chief Minister and NC ministers and MLAs enjoying the pandemonium. No attempt was made to rein in the unruly legislators. They shamed themselves and the regime for two days and made the Assembly dysfunctional. No business could be transacted.


These machinations saved the government, but in the process the NC-Congress coalition lost its moral authority to rule. The strategy was not based on ethics, but petty diversion. It targeted the BJP by demanding the resignation of the seven BJP MLAs who had cross-voted in April this year, knowing well that the Speaker was not in a position to disqualify them as the matter was pending before the State High Court. That the Congress targeted the poor BJP MLAs to scuttle discussion on the controversial private member’s bill only exposed the ruling coalition and further tarnished its image in the eyes of the people (read its communal constituency in Kashmir).    


Of course, the shrewd PDP remained indifferent to the moves to ensure collapse of the bill, but the ultimate losers were National Conference-Congress. Of course, the PDP’s main target was the NC and not the Congress, because PDP has been thinking of shaking hands with Congress in the belief that the next elections in the state would see the NC biting dust. This is a valid view, as Congress, which has changed friends umpteen times in the past for the sake of power, has, like the PDP, also kept its doors open. Congress is known for dumping those who do not remain useful.


As if the Assembly drama of September 28 and 29 was not damage enough, the mysterious death of NC worker Haji Syed Mohammad Yousuf immediately after he visited the Chief Minister’s residence transformed the atmosphere in the state, particularly in the Kashmir Valley, with the Chief Minister, his father Farooq Abdullah, Political Advisor to the Chief Minister Devinder Singh Rana and Minister of State for Home Affairs Nasir Aslam Wani (Sogami) coming under severe criticism.


Yousuf’s death was no simple matter. He was known to be very close to the NC president Farooq Abdullah and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah – a person who, according to his family members, was quite hale and hearty.


Barely a few hours before his death, Yousuf had been interrogated/grilled by the Chief Minister and his junior Nasir Aslam Wani for allegedly collecting a huge sum of money from two other party workers, promising that one would be accommodated in the council of ministers and also made an MLC, and the other would be made an MLC. Yousuf had reportedly collected the money in the name of the party and given some amount to the NC president.


Omar Abdullah tried to settle the issue himself at his official residence, instead of handing over the case to the police. When he failed, he handed the accused over to the Crime Branch, saying the matter was very serious. “Not reporting a crime to the police is also a crime,” said senior PDP leader and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig.) After 14 hours, news spread like wildfire that Yousuf had died in the hospital. An impression was created that he died of heart attack.


Everything is now in the public domain. Family members of the late Yousuf rubbish the heart attack theory and insist he was tortured in the Chief Minister’s official residence; they demand a CBI probe. They claim that the IGP and Crime Branch officials told them that “whatever happened to him (Yousuf) happened at the Chief Minister’s residence.” They have gone so far as to accuse the Chief Minister and Minister of State for Home Affairs of eliminating Yousuf as he knew too much about the “Abdullah family”. What is the truth?


Only the Chief Minister, his father, his junior, his political advisor, and the IG, Crime Branch, know the truth. People would also learn the truth after the matter is probed properly; it is only a matter of time.


What is undeniable is that the circumstantial evidence and sequence of events point needles of suspicion towards the Chief Minister and others who were there at his residence when Yousuf was grilled/interrogated and subsequently handed over to the Crime Branch.


The PDP naturally seized the opportunity to consolidate and expand its support-base in Kashmir, and directly accused Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and Nasir Aslam Wani of hatching a conspiracy to eliminate Yousuf so that they could “hide the truth”. It unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign to convince the people that “there is rot; there is corruption within the government and in the system”; that “there is corruption within the Abdullah family” and that the root cause behind the murder was “illegal transactions and illegal gratification” as well as the fact that “Yousuf knew much more”.


For two days, October 3 and 4, the PDP exploited the issue in and outside the Assembly and so alarmed the NC circles that they refused to accept the suggestion that the House discuss the circumstances leading to Yousuf’s death before transacting any other business. Instead, for two days the Speaker used all kinds of invectives and epithets against a senior PDP leader and MLA, provoking the MLA to hurl a fan towards the Speaker. It was shameful.


On October 3, the House could not function because of PDP’s insistence on a discussion on Yousuf, and because the Speaker’s conduct vitiated the atmosphere. The situation was no different the following day, except that the Speaker didn’t behave so badly. But it was not enough as the PDP was not prepared to compromise on its stand: First discuss Yousuf and then other things. The isolated and under-severe-criticism NC could not agree for obvious reasons. The deadlock continued and the Speaker adjourned the House sine die.


Omar Abdullah did try to explain his position on October 3, and retrieved some ground through a press conference where he informed media persons that Yousuf died of heart attack and that his government had requested the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court to nominate a sitting judge so there could be an impartial and fair judicial probe in the matter. He simultaneously threatened the PDP president and Leader of Opposition that he would file a defamation suit against her as she had leveled serious charges against him, his father, and his junior and accused them of indulging in “criminal activities” which led to the death of Yousuf. It is significant that the Chief Minister candidly told reporters that “he would not take any question from them”. He could have told the Assembly what he told reporters and cleared the confusion, but he thought otherwise and made the confusion worse confounded.


The PDP response was on expected lines. Ms Mehbooba Mufti stuck to her stand, dared Omar Abdullah to file a defamation suit and repeated the charges she had previously levelled against him and others. Even the suggestion of Commissioner/Secretary, Home Department, and Director General of Police that the preliminary post mortem report had confirmed that Yousuf had died of heart attack didn’t click. Rather, Ms Mufti questioned the Chief Minister for his earlier statement to this effect and alleged that the Chief Minister and his men were covering up everything. She dismissed the news about a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the High Court as fake, saying that “there is no FIR”; that “the judicial probe by the sitting High Court judge was not possible without the permission of the President of India”; and that the “state government has not made a request to the President of India to that effect.” 


On October 4, the PDP exposed the coalition government further. It was emboldened by the Chief Minister’s interview to The Indian Express and reports in almost all local dailies that the High Court had not received any such communication from the government. Actually, the Registrar General of the High Court told a section of print media that he had not received any communication from the government, and the Chief Justice of the High Court reportedly turned down the government’s request on the ground that the High Court was not competent to investigate the case as it was the prerogative of the President of India to accept or reject the government’s suggestion to that effect.


Then came October 5, and a key eyewitness made startling disclosures about the whole episode in a detailed interview to Times Now – the interview telecast alive and repeated several times the same day.


The eyewitness was another NC worker, Abdul Salam Reshi, who claimed to have paid Rs 34 lakh to the late Yousuf in order to become an MLC, earlier in February this year. Highly disturbed and mortally afraid, he didn’t disclose all he knew, stating that “several agencies are after him”; that “anything can happen to him anytime”; and that “he is worried for his life and the life of his family members”. Reshi, however, admitted that he knew much and told Times Now that “it would be only desirable if he reveals everything before the inquiry commission, when appointed” and that the “revelation of the information he possesses at this juncture could endanger his very life.” But whatever limited information he shared with the Times Now correspondent was enough for the detractors of Omar Abdullah and the NC. 


Reshi told Times Now that:

-        “NC activist, Syed Yousuf Shah, had reached Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s residence on Thursday (September 29) in good health but his condition had worsened after he was taken to a room for half an hour by CM’s advisor, Devinder Rana, MoS home Nasir Aslam Sogami and IGP Crime, Raja Aijaz Ali…


-        In January this year, I received a phone from Haji Yousuf, who was in New Delhi. He told me that if I wanted to become an MLC, I have to talk to him and give Rs 50 lakh for party fund. Bade kaam ke liye ek crore aur chotte kaam ke liye 50 lakh. He told me that he was coming to Jammu and there I should meet him. In February, Haji Yousuf came to Jammu and I went to his hotel to meet him. He talked on phone to Dr Farooq Abdullah and told him that I cannot give Rs 50 lakh and that I will give Rs 40 lakh. I got the money from some relative in Delhi and paid it. I was offered the MLC seat and I paid the money for it.


-        Later on, when I came to know that I have not been given the MLC seat, I went to Haji Yousuf and demanded my money back. He made me to talk on phone with Dr Farooq who told me that there was nothing to worry about as they had to accommodate Abdul Gani Veeri. He asked me to observe patience. Dr Farooq asked me as to why I leaked the matter for which they had to face the embarrassment… After some time, I met the CM myself. I got the money back after 2 or 3 days…


-        On Thursday, I was summoned to Chief Minister’s residence. I was first to reach there. I reached there around 2.55 PM. Mohammad Yousuf of Ganderbal at 3.30 PM. Haji Yousuf (another NC worker who had paid Rs 85 lakh to Yousuf) also came there. He (Haji Yousuf) was in good health and hugged me. Later Chief Minister and MoS Home also entered our room and asked us to close the door. CM asked Haji Yousuf whether he owed any money to Mohammad Yousuf of Ganderbal. Haji Yousuf said he had taken Rs 85 lakh from him. CM asked him to return the money but Haji Yousuf requested Omar to shift him to another room and talk to him there. But Chief Minister refused.


-        Haji Yousuf said, ‘let Dr Farooq Abdullah come within some days, then only the money would be returned’. Chief Minister was very rash. He told Haji Yousuf that if he does not return the money, he will hand him over to Crime Branch. Haji Yousuf said that he is ready and will tell Crime Branch everything. Chief Minister left the room…


-        Later Devinder Rana, Nasir Sogami and IGP crime took Haji Yousuf to another room and we were watching through a window… After half an hour, I and Yousuf of Ganderbal, were asked to leave for Crime Branch headquarter in a gypsy. We saw Haji Yousuf lying in the vehicle. His condition was very bad. He was unable to talk. As the vehicle moved 100 feet Yousuf vomited and there was no improvement in his condition even at the Crime Branch headquarter. Then, two policemen giving him support took him to some officers and I did not see him again… In (the) Crime Branch, IGP and SSP were pressurizing Yousuf of Ganderbal and me to change our statement and say that we had not paid the money for MLC seat or ministry, but for government jobs. I refused saying that why should we do that…”



This is self-revelatory and requires no inference or conclusion. Suffice it to say that Reshi has queered the pitch for Omar Abdullah and the NC and weakened their position, with almost all established political groups in the state, barring the rudderless and opportunistic Congress, demanding the Chief Minister’s resignation and a thorough probe by the CBI. The PDP, BJP, CPI, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) and some other formations have all demanded that the “accused” Chief Minister must “step down/step aside” as “A fair and impartial probe is impossible as long as Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and Nasir Aslam Wani (Sogami) are in power”.


Today (Oct 6), NC president Farooq Abdullah addressed media persons at Srinagar after holding a 60-minute-long meeting with party workers and some ministers, including Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and Rural Development Minister Skina Ittoo. People expected him to respond to media queries and clear the air, but this did not happen.


Angry and visibly upset, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who according to press reports, has been advised by New Delhi to hold aloof from his Renewable Ministry at the centre, only made matters worse. He distanced himself from the episode saying “he knows nothing; he is not a party to Yousuf’s death; truth will be out in the public domain when the judicial commission completes investigation; the PDP wants to see the NC-Congress government out of office; the PDP is levelling all sorts of charges because it wants to come to power at all cost; anybody can say anything”; and so on. There was nothing substantial in what he told reporters; instead, the manner in which he addressed media persons strengthened those demanding the Chief Minister’s head and a CBI, not judicial, enquiry.


Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and the NC today stand at a crossroads. The trouble they are in has the potential of decimating the NC itself. The PDP and other political parties, plus the family members of late Yousuf and the two eye witnesses, both NC workers, will make life hell for the father-son duo. The print media and television channels appear determined to take the mysterious death of Yousuf to its logical conclusion.


Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the Haji in death seems determined not to rest until justice is done.



The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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