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Amidst mayhem, Mehbooba completes 2 controversies-filled years in office

Mudassir Kuloo

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By Mudassir Kuloo

Srinagar, Apr 03: The PDP-BJP government is going to complete its controversies-hit two years under Mehbooba Mufti on April 4.
Mehbooba took over as the Chief Minister of the state in 2016.
On the eve of the second anniversary of her rise to the throne, the government, or Mehbooba’s party PDP, doesn’t seem to be in the mood to celebrate the occasion, which could come as a reminder of the controversies that overshadowed the coalition’s governance since 2015.
Soon after taking over as the Chief Minister, Mehbooba faced her first test at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar, where non-Kashmiri students engaged in fierce clashes over a cricket match.
The incident became a national issue and the institute needed to be shut for weeks.
The killing of five persons in north Kashmir’s Handwara town during the protests against the alleged molestation of a girl by an army soldier followed.
Strict curfew was imposed in parts of the valley and clampdown on the mobile internet services.
Soon after, a controversy triggered over the government’s proposal to establish Sainik and Pandit colonies.
The implementation of the controversial National Food Security Act (NFSA) was a serious challenge for the PDP-BJP government, which, too, turned into a law and order problem situation in the state.
Mehbooba-led government faced its toughest phase when Hizbul Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani and his two accomplices were killed in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on July 8, 2016.
It sparked one of the biggest uprisings in Kashmir, lasting six months.
Mehbooba earned ridicule by stating at a presser: “Those hit by bullets or pellets had not gone to fetch milk or toffees.”
In September 2016, PDP Srinagar MP and the party’s founder member, Tariq Hameed Karra, left both his Lok Sabha seat and the PDP, terming its alliance with the BJP “unnatural and unethical”.
Mehbooba’s statement also triggered a massive controversy when she called all those demanding abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution “anti-national”.
The BJP slammed her statement, following which the Speaker Kavinder Gupta directed to expunge her remarks from the Assembly records.
The leaders of Mehbooba’s alliance partner also made several remarks on Article 370, human rights violations, internet ban, sparking controversies in the state.
On July 24, 2017, the NIA arrested seven Hurriyat leaders. It has been reported that Chief Minister was not in favour of the crackdown.
“You cannot kill an idea. You cannot jail an idea. Reconciliation and dialogue are the only way. Guns, violence and arrests are not a solution,” she had said.
There have been other Centre-led moves seen as “threatening” J&K’s special status, including the extension of the Goods & Services Tax to the state. The special status of J&K was back in focus when in July last year, the Centre sought a “larger debate” over Article 35A even as the J&K government opposed any challenge to it.
Mehbooba, who even reached out to arch rival Farooq Abdullah of the NC on the matter, warned, “If the special constitutional status of J&K is tampered with, or the Permanent Resident Act (35A) removed, there will be no one to shoulder the Indian flag in the Valley.”
The by-polls of Srinagar parliamentary witnessed only 6.5 percent voting, with killing of several civilians and scores injured by government forces.
Following which, it was decided not to hold by-polls of Anantnag Lok Sabha seat.
The PDP led government faced an embarrassment when the Centre gave award to army Major Leetul Gogoi who used a civilian as a human shield.
The appointment of the Centre’s representative was seen as a big outreach by the BJP to the Mehbooba government.
Although the Centre has limited the scope of what Dineshwar Sharma, a former IB chief, can do — underlining that he is just a “representative of the government and not the interlocutor”.
On January 27 this year, when three civilians were killed in army firing in Shopian, the J&K Police filed an FIR as part of routine practice, which was opposed by the BJP.
On February 14, after a group of people led by a BJP leader took out a protest in favour of an accused Hindu police official in the case, the CM tweeted: “Appalled by the marches & protests in defense of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag… this is nothing short of desecration.”
Government also faced criticism when son of a senior PDP leader’s name figured in the list of appointees in Khadi Village Industries Board.
The Chief Minister also dropped Haseeb Drabu from the council of ministers, who was a main architect of the PDP-BJP government.
Just a few days ahead of the completion of two years, 13 militants, four civilians, and three army men were killed in three encounters in south Kashmir; scores of civilians were injured in the protests that are yet to cease.
The government had also failed to hold panchayat and urban local body elections.
Political expert, Professor Rekha Chowdhary said the present dispensation faced a “lot of controversies” since they formed the government.
“It was for the first time when two parties of different ideologues came together and formed the government,” she said.
Opposition National Conference’s General Secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar, claimed that “no development” took place in the PDP-BJP government.
“The present government did nothing for the state. It gave only bullets, pellets. There is no end of killings. Their Agenda of Alliance has remained confined to papers only,” Sagar said.
“What the PDP-BJP did for youth of the state? What about releasing of political prisoners? This government disappointed the people of the state.”
Senior Congress leader, G N Monga said that PDP-BJP government had “failed” on all fronts.
“Killings continue. There is no development on the ground. There has to be a dialogue to address issues,” Monga said.
While the alliance partners claimed that a “lot of good things” were done in the PDP-BJP government.
BJP State Spokesperson, Arun Kumar Gupta said that alliance was running as per its ‘Agenda of Alliance’.
“The state has witnessed a huge development in past few years, which cannot be compared with 60-years rule,” Gupta said.
The development, he said was “visible everywhere”.
“Bridges, hospitals, educational institutions, are being building up in all three regions of the state. Execution of development works has been started but will take time to get the things done,” he added.
PDP spokesperson, Rafi Ahmad Mir, said that Mehbooba herself remained available to general public.
“She held meetings in districts and also monitored the works,” Mir said.
“There has been huge development by construction of new roads, macdamisation, new schools, and educational institutions infrastructure has been upgraded,” he said.
He said the government provided a lot of job opportunities to unemployed youth of the state.
On dialogue with Pakistan and Hurriyat, he said that state “could not do much due to unfavourable situation”.
“Interlocutor has been appointed by the Centre and amnesty has been announced to 10,000 stone pelters. But the killings that took place are very unfortunate,” he said.
He said that Chief Minister did not succumb to the pressure on Kuthua incident from her alliance partner for handing over case to the CBI.
“She stood firm and said that case should be investigated thoroughly,” he said, “There will be no celebration on completion of two-year-rule of Mehbooba. If you do something for people, it is the biggest celebration.”

 
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Phase III Lok Sabha polls: Anantnag to go to polls today

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Srinagar, Apr 22: The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls in the third phase on Tuesday even as the security forces face a serious challenge to ensure that the democratic process passes off peacefully.

Due to the overwhelming security concerns, the Anantnag parliamentary constituency comprising four districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama — will vote in three phases. Polling in Anantnag will be held on Tuesday, followed by Kulgam (April 29) and Pulwama and Shopian (May 6).Over 100 additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been deployed to augment an already existing large contingent of state police and CAPF personnel deployed on poll duty in this constituency.

Because of the serious security challenges in the constituency, by-poll could not be held in Anantnag after Mehbooba Mufti, President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), resigned the seat in 2016 to become the state’s Chief Minister following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

 

In addition to the presence of foreign militants, homegrown militancy is a big challenge here for the agencies maintaining ‘law and order’.

In the last four years, a large number of local youth, majority of them well-educated and belonging to upper middle class families, have joined militant ranks in the four districts of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama.

The problems for the security personnel have been compounded by stone pelting at armed forces during security operations against holed up militants, thousands of mourners turning out to attend funerals of slain militants and the failure of the mainstream politicians to move out even in areas from where they were voted to the state Assembly in 2014.

Due to security issues, the voting process here would be held between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., instead of the 6 p.m. deadline observed in the other constituencies of the state.

While there are five main candidates in the fray from Anantnag — PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Congress’ Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC), Sofi Yusuf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chowdhary Zafar Ali of the Peoples Conference (PC) — the key contest here is between Mufti and state Congress President Mir.

Out of the 16 Assembly segments under the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, the PDP had won 11, Congress 2, NC 2 and CPI-M 1 in the 2014 Assembly elections.

Given these statistics, Mufti’s victory may look like a cakewalk, but the ground situation has undergone a sea change since 2014.

The failed ruling alliance between the PDP and the BJP in the state has hit the former’s prospects in Anantnag as it has done in the rest of the Muslim majority Valley.

Mufti has taken a huge gamble by deciding to fight the Lok Sabha polls from here. Her victory or defeat would seriously impact the prospects of her party in the state Assembly elections likely to be held later this year.

Her problems have been compounded by Mir throwing his hat in the electoral arena. Mir has committed vote banks in Dooru, Shangus, Kokernag and Devsar segments.

While it is expected that the voter turnout would be good in these segments, there is a possibility of thin voter turnout in the segments where the PDP believes its vote banks exist.

Given this reality, the final result could see a photo finish between Mir and Mufti.

Poll campaign by different parties here has been generally muted because of security constraints.

How many voters come out to vote on Tuesday would be keenly watched. But no matter what, the security forces will have their tasks cut out to ensure that polling is conducted smoothly in this volatile constituency.

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SRI LANKA BOMBINGS: Death toll rises to 290

Agencies

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Colombo, Apr 22: The toll in the eight coordinated bomb blasts that rocked Sri Lanka during Easter celebrations rose to 290, police said on Monday.

Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara told The New York Times that 24 people have been arrested in connection with the deadly explosions in which nearly 500 people were injured on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the reporters that the authorities had prior “information regarding a possible attack” before the bomb blasts ripped through churches and hotels in Colombo and two other towns in the island nation.

 

“While this goes on we must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

The police said that the investigation will examine reports why the intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks ahead of the blasts, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.

They also said that an improvised pipe bomb found close to Colombo’s main airport late on Sunday, was successfully detonated. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Prime Minister said, “So far the names that have come up are local,” adding that the investigators are looking into whether the attackers had any “overseas links”.

According to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, at least 17 people from eight countries, including three from India, were among those who were killed in the serial blasts. The dead included five citizens of Britain, three Danes, two each from China and Turkey and one each from the Netherlands and Portugal, reported CNN.

The ministry said that 19 foreign nationals injured in the attacks are receiving treatment at Colombo National Hospital.

Following the bomb attacks, the Sri Lankan government had imposed a 12-hour island-wide curfew from 6:00 pm on Sunday.

After a discussion with heads of security forces and all other departments regarding the current security situation in the country, President Maithripala Sirisena had announced that the government and private schools would remain closed till Tuesday.

In addition, steps have been taken to temporarily block all social media accounts until the investigations are concluded.

‘National Tawheed Jamath’ suspected plotters: Sri Lanka

Press Trust of India

Colombo, Apr 22: A local outfit identified as the ‘National Tawheed Jamath’ is suspected of plotting the deadly Easter blasts that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others in the worst terror attack in the country’s history, a top Sri Lankan minister said on Monday.

Health Minister and the government spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne, also said that all suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals.

Speaking at a press conference here, the minister said that the Chief of National Intelligence had warned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) regarding the probable attacks before April 11.

“On April 4, international intelligence agencies had warned of these attacks. The IGP was informed on April 9,” Senaratne said.

He said that the local outfit identified as the National Tawheed Jamath – a radical Muslim group – is suspected of plotting the deadly explosions.

“There may be international links to them,” he added.

Senaratne sought resignation of police chief Pujith Jayasundera in view of the major security lapse.

Rauff Hakeem, a government minister and the leader of the main Muslim party – Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that it was lamentable that no preventive action had been taken despite the inputs.

“They have known this…, the names have been given, identified, but (they) took no action,” he added.

Two Sri Lankan Muslim groups – the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the National Shoora Council – have condemned the blasts and offered condolences to the Christian community.

They have urged that all culprits be brought to book.

Seven suicide bombers were involved in eight blasts that targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zeon Church in Batticaloa when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. The explosions also struck three five-star hotels in Colombo – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks, but police have so far arrested 24 people.

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If well, Malik to appear in Delhi Court tomorrow

Nisar Dharma

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Srinagar, Apr 27: Detained Joint Hurriyat leader Yasin Malik, who was shifted to a hospital in Delhi after his health deteriorated due to a hunger strike in Tihar jail against his “illegal detention”, will now appear in Patiala House Court on April 24 as a magistrate has ordered his judicial remand after meeting him in the hospital, sources said.

Malik, who was shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in Delhi after his health worsened in the jail last week, was likely to be shifted back to Tihar Central Jail on Monday, sources added.

“Malik had told the visiting magistrate on Saturday that he will break the hunger strike only if he was sent to judicial custody, which the magistrate eventually ordered,” sources told The Kashmir Monitor over the phone from Delhi.

 

Chairman of JKLF (banned by Government of India last month), Malik was detained under PSA and shifted to Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail in March.

Earlier this month, he was arrested from the Jammu jail by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the alleged funding case and brought to Delhi.

Last Saturday, Malik’s family in Srinagar said Malik was “very ill” after he went on a hunger strike to protest against his “illegal” detention by the NIA. A Delhi court had on April 10 sent Malik to NIA custody till April 22 in connection with the alleged funding case.

PDP demands shifting him to Srinagar

Srinagar, Apr 22: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Monday demanded shifting JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik to Srinagar, terming his failing health a major cause of concern.

In a statement issued here, PDP leader Mohammad Sartaj Madni said that government of India cannot ignore the mounting concerns of the people of the state about the deteriorating health of incarcerated JKLF Chief.

“Malik’s family has already expressed its concern over the way in which the health of their son is sadistically being ignored in an outright manner and that there are apprehensions that if adequate medical facilities aren’t put in place for Malik, his life could be in danger,” Madni, as per the statement, said.

He added that even if ideologically there is a deep chasm between separatists and New Delhi and their views do not square with each other, “vindictive approach against them is unconstitutional, illegitimate and inhuman.”

Madni demanded that Malik should be immediately shifted to Srinagar and treated here only. According to the PDP leader, shifting Malik to Kashmir will facilitate his family to take care of him and will also pacify people who are concerned over his failing health.

Pak criticises Malik’s confinement

Press Trust of India

Islamabad, Apr 22: Pakistan on Monday criticised India for arresting and confining separatist leader Yasin Malik in connection with a case related to the alleged funding in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Pakistan strongly condemns the continuing incarceration and deteriorating health of Yasin Malik since February 22 on trumped up charges,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a press release.

“We expect the Government of India to ensure the wellbeing of Malik, including provision of adequate health care,” it said.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested JKLF chief Malik on April 10 after a special NIA court in Jammu gave the go ahead for his custodial interrogation by the probe agency.

Malik, who was shifted to Tihar jail under police protection, was taken into preventive custody in February by the Jammu and Kashmir police and shifted to Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail.

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