Kolkata, July 29: National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah said the Congress has to be the “backbone” of the opposition unity with its chief Rahul Gandhi at the forefront of the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to oust the BJP from power at the Centre.
This, however, does not minimise the responsibility of regional leaders who are strong in their own states, Abdullah told PTI here in an interview.
“The Congress has to be the backbone as the lion’s share of seats of the opposition in one particular party will have to be from it as there are a number of states where there will be direct contest between the Congress and the BJP,” he said.
“At the end of the day to form a government at the Centre you need 272 seats, which the regional outfits are not going to get. You will be looking towards the Congress to come close to the 100-seat mark, if not cross it to form a non-BJP government,” he said.
Abdullah met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee here on Friday and held talks on the probable opposition front.
Efforts to cobble up an opposition front is gaining momentum, but a section of leaders of regional parties are not keen on letting the Congress lead it and are propagating a non-BJP and non-Congress front.
On the issue of Rahul Gandhi being the face of the opposition, Abdullah said he being the president of the single largest opposition party was expected to be at the forefront of the election campaign.
“Obviously, one will expect Rahul Gandhi to be at the forefront of leading the election campaign in 2019 but at the same time Sonia Gandhi is the leader of the UPA. Therefore to the best possible extent one will hope Sonia Gandhi will also be part of the campaign,” he said.
Refuting aspersions on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership capabilities, Abdullah cited the example of Congress’ role in forming the government in Karnataka and said he had shown a lot of maturity on how the party was orienting itself.
“He is president of the Congress party. If anybody has any doubt about his leadership quality then it has to be from his party. His party has absolutely no problem with him, then why should anybody else have objections?” Abdullah said.
“Rahul Gandhi has shown a lot of maturity on how the Congress is orienting. He is a leader in his own right and he has every right to be there,” the NC leader said.
He, however, maintained that the issue of the “face of opposition” is being brought up to divide the opposition unity. “Individual regional parties are strong in their own states.”
Mamata Banerjee will lead the fight against the BJP in West Bengal, while in Bihar, the anti-BJP face will be that of Lalu Prasad (RJD) supported by the Congress. In UP, the faces will be Aklhilesh Yadav (SP) and Mayawati (BSP) and in Tamil Nadu, it will be Karunanidhi (DMK) and his son M K Stalin, he said.
“The Congress by virtue of its pan-India presence will have greater responsibility, but that’s not to minimise the responsibility of other (regional) leaders. They would play a vital role. It’s very important that we fight tactfully and tactically and this is the way forward,” he said.
Abdullah, who was in the city to take part in ‘Think Federal Conclave’, said NC was very much a part of the grouping of regional parties opposed to the BJP.
“I would like them (grouping) to have clear agenda regarding all the issues that matter to the country ranging from creation of jobs, demonetisation, the way economy has been handled. And obviously they have to look at both facets of Jammu and Kashmir. One is Pakistan as our (India) relations with it impact the situation in J&K and secondly, internally all the problems that have happened in the state after 2014 should be addressed by it,” he said.
Speaking on the present situation in Kashmir, Abdullah said the dismissal of the Mehbooba Mufti government by the Centre showed how the state was “mishandled” since 2015.
“The present situation in the valley is not at all conducive for holding elections,” he said.
Listing steps that needed to be taken to restore peace in Kashmir, he said the alleged efforts of horse trading of PDP MLAs should immediately stop.
“The J&K Assembly needs to be dissolved rather than simply suspended. Then the governor needs to work towards reducing the levels of violence so that some semblance of peace is restored.
Speaking on the prevailing situation in the country, he said attempts were being made to vitiate the atmosphere of communal harmony.
The way the entire community, particularly the Muslim community, was sought to be vilified is a matter of “grave concern,” he said, adding that when these were stray voices from the people who didn’t matter it was understandable to an extent.
“But now you have elected representatives from the ruling party (BJP) who are espousing very strong anti-Muslim sentiments and trying to spread that in the country, which is a matter of grave concern,” Abdullah said.
3 militants killed in Shopian encounter
Slain includes IPS officer’s brother; civilians, forces personnel among injured
Srinagar, Jan 22: Three militants, including the brother of an IPS officer, were killed and an army soldier wounded in a gunfight in Shopian district of south Kashmir on Tuesday.
Reports said that the gunfight broke out Tuesday morning after a joint party of the army and the state police launched a cordon-and-search-operation in Shirmal village following inputs about the presence of militants.
They said the militants opened fire on the forces after the latter fired several shots towards their hideout located in an orchard in the village.
There was a momentary lull before the firefight resumed, leading to the killing of three militants, news agency Global News Service reported.
One army soldier has also sustained injuries during the course of the gunfight, it reported while quoting unnamed sources.
Quoting official sources, news agency GNS said the slain militants included Shamsul Haq Mengnoo son of Mohammad Rafiq Mengnoo, a resident of Draggud village of Shopian district.
Shamsul Haq was pursuing Bachelors of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS) at government college Zakura when he joined militancy. His elder brother Inamul Haq is 2012 IPS batch officer who is posted in North East.
The identity of the two other militants was being ascertained, police said.
Reports, however, identified the two other slain as Amir Ahmad Bhat (21) son of Late Abdul Aziz Bhat of Chadipora, Shopian and Shuaib Ahmad Shah (19) son of Ghulam Rasool Shah of Zahapora, Shopian.
The slain, as per reports, were affiliated with Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit and were involved in a number of attacks in the southern district.
After conducting all necessary formalities, the bodies of the trio were later in the evening handed over to their families for last rites, reports said.
They added that at least seven persons were injured in clashes near the site of the encounter at Heff Shirmal as government forces resorted to tear gas shelling and pellet firing.
Later in the day, a police spokesperson said a cordon and search operation was launched jointly by police and other forces in Shirmal area of
Zainapora in Shopian area after credible inputs about the presence of militants.“As the searches were going on, the search party was fired upon by the militants. The fire was retaliated leading to a gunfight. In the ensuing encounter, three militants were killed and the bodies were recovered from the site of encounter. Their identities and affiliations are being ascertained,” the spokesperson said.
He added that it was a difficult operation due to the terrain and there were clashes in the area which was handled by the government forces.
“Only five cases of injuries were reported and three of them were discharged after preliminary medical attention. Separately six security forces personnel injured during the clashes have been discharged after medical attention,” the spokesperson said.
Police, he said, has registered a case and initiated investigation in the matter. Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter.
Shamsul met ‘sad end’ despite his IPS brother’s efforts: Ex-DGP
Srinagar, Jan 22: Former Jammu and Kashmir Police chief Shesh Paul Vaid on Tuesday said that Hizb militant Shamsul Haq met a “sad end” despite efforts by his IPS officer brother to bring him back.
Taking to Twitter soon after the news of his killing in Shopian gunfight started doing the rounds, Vaid, who was the director general of police in J&K when Haq turned to militancy, said: “I remember the efforts that were made by his (Haq’s) brother /other family members and J&K Police to bring him back to mainstream but he met a sad end today.”
Haq, brother of IPS officer Inam ul Haq, was killed along with his two associates in a gunfight in Shirmal village of Shopian.
Militants killed in Budgam affiliated with Al Badr: Police
Srinagar, Jan 22: Jammu and Kashmir Police on Tuesday said the three militants slain in a gunfight with the government forces in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Tuesday were affiliated with Al Badr militant outfit.
In a statement, a police spokesman said that the slain militants were identified as Sabzar Ahmad son of Ali Mohammad Mir resident of Lassipora Pulwama, Syed Rabani son of Mohammad Hussain resident of Nazneenpora Shopian and Towseef Ahmad Itoo son of Abdul Aziz resident of Nowpora Payeen Pulwama.
The slain militants, he said, were affiliated with proscribed outfit Al-Badar and were wanted by the law.
“Incriminating material including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter. All these materials have been taken in the case records for the purpose of investigation,” he said.
Bodies of the slain militants were handed over to their families after completion of medico-legal formalities, he added.
The three militants were killed after a daylong gunfight in Hapatnar forests on Tuesday.
4 photojournalists injured in pellet firing: Reporters without Borders, KEG condemn incident
Srinagar, Jan 22: Four photojournalists were hit by pellets while covering the Tuesday’s gun battle in Shopian district.
The injured included Hindustan Times photojournalist Waseem Andrabi, Rising Kashmir‘s Nisar ul Haq, and Junaid Gulzar and Mir Burhan, both working with local publications.
Andrabi had six pellet wounds in his face and neck, narrowly missing his eyes.
Reports said the photojournalists were walking towards the encounter site in Shopian when they came across a blockade put up by the protesting youth.
Government forces and locals were engaged in violent clashes around the same area where the journalists were present.
“At some distance, the police and CRPF parties were holding their position as stone pelting had begun. I raised my camera to show that we were photojournalists and out of nowhere, we were showered with pellets,” Andrabi told The Wire.
Andrabi was hit with six pellets, including on his lips, forehead and neck.
The incident prompted statements of condemnation from all major journalist bodies in Kashmir.
Kashmir Press Photographers Association (KPPA) termed the incident as a brutal, murderous assault on photojournalists by security forces.
“KPPA believes that the oft-repeated assault on the photojournalists is uncalled for and employing such tactics by the government forces won’t deter us from carrying out our professional duties. The association urges the governor Satya Pal Malik and director general of police Dilbag Singh to personally look into the matter and order a magisterial enquiry into the incident followed by strict action against the erring cops,” the association said
The Kashmir Press Club said “It is not the first time such an incident has happened. Most unfortunate that journalists are made a targeted when they are only performing their duties. It is appalling that pellets were fired at them”.
Kashmir Video Journalist Association (KVJA) and Kashmir National Television Journalist Association also condemned the attack on journalists in Shopian and asked state’s governor and DGP to initiate strict action against those responsible.
“This has become a routine that journalists while performing their professional duties are either thrashed or at time showered with pellets. KVJA appeals to governor and DGP to initiate strict action against those who are involved in today’s incident and make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future”.
Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), an international body for journalists, Tuesday called upon the Indian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the pellet firing at journalists in Shopian.
In a statement on Twitter, RSF said the government forces’ violence’ against Kashmiri photojournalists is ‘unacceptable.’
“Unacceptable violence by #India’s security forces against photojournalists covering a gunfight in south,” RSF tweeted.
“We call on #indian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation on this blatant attack on press freedom. #JournalismIsNotACrime,” it tweeted.
Meanwhile, Kashmir Editors’ Guild (KEG) too strongly condemned the use of pellets against a group of journalists.
“This is not for the first time that the law enforcing agencies have used force against the media persons when they were covering the events on the streets within and outside Srinagar. This has become a routine,” a KEG spokesman said.
He added that every time the issue is being brought to the notice of the authorities, the media is being promised that they will investigate the issue.
“It has rarely happened that action was initiated against anyone for violating the basic conduct vis-a-vis media. Already one photo-journalist has lost an eye to pellets in Srinagar. While police is issuing statements on every single incident from detaining gamblers to seizing fukki, it avoided even mentioning the incident in routine daily statement,” the spokesman said.
KEG demanded a quick and time bound investigation into the incident and action against the personnel found guilty.
“The attacks on media are detrimental to the very existence of a society in 21st century,” the spokesman said.
Srinagar youth hit with stone ‘hurled by CRPF’
Admitted to SKIMS with fractured skull; CRPF spokesman claims ‘youth fell down’
Srinagar, Jan 22: A youth from Habba Kadal locality of Srinagar was hospitalised in a serious condition after a stone allegedly hurled by CRPF trooper hit his head on Tuesday afternoon.
Family sources said the boy identified as Mohammad Younis had left home to buy some vegetable, however, a CRPF trooper hurled a stone from the bunker located near Habba Kadal, resulting in serious head injuries to the boy.
Soon after the incident, the injured was rushed to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, from where he was referred to SKIMS, Soura.
Medical Superintendent SKIMS, Dr Farooq Jan, as per a local news agency KNO, said that “parietal bone of the youth had fracture and the bone fragment has sneaked into the skull, leading to contusions.”
He also said that CT scan of the patient will be repeated to ascertain the damage. He, however, maintained that they are monitoring his condition as of now.
Meanwhile, CRPF spokesman, Sanjay Sharma, as per news agency KNO, said a group of five to six youth started pelting stones at the bunker and while chasing them away, a youth “slipped and fell down”.