Not Worth A protest?
- Omar Abdullah’s government faced a crisis over the custodial death of Syed Mohammed Yousuf
- The alleged fixer and National Conference insider had been picked up from the CM’s house
- Omar is said to have called him over allegations that he’d taken bribes for Farooq Abdullah
- But finding no favour with the separatists, the issue petered out
A Facebook entry by Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, on September 28, the third day of the brief autumn session of the assembly, says: “Had an amazing time at the Grand Prix in Singapore. Am pleased to be back to the hurly-burly of the assembly in Srinagar. Today promises to be fun.” An accompanying photograph shows a smiling Omar in an F1 suit, sprawled on a racing car.
The fun, however, didn’t last long. The party was spoiled by the death of Syed Mohammed Yousuf, a National Conference insider and alleged fixer. Omar allegedly handed Yousuf over to the cops at his official residence; the NC man vomited blood inside the police vehicle that took him away and died at the crime branch headquarters. Omar found himself caught in an autumn of accusations, plunging his government into a crisis. For a while it looked as if the situation was worse than the 2010 street agitation that led to the death of 120 people.
It’s unclear what went wrong on the fateful evening of September 29. Yousuf, an old National Conference hand allegedly involved in shadowy financial dealings—two party colleagues had accused him of taking Rs 1.2 crore from them, promising berths in the council of ministers and the legislative council—was summoned by the chief minister to his Gupkar Road residence. He was then handed over to the policemen in whose detention he died.
“Omar had no right to summon a suspect, parley with him and hand him over to the police in his own house after he allegedly said that Farooq Abdullah, Omar’s father and a Union minister, had received the money,” says A.G. Noorani, eminent lawyer and columnist. “After all, commissions of inquiry depend on the police for prior investigation.” Omar, on his part, has dismissed all allegations of wrong-doing. He says, “I did not do anything wrong. He (Yousuf) was absolutely fine. Nobody laid a finger on the fellow so long as he was at my residence. I would like to believe nobody laid a finger on him even after he had left my residence.”
This murky story reinforced Jammu and Kashmir’s unenviable reputation for being one of the most corrupt states in India, where money is rather casually used to buy political positions. “In a state with a reputation for custodial deaths and fake encounters, Yousuf’s death underlines that there’s no guarantee you will live even if the chief minister himself hands you over to the police,” says Riyaz Ahmad, an analyst.
It also underlines the clout the separatists wield in the Valley. When Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition PDP, launched a campaign against Omar, she looked to the separatists for support. But they—particularly the influential Syed Ali Shah Geelani—looked the other way. The PDP, therefore, had to confine its campaign to TV studios in Delhi.
Speaking to Outlook, Yasin Malik, chairman of the JKLF, questioned the “silence of pro-India parties” over the killings during the street protests of 2010. “The custodial death of a National Conference worker is a heinous crime and we condemn it,” says Malik. “But no one from the pro-India camp took to the streets over the murder or unarmed protesters and bystanders. One fails to understand why this hue and cry now.” To Yousuf’s bad luck, his being a worker of a pro-Delhi party rendered him untouchable in the eyes of many Kashmiri groups. Greater Kashmir, an influential daily, says Kashmiris “treated the development as a media event that had to be watched rather than responded to through a mass protest”.
Luckily for Omar, the strong backing of the Congress, a coalition partner, came at the right time. So, after a terrible week, he’s back in business.