LARGEST CIRCULATED ENGLISH FORTNIGHLY OF J&K
ISSUE FOR THE FORTNIGHT APRIL 15-30, 1999
BJP GOVT PULLED DOWN, PARLIAMENT DISSOLVEDSOZ PLAYS MUSLIM CARD
Mr. Saifuddin Soz's 'shock vote' pulled down 13 month-old BJP-led coalition government. This plunged the country into worst-ever political instability. Congress claims that it had 272 members proved hollow. In the rapid change of events the Parliament was dissolved and fresh elections called. Mr. Soz's defiance of the party whip created serious embarrassment for National Conference. Wiser from 1984 experience, National Conference has remained cautious not to antagonize the ruling party at the center. This has paid rich dividends to the party. But Dr Farooq Abdullah's decision to support BJP-led coalition on the confidence vote went beyond this approach. Primarily because he does not look to BJP as a rival contender for power and secondly by be-friending BJP he ensures dilution of its Kashmir agenda.
Justifying NC's support to BJP, Dr Farooq Abdullah argued that BJP was not a communal party. He remarked, 'if they are accused of demolishing the Babri mosque, one should see who was ruling the country then and what they did to stop demolition'. Despite pressures from the party, Dr Farooq Abdullah was unrelenting in his defence of BJP, even after the Vajpayee government was voted out. He claimed that 'excepting Vajpayee government no other government took the Kashmir problem seriously and tried to work out a solution'. Interestingly, Dr Farooq declared support for the confidence vote on the same day he tabled autonomy report in the state assembly. Mr. Soz's decision to oppose the confidence vote reflects personal ambition, power politics and ideological compulsions. Mr. Soz represented a group in NC, which has played a crucial role in shaping politics of NC during the last two decades. The politics of NC came to be identified more and more with the concern for fortifying Muslim identity. There was speculation in a section of media that Soz's defiance was a tactical ploy and after sometime pressures would be built for his return.
Some statements emanating from NC quarters did strengthen this perception. These said that no party was untouchable and if NC supported Congress, then Soz's expulsion would be revoked. Mr. Soz, like some others who shaped NC's 'Muslim identity' politics has been outsider to NC. He joined National Conference after the death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1982. Mr. Soz remained a Lok Sabha member from 1983 to 1991and closely identified himself with Indian Muslims' issues. He also remained on the panel of one of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. As an ambitious politician, Mr. Soz has been building personal influence in Delhi's political, academic circles, Muslim religious outfits and among diplomats. He has membership of the prestigious Indian International Center and is the only politician member of Courts of Jamia Milia and JNU.
During the last decade of turmoil in Kashmir, Mr. Soz is said to have ensured admission to about three thousand Kashmiri Muslim students in different institutions of the country. Mr. Soz's influence did help NC also. He brought NC to the leaders of different political parties and played a part in shaping their Kashmir policies. Mr. Soz conducted a highly negative companion against Pandit refugees and made strong attempts to dilute the national sympathy for them. However, Mr. Soz's high profile in Delhi also became a matter of concern for NC's old guard and senior leaders. NC's organizational leaders who had given lifetime to the party and suffered hardships were not reconciled to Mr. Soz's elevated profile. In 1980 Mr. GM Shah had scuttled attempts, when it was decided to field Mr. Soz as NC candidate from Baramulla constituency.
After Mr. Soz's expulsion Mr. Omer Abdullah said that he (Soz) had been pursing personal politics than party interest. As early as April 4, Mr. Soz had decided to support the opposition. He had been seen hobnobbing with left front leaders and met Mrs. Sonia Gandhi on April 4. Mr. HKS Surjeet, the CPM leader while hinting at differences within NC had claimed, 'you will see when voting takes place'. Last year when Mr. Soz expressed sharp disagreement with Dr Farooq's decision to support BJP-led coalition government, a compromise formula was worked out. NC abstained on the statutory bill concerning imposition of President's rule in Bihar. Even in the working committee meeting that he attended on April 16, Mr. Soz claimed that he had pleaded with the leadership for abstention during the vote. He said, 'Abdullah had a closed mind. I don't know what weighed in his mind. He seemed to have no reason at all to back BJP'. Dr Abdullah still nursed hopes that Mr. Soz would come round to his view. After the working committee meeting was over, Dr Farooq Abdullah persuaded Mr. Soz to accompany him to Srinagar to attend a function in memory of late Ghulam Rasool Nazki. In the function, the Chief Minister showered lavish praises on him, calling him as our 'Delhi ambassador'. He even tried to tempt him with favors. Dr Farooq Abdullah told Mr. Soz that ordinarily people are rewarded after death but he would be rewarded in his lifetime.
Unsure, Dr Farooq Abdullah had informed Mr. Advani that Mr. Soz might not vote for BJP. Mr. Soz justified his defiance of the party whip by claiming that NC had no mandate to support BJP. He added that BJP had all along opposed Article370.Mr Soz imparted high-pitched bellicosity to the political debate. Even as he talked about strengthening secular and democratic forces the tone and tenor of Mr. Soz's observations smacked of parochialism and communalism. He said his decision to vote against BJP was in the interests of people of J&K. Mr. Soz claimed that this step has created a sense of relief amongst Indian Muslim community. He added that, 'my voters, Kashmir Muslims, can hold their heads high now that they have shown the way and participated in throwing out communalists from power'. Mr. Soz argued that his decision was influenced by three things one that Kashmiri people had not voted to back a communal party. Secondly, the Indian Muslim community should feel comfortable and thus participate in selecting and electing the government at the center. Lastly, J&K had joined India for secularism and the party representing the state cannot compromise its basic ideals built on the edifice of secularism. He also claimed that his act has 'revived' the party in the state.
Mr. Sharif-ud-Din Sharik, NC Rajya Sabha member and the new official spokesman disagreed with Soz's views. He said that Soz's action had caused a lot of resentment in the party rank and file, which had mustered support for him during elections, putting their lives at stake. Referring to Soz's statement that he had voted against the BJP for Muslims of the country, Mr. Sharik commented 'in that sense he (Soz) is also communal'. He added that it was Mr. Soz's moral duty to resign his parliament seat after he had been expelled. Mr. Sharik also wondered what kind of moral politics; Mr. V.P. Singh was pursuing, when he instigated a person to go against his party. Mr. Soz's harangues against BJP had few takers among NC rank and file. Middle ranking leaders and legislators were quite vocal against Mr. Soz for his political infidelity'. The general observation was 'what has he (Soz) achieved by deceiving Vajpayee, who has done no wrong to Muslims' Infact, Vajpayee is the only leader serious in resolving Kashmir imbroglio as is evident in his Lahore visit'.
Senior NC leaders blamed Congress for Babri Masjid demolition and argued'.... when was the demolition an issue in Kashmir. There was no Hartal in Valley'. They also said, 'how does one forget that there was not a single communal riot in the past one year'. These leaders tauntingly asked Mr. Soz to seek mandate from UP Muslims and be their leader. They observed that BJP was lesser evil, while Congress had all along sabotaged NC and described Mr. Soz's action as Congress-sponsored rebellion. Mr. Soz' action is being described as betrayal and not boldness. Soz virtually provoked NC leadership for his expulsion. Realizing that he had lost the confidence of the party high command, Mr. Soz decided to go full blast against National Conference leadership. Informed sources say that even in March 1998 elections, Dr Farooq Abdullah was averse to field him for Lok Sabha but senior leaders like Mr. Abdul Ahad Vakil and Mr. Mohd Shafi Uri intervened.
Reacting to his expulsion, Mr. Soz upbraided Dr Farooq Abdullah for playing into the hands of 'communal' forces. He added that Dr Farooq had become extremely vulnerable and was surrounded by sycophants, self-seekers and careerists. Mr. Soz charged Dr Abdullah with weakening NC and said he was not answerable to any forum in the party. He also decided the lack of democracy in the party and added that the party has little time to discuss crucial issues fraught with serious consequences. The reaction of senior NC leaders to Mr. Soz's reference to 'careerists' influencing Dr Abdullah, has been quite harsh. A minister told a leading English daily being published from Jammu that Mr. Soz got promotion for his wife and the appointment of his daughter as Development officer in State Women's Development Corporation, in brazen violation of rules and norms. He also alleged that Mr. Soz managed many estate flats for his kith and kin and said, 'who could be a worse opportunists and careerist'.
Mr. Umer Abdullah said that Mr. Soz has been pursuing personal politics rather than party interests. Mr. Soz's act has caused serious embarrassments to NC's relations with BJP as well as opposition. It was to counter impression that Soz's decision to go against BJP was a tactical ploy, Dr Abdullah acted with speed on his expulsion. There were other factors also. The Party High Command was worried that if Soz was given a long rope, he could fuel dissidence and become a rallying point for NC's dissidents. Moreover, his continued presence in Delhi was being looked as inimical to NC's interests. Relations of NC with Congress and Left Front have also become strained due to Mr. Soz's action. National Conference policy of keeping every ruling party in good humor has suffered serious setback. Congress and the left can choose either Mr. Soz or the National Conference. Presently they seem to be siding with Mr. Soz. Reacting to Soz's expulsion, Mr. Surjeet remarked, 'either the Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah has gone mad or is playing in the hands of communal forces'. Another CPM, MP, Mr. Mohd Saleem said that Dr. Farooq's support to BJP was 'just to secure the future of his third generation'. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi remarked that Mr. Soz has always opposed the government, which was patronized by communal forces.
So emboldened was Mr. Soz by these statements that he declared Dr Abdullah has no place in the Third Front. The mood among Muslim Communal Organizations was virtually euphoric. Jamaat-i-Islami Hind, Milli Council, All India Muslim Majlis Mashawarat, Muslim Personal Law Board, Majlis-i-Itehad-i-Muslameen, all welcomed Soz's action. Indian Union Muslim League even offered a safe seat from Kerala for him. Mr. VP Singh, popular among Indian Muslims, conveyed to Mr. Soz that he would personally campaign for him in the forthcoming elections. Whether Mr. Soz's expulsion from NC would seal his future is too early to say. He is a weak political figure with no social base. There appear to be two options open for him. One to align with Congress and try his luck in Delhi like Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mufti Mohd Saeed. Secondly to woo a section of NC to build a front against National Conference. The mood among local Congressmen is upbeat and they are reported to have offered to support him if he decides to contest in Baramulla, even as an independent candidate. Nothing can be said about whether he will succeed in wooing a section of NC. There are signs of loosening of the grip over party by Dr Abdullah.
There is also an atmosphere of despondency in the NC Camp over party's rapid erosion due to misgovernance, corruption and favoritism. Mr. Shafi Uri wanted to delay the action against Mr. Soz. Nobody endorsed his suggestion of constituting an inquiry, which he pointed out was the 'constitutional obligation'. A lobby, which includes about fifteen MLA has been arguing a soft action against Soz. It was pleading for support to Congress and argued that Mr. Soz could become a bridge with Congress and other non-BJP groups. Mr. Soz told a Chandigarh daily, 'Dr Abdullah has done great harm to National Conference and may be the burden of carrying on the legacy of Sher-i-Kashmir falls on me.' By taking strong action against Mr. Soz, Dr Abdullah has tried to silence pro-Soz lobby and other dissidents not favorably disposed towards the elevation of his son. Dr Abdullah, sources say, even threatened dissidents with fresh elections in case they continued to pose problems. Mr. Saifuddin Soz has also not closed his options of going whole-hog with Congress in case his attempts to split NC do not succeed. He said in a section of press, 'Congress is such a great party, there is a great deal of talent in the Congress, how can Abdullah agree to have no truck with a party, which has prominent place in a secular politics'. Meanwhile, the NC leadership is analyzing the impact of Soz's expulsion on the forthcoming elections in Kashmir. It is wooing Mr. Muzaffar Beg, the leading Supreme Court advocate to join NC and contest as its candidate in Baramulla. He had contested against NC last year. In case he declines the offer, the final choice would fall on Mr. Ahad Vakil, Mr. Sharifuddin Sharik or Mr. RamzanChoudhary