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Azad breaks free

Azad breaks free

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 8, 2008

A good man, betrayed twice over

In resigning on the floor of the Assembly even before voting could take place on a confidence motion, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, took the honourable route out of a morass not of his making. A decent man, Mr Azad has watched his Government collapse amid a fortnight's bizarre political drama. He was twice betrayed -- first by the PDP and then by his own party, the Congress, and its leadership in Delhi. The PDP, controlled by the powerful Mufti Mohammed Sayeed clan, walked out of an alliance with the Congress and reduced Mr Azad's Government to a minority, protesting against the temporary and revocable transfer of about 100 acres of land to Sri Amarnath Shrine Board for the setting up of pre-fabricated pilgrim shelters. Though PDP forest and environment Ministers had cleared the plan, the incendiary protests led by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference caused the PDP to cave in and turn equally hostile. Mr Azad stood his ground, defending his decision and being true to the former Governor, Lt Gen SK Sinha, with whom he shared an excellent equation and who, in his capacity as chairman of the Shrine Board, had made the initial proposal for the use of forest land. Indeed, few know that Mr Azad had recommended Gen Sinha's term be extended till at least October, so that he could oversee the Assembly elections. After sitting on Mr Azad's letter, the Centre suddenly announced it was appointing a new Governor, much to even Mr Azad's surprise. A few days later, its handpicked Governor unilaterally 'returned' the land to the Government -- which legally was the Government's to take back, not the Shrine Board chief's to give back -- and claimed that the crisis has been defused. In the end, the Congress has been left without a Government and with a seething populace in Jammu. It has crippled the Shrine Board, which is a replica of the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board that the party itself had incubated in the 1980s, without assuaging the extremists. The fall guy has been Mr Azad. He sought to uphold the law and do the morally correct thing, but found the Union Government and his own party bosses undermining him.

What next for Jammu & Kashmir? A spell of President's rule is inevitable before the October election and, if political inferences are correct, a spell of President's rule can even be expected after the election. With the BJP set to take advantage of the discontent in Jammu and the National Conference and the PDP fighting it out in the Valley, a three-way split between irreconcilable parties is forecast. The odd man out is the Congress -- set to be punished in the election, having neither defended national interest nor won points with the separatists, and made a sacrificial lamb of Mr Azad in the process.

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