No newspaper was printed in Kashmir for the fourth consecutive day on Wednesday even as the state administration denied having gone for a three-day media ban--and blamed the non-publication on a “miscommunication” on the part of the police.
On Tuesday, Amitabh Mattoo, who is the political adviser to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, said the government had not imposed any press gag--an argument the media in the Valley is not willing to buy.
The newspapers in Kashmir -- English, Urdu and Kashmiri -- have now refused to publish, saying the government “must own up the ban it imposed” on Saturday.
“Just saying that it was some ‘miscommunication’ is not enough. For, it has now become a question of our integrity being questioned,” said Rashid Maqdoomi, printer and publisher of Greater Kashmir, the Valley’s largest-circulating daily.
“We want the government to own up the ban and get the assurance that there will not be hurdles in staff movement and distribution of the newspapers. We want it in black and white that a ban was imposed and it has been completely lifted,’’ he added.
Earlier, Mattoo had sought to clarify that the government was only hinting at the practical difficulties in distributing newspapers amid the prohibitory orders. “There was a curfew, people. The CM had just said that it would be tough to circulate papers; she hadn’t called for a ban,’’ he said, adding “heads will roll” as a measure against the ostensibly wrong implementation of the suggestion.
The result was soon to be seen: a senior police official was shunted out. Budgam district SSP Fayaz Ahmad Lone, who had ordered raids at media houses and printing presses, was transferred as a commandant of the State Disaster Response Fund.
The action notwithstanding, experts are questioning a ‘glaring flaw’ in the entire episode: why did the administration choose to react late? For, the government’s spokesman, Naeem Akhtar, had confirmed on Saturday that newspapers in the state would not be allowed to publish. In some places, the police raided media houses as early as on Friday and detained staff besides seizing print orders.
Hindustan Times tried repeatedly to talk to Akhtar; his phone remained unreachable all of Tuesday.
Sources close to the CM insist that the “mix-up” since Saturday happened after police officers acted on their own. “This is Kashmir. Most of the times, officers here act on a second guess,” a senior official said. “They don’t always wait to get a clear signal from bosses.”
According to reports, union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had, in between, called Mehbooba Mufti, who reportedly told him that “all is well” with Kashmir media and there was no ban.
This is the second time the CM seems to have been kept in the dark about the goings-on in her state after violence erupted in the Valley following the killing of young militant Burhan Wani in a south Kashmir village on July 8.
While on the day 21-year-old Wani died in Boomdoora of Kokernag area in Ananthnag district, senior police officials told a press conference that Mufti, as the CM, was aware of the joint operation that killed the Hizbul Mujahideen leader. Akhtar, however, claimed later Mebooba Mufti wasn’t in the know of it--a stand that the CM’s PR machinery has also maintained.
Mehboob Beg, MP, who is a senior leader of the PDP ruling the state, went a step further and said “Mehbooba was betrayed by men in uniform’’.
Observers say the “unclear” statements and deeds from the ruling apparatus only show the CM’s lack of control in the administration of the state.
The Opposition is irked. “If she does not know what’s happening in her government, she has no business to be in power,” former CM Omar Abdullah told Hindustan Times. “She is shying away from conceding that her government and its various wings have bought the state to this point. As the head of the government, the CM cannot absolve herself of the responsibility of what is happening in the state.’’
Substantiating, the National Conference leader said the state police first claimed the CM was told about the Wani encounter, only to later say “it is not necessary to tell her everything’’.
Mehbooba Mufti, who made her political career and that of her party’s by visiting homes of those killed by security forces, has not made a public appearance since Wani’s killing--except for a brief appearance at the Martyrs’ Graveyard in Srinagar’s historical Naqshand Shahib shrine on July 13. She did issue a televised message, asking people to keep their children away from the protests.
Experts insist the video lacked the touch of Mehbooba, known for her bold statements. “She was not the Mehbooba Mufti that Kashmir has known. There was guilt writ all over her face,’’ said senior journalist Shiekh Mushtaq.
“These statements tell us who is ruling. Whether it’s a U-turn on the media ban or her knowing or not knowing the Wani operation by security forces, I think she is just following somebody’s directives and not owning up. She is appearing very weak,’’ said Mushtaq, a former Reuters bureau chief. “It requires a cabinet meeting to decide on a ban on the media; so she has to own it up. Under the sway of a strong BJP in the centre, her stature appears totally diminished.’’