One way of looking at the latest crisis that has engulfed the Jammu and Kashmir government is to see how ‘normal’ it is when compared to previous eruptions that were usually related to ‘Kashmiri’ problems of human rights violations committed by security personnel or old secessionist noises spinning out of control. But this would be a wrong way of looking at things. The utter pandemonium witnessed in the J&K assembly on Monday after members of the Opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) vented anger over the death of National Conference (NC) worker Syed Yusuf in police custody on September 30 points to a growing problem that chief minister Omar Abdullah will need to address sooner rather than later: how to shake off his perceived tag as an undemocratic autocrat.
There is no doubt that the death of Yusuf, a land dealer from south Kashmir known by Mr Abdullah as well as his father Farooq, has taken place under mysterious circumstances. He was spotted by security cameras being escorted out from Mr Abdullah’s residence by crime branch officers after being accused of taking a bribe in exchange of a minister’s and a legislator’s seat. The next day Yusuf died, allegedly in police custody, and according to the government, after suffering a heart attack in the local police hospital. Things don’t look good for Mr Abdullah.
Mr Abdullah, on his part, has denounced the accusations of being involved in the death of a ‘rogue’ NC worker. He has also said that he is ready to face the judicial commission to be set up by the chief justice of the J&K high court. For that, he doesn’t need special commendation. But at stake is getting to the bottom of the truth. Regardless of the fact that this incident doesn’t fall under the usual rubric of ‘Kashmir problems’, this is Kashmir and a ‘normal’ murder — for the lack of any other word — has the potential of turning into something much bigger and uglier. On her part, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti should ensure that opposition eyes are kept on the ball. Democratic functioning demands procedures and ensuring a thorough probe rather than unleasing chaos in the form of rage hinders rather than facilitates finding the truth.
In the general scheme of things as chief minister, Mr Abdullah needs to reach out across party lines when dealing with crises. Perhaps the workings of other governments in India have given Mr Abdullah the idea that confrontational politics is the only way out of a sticky situation. And Ms Mufti certainly doesn’t make matters easy for a bipartisan approach. But the fact remains that Mr Abdullah has to go beyond his usual hard stare and tight-lippedness. Let the probe be open to all voices, including that of the Opposition. For this death is a ‘Kashmir’ problem, however one decides that it is not.