By resigning from his position following PDP leader Muzzafar Beigh’s charges of his being on the Central Bureau of Investigations’ list of suspects in the 2006 sex exploitation case Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has, to many, set an example of moral integrity in politics. Omar Abdullah took no time to resign in front of Governor N. N. Vohra, after Beigh made the allegation in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly.
The move to resign was clearly quite calculated, despite Omar’s assertion that it was an emotional knee-jerk reaction. For starters, the resignation was a conditional one; the governor was requested to accept it only if the charges were proved. There was no way to prove it then and there. With both PDP and the NC-led government sticking to their own documents, the CBI and the entire Indian establishment came furtively in defense of its poster boy in Kashmir, who, vindicated in his little histrionics, was suddenly elevated to the status of a role model for all politicians not only in Kashmir but in India too. It was a shot in the arm for Omar whose image had taken a huge hit only a few weeks back because of his “drowning remarks” in the press conference he held after the Shopian rape and murder incident.
Some questions arise here. Beyond allegations and resignations, what do these events in the legislative assembly symbolize? What are the likely implications of these events on the public discourse? And, lastly, what constitutes moral integrity?
In 2006, when the magnitude of the sex exploitation case surfaced, because of sustained public protests in Kashmir, for the first time the nexus between the pro-India politicians, the state police, the Indian troops, and the bureaucrats was exposed. The case became symbolic of the Kashmiri ruling class’ criminality and corruption. For the first time, it was clearly delineated who the Kashmiri masses were resisting. Virtually all the different sections of the ruling class were well represented: two sitting legislators—one a Muslim Kashmiri another a Pandit—, the Advocate General, a BSF DIG, some high-ranking state police officers, bureaucrats, a rich hotelier and many others.
The issue would have been hushed up completely, but there was no let up in public protests. New Delhi, understanding the scale of involvement, realized it would be disastrous to objectively pursue the case, for it could engulf the entire spectrum of political assets the Indian government had nurtured in Kashmir over the years. CBI, which was handed over the case, prepared a list of people named by the victims—who included minor girls. The ones who could not be saved were put in the accused list and the rest—mostly highly valuable assets—were put among the suspects. After a lot of dilly-dally in arresting the culprits, the case was moved out of Jammu and Kashmir to Chandigarh district and sessions court. In Chandigarh the case crawled on very slowly with charges against 14 people only being filed in the March of 2007. With new events emerging the case was lost from the Kashmiri public discourse. One of the legislators from the Congress Party, Ahmed Mir, charged under Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA), contested and won election from his Dooru-Shahbad constituency in 2008. A senior Kashmiri IAS officer, also charged under PITA, was reinstated and subsequently promoted. And the rest of the charged are out on bail.
It all happened when the PDP-Congress coalition government was at the helm of affairs. When Beigh—from PDP—(howsoever ill-intentioned and with no ethical locus standi of his own) referred to the case in the legislative assembly, it instantly caused many a feather to ruffle. So spontaneous was Omar Abdullah’s response that before any one could even talk about the case any more, he turned the attention of everyone toward his dramatic “resignation”. He killed two birds with one stone: first, he managed to draw sympathy from the media and some sections of the public to offset his recently wilting image; second, he killed the case itself.
In the larger schema of things PDP and NC are the same species. Run each by an influential, India-loyalist family, both try to outsmart each other on trivial issues. On substantial issues they silently maintain a similar position. Both parties/families know that as long as they are on the Indian payroll and they serve Indian interests in Kashmir, they will always have power—be they in the government or in the “opposition.” On this substantial issue, however, Indian government gave PDP politicians a quick rap on the knuckle. PDP lost no time in bringing their rhetoric down. This small rupture (events in the assembly) had the potential to become a major event in our recent memory, what with small, hairline fractures emerging within the structures of the Indian occupation in Kashmir; but the fractures were quickly stitched up.
Omar resignation drama has now made it impossible to discuss the 2006 sex scandal in the legislative assembly anymore. All the legislators will be wary of bringing it up. And this is where the question of what constitutes moral integrity can be answered.
Imagine if Omar, instead of staging a resignation drama, had said that 2006 sex scandal case would be investigated afresh, the guilty would be brought to book, and justice would be done to the victims, how ethical that would have been! Is there integrity in resigning from a position you know is going nowhere or in providing justice to the victims when you are in a position to do so?
In 2002, when BJP-led government in Delhi endorsed the Gujarat pograms against that state’s Muslim minority, Omar, then Minister of State for External Affairs, failed to resign (a shame—his two-line apology in the Indian Parliament notwithstanding). In May 2009, when the case of two Shopian women, raped and murdered, was barefacedly described by him as “a simple case of drowning,” he failed to resign in acknowledgement of his lack of scruples. When government forces shot dead four people in Baramulla in June 2009, Omar failed to resign. He did not acknowledge the incompetence of his rule in providing security to the people. But here, when there was a genuine chance to discuss a serious case and provide justice to the victims, Omar resigned—exactly to prevent any such discussion.