After summers of unrest, Omar in autumn of accusations

By Sheikh Qayoom, IANS,

The mystery deepens, pulling the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister into the quicksand of controversy. The death of a National Conference worker in custody has become murkier pitting Omar Abdullah against a witness in an unsavoury “my word against his” row.

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As the opposition clamours for his resignation over the Sep 30 death of Sayeed Muhammad Yousuf, Abdullah once again finds himself in the proverbial eye of a growing storm.

“I have full faith that the truth will come out. I see no reason why I should resign either as home minister or chief minister,” Abdullah told a TV channel, battling allegations of wrongdoing against him and his father, union minister Farooq Abdullah.

A key witness, Abdul Salam Rishi, has said Yousuf and another NC worker Muhammad Yusuf Bhat were summoned to the chief minister’s residence over allegations of bribes being given and taken for prime positions in the political establishment.

Rishi told television channels that Yousuf had accepted taking Rs.85 lakh from Bhat. Rishi alleged that Yousuf had taken the money as a political bribe paid finally to NC patron Farooq Abdullah for getting Bhat a minister’s berth in the NC-Congress coalition.

He said he himself had paid Rs.36 lakh to Yousuf for getting him a legislator’s post but was returned the money when the promise was not fulfilled.

He also said Yousuf had been taken to a room at the chief minister’s residence where he remained for nearly half an hour after which he vomited, staggered and was “visibly unwell”.

The accusations are extremely serious as they suggest both political bribery and also fatal assault.

But Rishi’s statement cannot be taken without a pinch of salt.

After all, the statement comes from someone who admitted having paid a huge bribe himself.

The veracity of the allegations will be put to test only after the expected judicial probe into the murky affair gets under way. Abdullah, who faced unrest the last two summers over people’s protests, saw relative quiet in the last two months but finds himself in an unenviable position once again.

Nobody has accused Abdullah of either having accepted the bribe or assaulting the slain NC worker.

Yes, Rishi alleged Abdullah was visibly angered at the whole affair after learning that money had been paid and accepted as political gratification, but the personal conduct of the chief minister in this whole affair is questioned only to the extent that he should not have called the three people to his residence.

Normally, Abdullah should have called in the police the moment he was approached by two NC workers alleging a political payoff. Abdullah has been trying to explain that by saying he wanted to learn the details since all three belonged to his party.

Lawyers will now be engaged both by those trying to protect the chief minister and those gunning for him.

The chief minister has publicly stated he is ready to appear before the judicial probe if he is asked to clarify his position.

Nothing should be done to upstage the free and fair working of the judicial probe.

For once, political expediency must wait. Abdullah, like all of us, has the legal and democratic right to clarify his position. He should not be condemned unheard; let us not be prejudiced against him simply because he called three workers of his party home who had levelled serious charges against one another.

At the same time, the family of the slain person has the legal and constitutional right to be told why Yousuf died in police custody. If he died because of a murderous assault, his perpetrators must be brought to justice.

(06.10.2011-Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])