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PDP in Trouble over ED Summons, Notices to Leaders to vacate Govt Housing

PDP President Mehooba Mufti addressing media during a press conference

With ED summons to Mehbooba Mufti’s mother over financial irregularities and eviction orders to PDP leaders living in official housing, the party is caught in a bind.

The troubles for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Mehbooba Mufti are far from over with the J&K administration asking a young PDP leader to vacate his official accommodation in the capital Srinagar.

A former legislator from south Kashmir, Aijaz Ahmad Mir, was asked on Wednesday by the J&K’s estates department to vacate his accommodation in Srinagar’s Jawahar Nagar where he has been putting up since the PDP-BJP alliance came to power in 2015.

“I am packing my belongings. A letter by the estates department said that I have to vacate these premises. I don’t feel safe. I don’t know where I should go where I will feel safe,” Aijaz, one of the youngest leaders of the PDP, told The Wire.

Aijaz won his maiden assembly election on a PDP ticket and represented Shopian district’s Wachhi constituency in the last legislature of J&K state.

In 2018, one of his personal security officers decamped with seven automatic rifles from his residence and went on to join the Hizbul Mujahideen. Aijaz was questioned by investigation agencies in the case.

The vacation notice to Aijaz came a day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued a fresh summons on July 6 to the party founder late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s wife and the incumbent president Mehbooba Mufti’s mother, Gulshan Nazir.

The ED has asked Gulshan, who contested the first assembly elections held in J&K after the eruption of armed insurgency in the early nineties alongside her husband, to appear at its Srinagar office on July 14 at 11 am.

Sunil Kumar, who has been identified as ED’s assistant director, notes in the summon that if Gulshan fails to “give evidence” during the course of the investigation, she will be “liable to penal proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (15 of 2003)”.

The central agency claims to have recovered two diaries from Anjum Fazili, a former nominated legislator of J&K assembly and friend of the PDP chief Mehbooba, in connection with a case filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.

According to the ED probe, cash from the chief minister’s discretionary fund account was allegedly transferred to Gulshan’s personal bank account which, the probe agency says, has been used in contravention of the established norms for expending such funds, a charge denied by Mehbooba.

The PDP chief, who became the first woman chief minister of J&K in 2017, sees the ED summons and the vacation notice to Aijaz as an attempt by the BJP’s central government to “intimidate political opponents”.

“There is a method in their madness. The summons came on the day when we (PDP) choose not to meet the Delimitation Commission [in Kashmir],” Mehbooba told The Wire.

Row over delimitation commission

The commission is on a four-day visit of J&K, and all the other major political parties, including the National Conference, Congress, and CPI(M), met with its members and demanded the restoration of J&K’s statehood before assembly elections are held.

Headed by Ranjana Prakash Desai, a distinguished Supreme Court judge, the commission has sought the feedback of the political leaders and state officials ahead of the delimitation of assembly constituencies.

As per the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, which bifurcated and downgraded the erstwhile state into two union territories that are under the direct administration of New Delhi, the number of assembly seats is to be increased in J&K from 107 to 114 ahead of the assembly elections.

The leadership of Kashmir-based political parties, including the PDP and the National Conference, had also demanded during the all-party meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month that the Union government must restore the statehood of J&K first before redrawing the constituencies.

There are fears that the delimitation exercise is being steamrolled by the BJP to turn the Muslims, who are in a majority in Jammu and Kashmir, into an electoral minority.

Besides, in absence of any defined formula for carrying out the delimitation, it is rumored that the commission will allot five out of seven new assembly seats to the Jammu region.

“This will give political heft to the BJP amid the talk of reservation of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs in J&K’s new legislature,” said Professor Noor A. Baba, a political scientist and former Dean of Social Sciences at the Kashmir University.

In its letter to the delimitation commission, the PDP has also alleged that the “whole exercise was unconstitutional and pre-planned to favor a particular political party”.

“We cannot be a part of some exercise, the outcome of which is widely believed to be pre-planned and which may further hurt the interests of our people,” wrote senior PDP leader Ghulam Nabi Hanjura.

“There are apprehensions that the delimitation exercise is part of the overall process of political disempowerment of the people of J&K that the Government of India has embarked on,” the party stated.

The letter was appreciated by National Conference’s dissident leader Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, saying, “It is never too late to stand for your rights.”

“Unambiguity is the way forward. Hoping this letter reflects the in-house consensus. The message of the letter is appreciable,” Mehdi, a three-time legislator from central Kashmir’s Budgam, said in a tweet.

Criticism over orders to vacate secure government housing

With militant attacks on the rise in Kashmir, the PDP fears that the party’s leaders are being singled out by the J&K administration and “deliberately” being put “in harm’s way”.

Earlier, the J&K administration had asked another PDP leader and former J&K minister Zahoor Mir to vacate his official accommodation in Srinagar. On Sunday, Mehbooba wrote to lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha, seeking his intervention in the issue.

“At a time when militancy is on the rise yet again, they (PDP leaders) have been made to vacate their official residences in Srinagar without providing any alternate accommodation,” Mehbooba said in a letter to Sinha.

“What makes matters worse is that even after repeated requests of the party leaders to grant them security in villages where they originally reside, these requests have been declined,” the letter states.

The PDP chief claimed that the J&K administration cites the “presence of militants” for their refusal to provide security.

“But the same administration has no qualms in evicting them from secure government accommodations in Srinagar and deliberately putting them in harm’s way,” the PDP chief added.

Condemning the ED for summoning Mehbooba’s mother, the Gupkar alliance spokesperson and CPI(M) general secretary M.Y. Tarigami said that the summons is “part of vindictive policies to suppress dissent and disagreement and to silence the genuine demand for the reversal of unilateral and unconstitutional decisions of August 5, 2019”.

“… [The] muzzling [of] voices of dissent by using probe agencies against political opponents is unacceptable. There are not enough words to condemn such coercive acts…must be put to an end immediately,” Tarigami said in a statement.