COMMENT BY HASSAN ZAINAGIREE
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Last month on June 28, Chief Minister of J&K did a political “marvel” of his own. Unprecedented. And unexpected from a political class we are acquainted with. Expected to make a commitment for carving out Beerwah district from Budgam, Omar Abdullah preferred to leave the venue of a public gathering. The local leadership of the ruling National Conference had gathered the crowd on the promise that Omar would announce district status for Beerwah. The organizers insisted that CM should make the commitment to please the people even if that is not fulfilled later. He, however, plainly refused to do that and left the venue instead.
This is a courageous move and principled stand that needs to be appreciated. The stunning decision is a big slap on the face of those who seduce people on one pretext or other. It is a stern warning for the merchants of falsehood to desist from indulging in crude black-mailing of public sentiments. The bold step earns significance, even sanctity, when looked in the context that politicians are afflicted with the disease that for politicians commitments necessarily need not be pledged. Befooling people, they know is an art. Art of con artists, the politicians have identified themselves with.
The culture of lip commitment that refuses to percolate down the gullet and sticks in between the two jaws, power-hungry politicians have flourished and excelled in. This is the trade they try to outsmart other. They have their stalls opened round the clock. Their double-speak drugs minds of the credulous and makes them jump in forlorn hopes. A commitment that has a life-span of a bubble and done with the smartness of the chameleon’s shooting tongue can outdo even Pied Piper of Hamelin. After all, ‘promises are not’, as President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan once proudly remarked, ‘divine scriptures’, an infringement of which would make one liable of committing blasphemy. When the intent is not to fulfill them why to make a protest! Deception a magician plays at public show. Politicians do it at public gatherings. Both are masters in their witchcraft.
Anyways back to Omar. The young Chief Minister of the state, this time, made himself distinguished from his breed and wrote a new page of his political career. Addressing the gathering he made it clear that he would not make a promise that he can not fulfill:
“It was not in his grain to befool the people and make false promises
to them as his politics is based on principles of truth and integrity. ‘I will
only promise that I can deliver?… Neither in the past, nor in future
shall he ever make a false promise to the people even if he has to
face some temporary set backs due to this attitude of his as people have
reposed faith and trust in him and he can not betray them”
(GK, June 29, 2011)
Deliverance, yes, is the touch stone the integrity and the character of a public figure – even of a nation and an ordinary soul – is determined at. Retracting back from promises is despicable. Some political fortunes you might reap in hoodwinking people but ultimately the evil recoils back and makes you insomniac and loose your moral plank to stand up. Had the promises made by New Delhi with respect to Kashmiris right to self determination been implemented, the subcontinent would not have been atop on volcano of hostility and nuclear flash point. The ‘paradise on earth’ would not have been robbed of its beauty with such callous indifference. We would not have witnessed thousands of our people become sitting ducks of arrogance and power-intoxication.
Omar Abdullah, it seems, is highly sensitive to moral hygiene and does not want to smudge his personal profile with black stains of double-speak and falsehood. Soon after his bete-noir PDP accused in legislative assembly in 2009 that his name figures in sex-scandal he drove to governor’s house and tendered his resignation. One has to acknowledge his tolerance of democratic dissent and “respect” to freedom of expression when he on May 07 allowed Geelani to offer funeral prayers of Osama Bin Laden at Batmaloo. Twittering in his blog he wowed that in future he would not put restrictions on Geelani’s movement and thus, ‘not allow him to become a hero’.
Have a cursory view of ‘2008 Election manifesto’ of the National Conference. The manifesto reflects the promises which range from bigger political issues like restoration of autonomy, better co-ordination between Srinagar and Muzzarfarabad, setting up of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to the governance issue like revival of State Accountability Commission and giving teeth to State Vigilance Commission to end corruption. ‘We promise’, says the NC’s manifesto, ‘if elected to power, to translate this manifesto into letter and spirit and establish the people’s faith in the system.’ Add to it the promises the NC leadership made during elections about removal of AFSPA and other draconian laws and release of political prisoners.
If, as Mr. Omar claims ‘it was not in his grain to befool the people and make false promises’ what progress he has made in translating these issues into reality? Not committing oneself to a false promise and preferring to leave the gathering as Omar did a Beerwah is, though laudable, far more easier than pledging the commitment already made and not letting the manifesto eat dust under the carpet. It is here the quality of the “grain” is on test. And the politics of venality stands differentiated. ‘I will only promise what I can deliver’, exhorts Omar Sahab. Did he deliver he promised? What he tweeted on May 08, did he stick to his word? He promised he and his government would face Geelani and his Hurriyat Conference politically. Absolutely a matured and right decision. But only within twenty four hours he allowed Geelani to become a “hero”. 13th of July is commemorated in honor of the martyrs of 1931 who fell to the bullets of erstwhile autocratic Maharaja Hari Singh. Why curbs are put on Hurriyat and other political forces to pay homage to the martyrs? ‘I disapprove of what you say’, said Voltaire in his classic remark about freedom of speech, ‘but I will defend your right to say it’. Narrowing political space of your political opponents to four walls of prisons and house arresting them and denying them freedom to assemble peacefully and disseminate their ideology (that constitution guarantees) reveals there is a big gap between precept and practice.
Democracy doesn’t recognize selective assertions. It accommodates different political thoughts. And it does not behoove Omar Abdullah to rule through instruments of PSAs and section 114.