Southern Focus

As Kashmir assembly begins its stormy budget session, the opposition is united in disorder. The objective is to have some impact on Chief Minister’s election from south Kashmir, reports Masood Hussain

assembly-kashmirLawmakers cracked jokes when they were invited to SKICC for assembly’s joint session to hear the head of the state. “Isn’t it strange that we had the numbers of both the houses when the legislative complex was constructed?” one member said. “If we can miss the sight of things under our nose, what vision we will implement?”

But the lacklustre sitting was interestingly different as it dropped the broad hints about how the session will go on. Governor N N Vohra had all the sophisticated mike system but Engineer Rashid was more audible after NC and Congress walked out.

After obituary references, when the assembly resumed for routine, it started with pandemonium. NC, Congress and other opposition members did not permit the first question hour of the season. They all wanted the house to be adjourned and raised different issues. The script was simple: cripple the government.

Later when Omar Abdullah responded to governor’s address, he lived up the expectations. Like a good opposition leader, he had done his homework well. His artistry and deliverance was much better than Abdullah Sr. Flying all the way from France, where, according to his friends, he was holidaying, a spirited Omar impressed the house by offering a cocktail of reportage, intrigue, politics and tensions around. “Time slips so fast on this (throne),” he addressed his successor Mehbooba Mufti, “that I sometimes think as if I am still on the dice with Sonia Gandhi on my side.”

Barring a few issues, Omar pricked the right balloons. “Where comes the argument for connecting people (read Jammu with Kashmir and Ladakh),” Omar asked, “When a senior minister reminds Muslims of Jammu about the 1947.” Opposition lawmakers shamed Lal Singh for the 47 remark. In his defence he said he was merely referring to temperature and not the era!

History may never forget Omar of 2010 but that does not prevent him from asking what coalition did in Handwara. “We have a right to ask if the girl you detained for all these days is correct or it is the cop what has been taking bullets for us,” Omar asked. “Was she in custody or in protection? Was she speaking truth on the video that was used against her or is she now speaking the truth?”

On NFSA, exclusive housing settlements for soldiers and Pandits, Omar was unstoppable. Though he may have to take part of the blame, if at all these right-wings projects eventually came up, but his speech exhibited the street concerns. Talking loudly about the ideological discomfort of the alliance partners, Omar provoked Ms Mufti to react: “You cannot always hide behind your spokesman. He is unelected, you are not.” He even pooh-poohed coalition idea of getting at least one power project back from NHPC and lamented over the failure of securing the projects that were otherwise under way.

This offers a clear idea about opposition’s resolve to keep the government in check. Governments’ have all along remained quite conservative in convening assemblies apparently because they wanted to reduce the level of accountability. Normally, there used to be only two sessions – the longer budget session in Jammu and shorter autumn session in Srinagar. If insiders are taken seriously then the coalition wants to have three sessions – two short sessions in Srinagar at the beginning and conclusion of durbar and one longer in Jammu. This time, however, it is the mandatory budget session that is being held to take care of the three quarters for which budgets are to be allocated.

But, for misfortune of the government, it has come almost at a wrong time. Election Commission has already announced election for the Islamabad assembly seat that fell vacant after the demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. By all indications, Ms Mehbooba Mufti is contesting the election to become member of the assembly. The opposition knows the Achilles’ heel and that is what the target seems.

Islamabad assembly segment is going to polls on June 19, the midst of the Muslim month of fasting at a time when the assembly will be in session. “It is too early to say the impact but the session will offer opposition a platform to expose the government and stay in news at no additional cost,” one middle rung officer said. “It has the potential of creating a situation that opposition will be making accusations in the assembly and the government will have to drive down south to respond.”

Of the two of three days of the ongoing session, the dominant slogan in the assembly was to push down RSS Sarkar. Already aware of the costs that the South Pole has for aligning with North Pole, any further debate on the issue of alliance is unlikely to help ruling PDP.

So what are the options in treasury kitty? Is it going to brave the verbal storm and stay firm for encouraging debate and accountability? Or is it going to return to the beaten path, opt for shortcuts, reduce the duration of the session and drive down south to campaign? Once Dr Haseeb Drabu presents his budget, the answers will be clearer, later next week.


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