PDP Minister Quits Cabinet, Crisis In J-K
4 September 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Two days after Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad snatched away the Forest portfolio from senior PDP leader and Cabinet colleague Qazi Mohammad Afzal over serious corruption charges, Afzal resigned from the council of ministers on Tuesday, precipitating a crisis in the Congress-PDP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir. Qazi was also Minister for Urban Development. PDP leaders maintained that Azad did not take them into confidence and termed the 'unceremonious ouster of a senior PDP leader from the ministry' a humiliation. 'Taking away the Forest portfolio from me and the way the matter was made public has not only put a question mark on my credibility as a minister but has also hit at the very roots of the coalition arrangement,' Afzal said in his resignation letter. 'I owe my presence in the ministry, as also the charge of my portfolio, to the trust and confidence of my party and its leadership. I have come to know that my party leadership was not consulted about this,' he added. Sources revealed that Azad's decision to remove Afzal stemmed from serious allegations of corruption. In fact, the Government also removed the Managing Director of the State Forest Corporation, who was deemed to be close to Afzal. However, Azad did use the occasion to push PDP into a Catch 22 situation politically as Afzal's removal on corruption charges is bound to affect the PDP with the Valley inching towards an Assembly election. When asked about the alleged corruption charges, Afzal said he was ready to face a probe. 'We are here for the honour of people and not for the chair. I don't want to join issues with the Chief Minister, but there are lots of things that I can say as well,' he stated. In fact, Afzal did hint at a possible PDP reaction in his resignation letter. 'I reserve the right to vindicate my honour in the face of a sinister, orchestrated campaign to malign my public reputation,' he wrote to the Chief Minister. 'I consider myself accountable more than anyone else.' A senior PDP leader said the party was weighing all options to respond to this 'political gimmick'. He said the resignation of the minister was the first step. In fact, the PDP had raised several questions on the issue privately with the Congress High Command. 'We did tell them (Congress High Command) that if the minister was found to be corrupt in the Forest Department, why did the Chief Minister allow him to continue with the Urban Development Ministry? It's a mockery,' he said.