Lawyer, Legislator No Stranger To The Dock

2 August 2009
The Indian Express
RIYAZ WANI

Srinagar: After lying low for close to two years, PDP leader and former J&K deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh is back in the spotlight after alleging on the floor of the Assembly that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah figured in the CBI’s list of suspects in the Srinagar sex scandal of 2006. And while the drama of Omar resigning and then resuming office has died down, there is renewed interest in Beigh and his politics, fuelled in part by the National Conference’s counter-accusation, in the form of a questionnaire, in the Assembly about his “liaisons”. Beigh, the man and the politician, isn’t easy to pin down. His life has followed two trajectories: one as a leading lawyer and the other as a major politician. But overriding both is the story of a boy from a poor background rising to make his mark in the courtroom as well as the political arena. In November 2005, when Beigh was appointed deputy chief minister of J&K, it seemed to be the climax of a long journey for the impoverished but intelligent boy from the isolated village of Wahidina in Baramulla district. His dismissal saw the first-ever public protests -including a complete shutdown in his constituency Baramulla- in support of a pro-India politician in a stridently separatist town. Despite studying in a primary school with no electricity, Beigh stood first in the entire state in the Class VIII board exams. He also topped the state in his matriculation examination and then again in college, which he attended in Baramulla. His brilliant academic run continued in Delhi University, where he studied law: Beigh came first in the combined university examination. But academics were never his sole pursuit. He was active as student leader in Baramulla, and later plunged into local politics, and was elected the vice-chairman of the Baramulla Town Area Committee. Soon afterwards, he won a prestigious fellowship to do his Masters in Law at Harvard University. After a brief stint at Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine, which was a leading corporate litigation firms in New York, Beigh returned to politics. He fought the Assembly elections in Baramulla as an Independent, a bold move considering that he was pitted against the National Conference, still helmed by Sheikh Abdullah. He lost to the NC candidate but garnered around 80,000 votes. He also managed to make a lasting impression. People still remember his fiery two-hour election speech in the town’s main market where he made a strong bid to undermine Sheikh Abdullah in one of his main bastions. Beigh fought another election from the town in 1983, this time as vice-president of the People’s Conference, led by future Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone. He lost to the NC. In 1985, he was appointed advocate-general of the state in 1985, but resigned after Farooq Abdullah returned to power and moved to New Delhi, where he worked as a senior advocate in the Supreme Court. He returned to the Valley only in 1998, this time to fight the Lok Sabha elections from Baramulla, which he lost to NC candidate Saifuddin Soz. Beigh says he was persuaded to contest that election by his future bete noire in PDP, Ghulam Hassan Mir, who revolted against the party when Beigh was appointed deputy chief minister. In 1999, when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed launched the PDP, Beigh was a co-founder along with Ghulam Hassan Mir. “I was the second to sign the party constitution after Mufti sahib,” Beigh noted. In October 2002, just three years after the PDP was launched, the unexpected happened: The party was able to dislodge the NC as the dominant party in the Valley. “From nobodies, we suddenly became rulers,” Beigh said. Beigh quickly became the most articulate face of the new dispensation. He was the minister of finance, planning, law and parliamentary affairs in the PDP period of the coalition government. When the Congress took over the government in November 2005, Beigh retained his earlier portfolios and was also made deputy CM. It was his growing closeness to then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad that triggered his removal from office. However, Beigh returned as Deputy CM towards the end of the PDP-Congress coalition rule and continued in the post till June 2008 when in the wake of Amarnath controversy PDP withdrew support to Congress. Yet, Beigh says he is a “reluctant politician” and would call it quits “at the very first opportunity... I don’t want to be here (politics) all my life”.