Reopening Cinemas, Liquor Shops 'part Of Great Design'10 December 2011
Srinagar: National Conference President and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah’s call for reopening of cinemas and liquor shops in Kashmir is read with skepticism by a section of political observers and analysts, here. They claim the NC president had a design in making the call at a time when his chief minister-son Omar Abdullah was confronted by serious issues- lifting of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) being the main one. “It is a tactics to shift attention from real issue,” they say. Farooq Abdullah, on Monday, asked for reopening of liquor shops and cinemas to attract more tourists to Kashmir when people were commemorating Muharram. “He (Farooq Abdullah) knew that the timing is sensitive, and it would evoke serious reaction,” says Mohammad Rafiq, a college teacher. “His contention was to shift attention from his son’s cherished AFSPA-removal slogan as central government has snubbed him from making an issue out of it”, he elaborated adding “and Abdullah did it quite successfully,” he adds. NC president’s call invited widespread condemnation from various sections of Kashmiri society with hard-line Huriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani asking Islamic clergy to issue fatwa against Abdullah. Imams and Khateeb of mosques flayed Abdullah and opposed strongly any move to reopen the cinemas and liquor shops in their Friday sermons. Clashes between police and protestors were also reported from some interior parts of Srinagar. “He (Farooq Abdullah) is the head of the ruling party. His son is the chief minister. Whom he was demanding to reopen cinemas and liquor shops?” asks advocate Ashraf Wani. “Farooq Abdullah could have asked the government to do it even on telephone. But he chose a public occasion for this, simply to make it a Public issue,” he adds. Cinema houses and liquor shops closed down in Kashmir with the onset of militancy in 1989-90. But both the businesses made a comeback during Farooq Abdullah’s government (1996-2002). Three cinema houses-Broadway, Regal and Neelam-restarted their operation with huge government financial assistance. But the cinemas closed eventually as they found few people going cinemas to watch movies. Some liquor shops were also opened by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulan Nabi Azad during their stint as chief ministers of the state between 2002 and 2008. “Nobody objected then, though majority of the people were against to it. Even militant groups who had good presence then too ignored it”, says advocate Nazir Ahmad Malik. “But making it an issue now has definitely a design,” he adds. Chief Minister had pitched hard for revocation of AFPSA, though partially, but had to face serious opposition from armed forces, more particularly army. But the chief minister made it an issue of prestige when he reacted to army’s objection as “no, is not an option'. Omar bypassed the army’s opposition and traversed to Delhi to seek help from the political leadership. He, in the process, met Prime Minister, Home Minister, Foreign and defence ministers besides UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to get them agreed to his proposal but found no takers. As a last ditch effort Omar Abdullah met with army chief Gen V K Singh and offered him to amend Criminal Procedure Code (Cr PC) to ally army’s apprehensions that withdrawal of AFSPA would limit their powers. But this created furor at home turf Kashmir. The legal and political establishment rose in one voice to oppose any move to amend Cr PC. Incidentally, it had been almost a routine with the Chief Minister to give rise to new issues to get over the previous ones. In September unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir made a big issue after State human Rights Commission confirmed the existence of such graves and asked the government to investigate and identify them. The chief minister diluted the issue by raising a fresh controversy over hanging of Afzal Guru by tweeting against Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution seeking amnesty for Rajiv Gandhi killers. Omar Abdullah’s tweet raised storm all across India, drowning all issues under its noise. But as the chief minister began to feel the heat of the issue, he gave a diversion to it by making another issue in his aide Syed Mohammad Yousuf’s death. Yousuf’s death caught attention more than any other issue as it was directly connected with the chief minister. Omar had called Yousf to his Gupkar House for his involvement in cash-for-berth scam. But as the threads of the scam showed its links with the National Conference leadership, the chief minister raised another issue-removal of AFSPA.