J&K Youth Leader’s Arrest: Who’s Actually Been ‘Planted’ By Whom?
Investigators suspect PDP youth wing President Waheed Para of having ‘helped’ terrorists, but don’t have evidence.
L’affaire Waheed Para has demonstrated once again that the onion layers of who is backed by whom in Kashmir are more complex than most locals presume. Perhaps all those layers of intrigue and suspicion about who is whose ‘plant’ or who-or-what has whose ‘back’ are just the leaping convolutions of the Kashmiri mind, with its characteristic wheels within wheels. Imaginary.
The situation here may actually be what it superficially seems: that investigators suspect the youth leader of the PDP of having helped terrorists, but don’t have evidence. If that’s so, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d have seen that well-funded investigating bodies there can be pretty clueless.
Waheed Para: A Feisty Young Leader
Waheed Para became recognised as the PDP’s spokesperson on all manner of television channels while Mehbooba Mufti was the chief minister. He is an ambitious but sober, energetic and bright young man from the heart of Pulwama, which has emerged as the centre of militancy and youth resentment over the past decade.
Hailing from the most terror-affected district of south Kashmir, he must surely have known some former militants, even if just in passing on the byways of his village, Tahab.
Plus, any politician in Kashmir who wants to remain in touch with the ground, and keep his family safe, would have some contacts, or at least intermediaries, with some militant elements. It’s life insurance.
Para’s family would have been especially targeted by militants, for his grandfather is remembered in the village as the man who used to sit outside his house on India’s Independence Day to distribute sweets to all who passed by. Militants and their mentors in the ISI often keep a bitter record of such individuals and families.
What Does The NIA Actually Have On Waheed Para?
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Para just days after he filed his nomination for the Pulwama District Council. The arrest boosted his prospects; his father went from house to house pleading that, by voting to elect him, people would help get him released.
He won handily, but the NIA was not moved. However, the Special Judge who is hearing the NIA case saw how weak the case filed against him was. He granted Para bail last weekend, remarking cuttingly that the NIA had produced no evidence worth the name.
In Kashmir’s charged environment, the bail was promptly interpreted by both pro- and anti-government observers as ‘evidence’ that a deal had been struck.
Para would now join the BJP, or another party close to the ruling establishment, they smugly presumed.
But the Counter-Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) cell of the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s CID wing picked up Para almost as soon as he was released from Jammu Central Jail, and locked him up for investigations.
The head of the state’s CID wing is reputed to be one of the finest officers in the land, and is in the running to become the director-general of the force.
The NIA, which operates as a favoured instrument of the current National Security set-up, seems to be convinced that there is a case against Para, even though it didn’t produce any worthwhile evidence before the Special Judge.
Throwback To Sheikh Abdullah’s 1953 Arrest
It’s not the first time that Para has been questioned and investigated. It’s also happened a few times during the past couple of years. So, clinching evidence ought to have been collected by now. But it’s not even entirely clear whether the probes are over corruption or terror links. In recent weeks, policemen have visited Para’s family, friends, and neighbours to ask questions. There is also talk of auditing the family’s properties, perhaps to ascertain the sources of funds for construction or expansion.
To some neighbours, the visits seemed like a bit of a fishing expedition, almost as if investigators were doing what their predecessors did after Sheikh Abdullah, the then prime minister, was arrested in 1953.
They had had no incriminating evidence, except of his political and geopolitical aspirations.
Cases were put together based on evidence of what was done on Abdullah’s behalf after his arrest. Even those charges were let go by 1964, just when some of the country’s top lawyers were convinced they had a strong case to prosecute Abdullah. That decision put him on the road back to power, which culminated in 1975.
These sorts of parallels force one to think with a sense of dejection and déjà vu of all the talk of not doing things the way they used to be done in Jammu and Kashmir, and starting afresh, with openness, rule-based governance and new vigour.
Why Para Was Seen As A ‘Collaborator’
The reason this whole business is so disturbing is that Para had become the face of those among a new generation of young Kashmiris who participated vigorously in the system. The rule of law is vital to bolster their faith.
The State apparatus going after him without convincing evidence could confuse and disillusion others who have chosen to embrace the established system.
A spunky leader, Para had walked into a top-level BJP event at Raj Ghat several years ago, saying he had come from Kashmir and wanted to say something. Some factotums tried to shush him but Rajnath Singh, then the party president, allowed him to speak. His words impressed top BJP functionaries, including Sushma Swaraj.
Although Para’s positions on several issues were nuanced, he was promptly slotted as a ‘collaborator’. When he addressed students at a prominent university some years ago, part of the audience attacked him belligerently. Perceiving a danger to life and limb from what was almost turning into a mob, his hosts hurried him out of a back entrance.
(The same audience might celebrate him as a hero post-NIA. What a knee-jerk merry-go-round!)
Why Rule Of Law & Evidentiary Due Process Must Prevail
At Mehbooba’s right hand, Para promoted the politics of the PDP when it was in alliance with the BJP. Many in Pulwama say the State turned against him after he arranged a public programme for the former chief minister at the edge of Pulwama a few weeks ago.
There, she criticised the trend of contracting Kashmir’s natural assets to ‘outsiders’. That is a raw nerve — for both sides.
Whatever be the suspicions of the NIA and the police, it would be tragic if action against Para was even tangentially influenced by his political positions, or his party’s stands on issues that are deeply felt by people at large.
And if investigators continue to flail unconvincingly for evidence, it would reduce faith in the system among those youth who are willing to engage.
The rule of law, and the checks and balances of constitutionally mandated institutions such as courts, must prevail. Not just that, they must be seen to prevail.
(David Devadas is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage’ in Kashmir (OUP). He tweets @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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