April 2002 News

Farooq protects Sena's influential Maharaj

7 April 2002
The Asian Age
YUSUF JAMEEL

Srinagar: Last Monday’s physical attack on Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone by a Shiv Sena leader in a Jammu hotel may have evoked some anger in the public but the assailant continues to enjoy full official patronage in and outside Jammu and Kashmir. Several ruling party and Opposition leaders have raised the alarm against the danger and political fallout of the apparent appeasement of a fanatic. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah seems helpless in this case because Kalgi Maharaj (some call him Kalkiji Maharaj), the man accused of attacking Mr Lone, has strong connections in the corridors of power in New Delhi and elsewhere. More shocking is the fact that the appeasement of Kalgi Maharaj starts right from the seat of power in the state — the Civil Secretariat in Jammu or Srinagar to which he is a frequent visitor. Four Jammu and Kashmir policemen protect the Shiv Sena leader round the clock. He has also been provided with government accommodation close to the residences of ministers and bureaucrats in a posh Jammu areas. Dr Abdullah is also willing, if asked, to increase Kalgi Maharaj’s security cover from four to 12 PSOs. Dr Abdullah also tried to impress upon an angry ruling party legislator how influential a person like Kalgi Maharaj was. Seemingly helpless even after Kalgi Maharaj took the law into his own hands on Monday, Dr Abdullah told his colleague, “Aap ko shayad pata nahin ki uski pahunch kahan tak hai aur uske liye kis-kis kay phone aate rehte hain (You perhaps don’t know how far his reach extends and the important people who telephone him).” The chief minister, who faced demands both from the ruling and Opposition benches to take stern action against Kalgi Maharaj, hastened to add that the law would take its own course. “The whole world has seen him beating Lone Sahib right and left on TV but the government and law enforcing agencies seem to be unmoved,” complained CPI(M) state general secretary Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, who raised the issue in the Assembly. “One may not subscribe to the political view of Lone Sahib but I think we live in a democratic country where the rule of law must prevail and every single citizen must use his right to speech freely,” Mr Tarigami said. But for senior police officials in Jammu, it is like the defence witness being more enthusiastic than the plaintiff. One of them insisted, “Mudaee sust, gawah chust wala mamla lagta hai.” Mr Lone did not lodge any complaint after Kalgi Maharaj assaulted him soon after the former had addressed a press conference in Jammu’s K.C. Residency Hotel on April 1. “It is between two individuals and not cognisable,” deputy inspector-general of police (Jammu range) Dilbag Singh said. Mr Lone defended his decision not to seek action against the Shiv Sena leader and reiterated, “It seems to me that he did this with the definite purpose of driving a wedge between Muslims and Hindus and to sabotage our effort to bridge the gulf between Jammu and the Valley created by vested interests.” Mr Lone, known as modern face of the Hurriyat, says he will be the last person to give the Shiv Sena and like-minded elements such a chance. Who is Kalgi Maharaj and why is he so important? It is widely believed here that the Farooq Abdullah government has turned a blind eye to Kalgi Maharaj’s high-handedness to buy peace with the Shiv Sena and like-minded Hindu outfits which often create trouble on the pretext of a Muslim Valley and Hindu Jammu hypothesis. “He is a non-state subject yet he rules the roost,” Mr Tarigami said. Kalgi Maharaj’s family is from Bihar but his father moved to Delhi where he was working in the civil aviation ministry. Kalgi Maharaj then went to Maharashtra where he developed contacts with the VHP and Shiv Sena. He was also close to the RSS and shot to prominence when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray assigned him the crucial job of heading the Sena’s Jammu and Kashmir unit. Mr Thackeray apparently chose an outsider to head the Shiv Sena state unit to bring it out of hibernation. Ashok Gupta, the former local president of the Sena, faced charges of corruption and malpractice. After a local Congress leader named Balwan Singh attacked his car in the middle of a market, he felt it wise to quit and has not been seen since in active politics. Kalgi Maharaj, who is in his late thirties, while in Jammu seized every opportunity that came his way to run others down. “He is actually here to incite people and make issues out of nothing,” said a Jammu journalist, adding that Kalgi Maharaj’s pockets of influence, however, remain confined to Jammu’s Purani Mandi and some other localities. Jammu Shiv Sena vice-president Sanjay Sahni said in defence of his leader: “He belongs to the Sangh Parivar and therefore you can’t question the decision to ask him to head the party in a state which is not his.” Mr Sahni also defends the security cover provided by the state to Kalgi Maharaj by saying he heads a radical Hindu outfit in a state hit by “Islamic terrorism” and thus needs extra protection. Kalgi Maharaj’s supporters reject the notion that he fled Jammu to escape arrest soon after he assaulted Mr Lone on April 1. Reports said he boarded a Delhi-bound train the same evening and was on his way to Mumbai for consultations with his seniors. His critics do not rule out a nexus between him and a section of police officers and bureaucrats in Jammu. Maharaj told reporters in New Delhi that the attack on Mr Lone was a “sentimental reaction” to the terrorist strike at Jammu’s Raghunath temple. He claimed Mr Thackeray applauded his attack on Mr Lone when the Shiv Sena supremo spoke to him from Mumbai. Dr Abdullah has repeatedly asserted that the government was not party to manhandling Mr Lone. “I’ve no love for that man (Mr Lone), nor do I love such people, but still the incident is highly deplorable and condemnable,” he said. A case under Section 451 of the Ranbir Penal Code (local version of the Indian Penal Code) has been registered against Kalgi Maharaj. The section refers to criminal trespassing. “It is amazing that instead of booking him for launching a criminal assault on a citizen, the police has tried to downplay the otherwise grave incident and has provided scope for him to get away with the crime he has committed,” said Mr Tarigami, adding that he has received phone calls from a number of respectable people in Jammu praising him for speaking out on the floor of the state Assembly about the machinations of a person who, they said, is bringing a bad name to a place known for its high traditions. Mr Lone’s personal security officer Gulam Hassan is reported to have lodged a formal complaint with the Jammu police against Kalgi Maharaj and his associates involved in the assault. Mr Hassan’s complaint says he tried to do his job by quickly placing himself between the Hurriyat leader and the assailants but two members of a paramilitary force seized him, providing the Shiv Sainiks an opportunity to beat up Mr Lone. Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Butt tried to draw a parallel between the assault on Mr Lone and the arrest of their colleague, JKLF chairman Mohammed Yasin Malik, following the recovery of $100,000 from a Srinagar resident and her fiancé. “We understand when the soldiers with guns beat us but now when citizens from Delhi and Bombay come down to Kashmir and beat us, we take it as an insult unacceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. Mr Lone’ supporters and opponents are angry that he did not physically react when Kalgi Maharaj was beating him up. “I don’t like Mr Lone, but my blood started boiling when I saw it on TV. Are we so weak and dead and gone,” asked Mohammed Ashraf. “I wonder if he is the same Mr Lone who as an Opposition leader would pick up a fight on relatively non-issues and today accepted such humiliation perhaps only to prove his secular credentials,” said Abdur Rashid Hajam of Sopore.

 

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