The protected people

Print edition : January 30, 1999
PRAVEEN SWAMI

THE guidelines on protection issued by the Jammu and Kashmir Government late last year seem to be based on the premise that close family members of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, besides his son Umar Abdullah, a Member of Parliament, are also political leaders. However, the children of many others, including politicians, who are under threat from terrorists do not find a mention in the list of protected persons, leaving them to wonder about the alternative security arrangements that they have to make.

The revised protection guidelines for individuals who are under threat in Jammu and Kashmir were drawn up on October 14, 1998. Six top officials participated in the exercise, led presumably by Inspector-General of Police (Security) Vijay Raman, who is responsible for the Chief Minister's security. On November 19, a document titled "List of Protected Persons in Jammu and Kashmir" was issued to officials concerned throughout the State. This was accompanied by a covering letter describing the circumstances under which the list was drawn up and a lengthy appendix formulated by the Jammu and Kashmir Police's computer section giving the finer details of protection.

The first 20 names on the list are of persons eligible for Z-plus Category security on an ex-officio basis, and they include the Chief Minister, MPs (including Umar Abdullah), the Governor and State Ministers. After these names comes the second category, titled "Political leaders". The first person on this list, bearing serial number 21, is the Chief Minister's mother, Begum Abdullah. Since the Madar-e-Maharbaan, as the National Conference iconography has it, plays a key role in the party's affairs, she arguably fits the category. However, the subsequent entries are mystifying. Number 22 is Payal Abdullah, Umar Abdullah's wife, who, to the best of anyone's knowledge, is a person with no political ambitions. Serial numbers 23, 24 and 25 belong to Safia, Sara and Hanan, the Chief Minister's daughters. All of them are eligible for X-Category security throughout the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Given the threat perception that officials have, even this is justified. However, the fact that their names figure at the top of a list of political leaders illustrates a bizarre official mentality, and for more reasons than one.

Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah with some of his family members.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

The children of other political leaders who have made their way to the list of independent entities are listed under a category marked "Others". The name of Sakina Ansari, daughter of Congress(I) leader-turned-N.C. Minister Moulvi Iftekhar Ansari, is 286th on the list. Naseer Ahmad Kitchloo, Tanveer Kitchloo and Sajjad Kitchloo, sons of Bashir Ahmad Kitchloo, a Minister in Farooq Abdullah's Cabinet, are situated a little higher at 282. Interestingly, according to reports appearing in local and national newspapers, Tanveer Kitchloo's name figures in a First Information Report (FIR) filed recently relating to timber smuggling.

The fact that some persons have been granted protection for no evident reason other than that they are high officials' children would mean that persons who are genuinely under threat would be deprived of protection. In some cases, the names of families that are to be granted protection are clearly mentioned. For example, former Punjab Governor Surendra Nath's son, whose serial number is 258 on the list, has been granted X-category security in Jammu. The protection is for "Ranjit Malhotra and Family". This would suggest that the families of other dignitaries would not receive security.

Decisions on individual security too are mystifying. For example, Malhotra receives a higher level of security in Jammu than most senior police officials posted outside the city, including those who have families there. This would mean that terrorists are free to target Malhotra in Srinagar since he would not be accorded protection there. The editors of the broadly pro-secessionist Uqab, Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Times, also figure in the security list, although to protect them from whom is not clear. Interestingly, none of them moves around with official escorts. Even a person who works for the Jammu and Kashmir Reporter (Tourist), which is not known for any controversial content, has been granted protection.

It is unlikely that the List of Protected Persons was drawn up with any malicious intent. A senior official who was present at the meeting told Frontline that the appendix was not discussed in detail and that only general guidelines were referred to subordinates for action. Clearly, some obsequious bureaucrat decided that the Chief Minister's family deserved protection not because they are his kin, but because they are invaluable features of Jammu and Kashmir's political terrain by virtue of their birth.

Interestingly, the list was released at a time when several politicians not necessarily opposed to the Farooq Abdullah regime were complaining about poor security arrangements. Shortage of bullet-proof vehicles and personal security officers and regulations governing the use of fuel have been cited as reasons for not providing them the security they ask for while they travel to remote districts.

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