Srinagar: On any given day, a selection list issued by the J&K Khadi Village and Industries Board (KVIB) would have gone unnoticed in the state, but the selection of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cousin Syed Aroot Madni as the executive officer has set tongues wagging.
The allegations are loud and shrill that the selection process was politically motivated to handpick Mufti’s cousin, thereby ignoring merit.
J&K Khadi Village Industries Board is a statutory body established with the aim to encourage, organise, develop and regulate khadi and village industries in the state.
Thirty-seven-year-old Syed Aroot is the son of Sartaj Madni, maternal uncle of Mehbooba and vice president of ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The junior Madni figures in the selection list at serial number 02 for the post of Executive Officer (EO), a gazetted position. As per the selection list, he has been awarded 75.75 marks.
One of the top bureaucrats in the state, Shah Faesal, demanded registration of a police case in the matter if allegations of unfair practice in the selection process were true.
“If it’s true that the merit list has been rigged (sic) then instead of an inquiry there should be an FIR. High time that we take those people to task who push our educated youngsters to the wall and kill their confidence,” Faesal, the managing director of J&K Power Development Corporation, wrote on Facebook.
Faesal, the 2010-IAS topper, is known for expressing his views on social media on varied issues.
Syed Aroot, his friends say, is the youth president of PDP for Devsar assembly constituency, from where his father lost elections in 2014 to Congress party’s candidate Mohammed Amin Bhat.
“He remains active in affairs of party work of PDP, especially relevant to his father,” said one of his close aides pleading anonymity, adding that junior Madni often accompanies party workers to government offices related to their work.
The KVIB, headed by PDP’s general secretary and former minister, Peerzada Mansoor Hussain, had advertised various posts including the post of executive officer on October 8, 2016. The shortlisted candidates appeared for a written test in August 2017 and interviews were held in January this year.
While the government defended the selection of Syed Aroot claiming he made it through a “transparent process,” the outrage in the Valley over the “fraudulent” and “politically influenced” selection is palpable.
“PDP has decided to implement self-rule in big way. It had started in other departments and yesterday it implemented it in Khadi and Village Board. All jobs are in the family. Keep it up,” a senior journalist Naseer A. Ganai commented in an apparent reference to the selection of Syed Aroot and elevation of close relatives of Mehbooba in the party and the government.
Mehbooba was elected as president of the PDP for a sixth consecutive term last year while senior Madni as her deputy has maintained a grip on party affairs. Mehbooba’s brother, Tassaduq Mufti, who is a cinematographer-turned-politician, was recently inducted as tourism minister in the state cabinet after he had joined the party last year on the first death anniversary of his father and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Another relative of Mehbooba, Farooq Ahmad Andrabi, was junior minister in the state government until recently but had to pave way for the elevation of Tassaduq. The chief minister’s cousin, Sajad Mufti, is the PDP coordinator for South Kashmir, the party’s stronghold.
The senior Madni described the allegations over his son’s selection as “undue criticism” and said children of political workers too have right to exist with dignity.
“If they believe our children don’t have right to live with dignity and even raise questions on genuine ways of politicians children getting jobs then all the children of political workers should be brought to Lal Chowk (red square) and hanged,” a news agency quoted him as saying.
Apart from Aroot Madni, Peer Kashif Hussain, nephew of KVIB vice-chairman Mansoor Hussain, has figured in the waiting list at serial No 2 for the post of Assistant Executive Officer.
KVIB director Rashid Qadri told The Wire that the Board had no role in the selection process. The government, according to Qadri, had appointed state law secretary Abdul Majid Bhat as the controller of examination for the written test.
“He (law secretary) had hired an outside recruitment agency for conduct of tests,” Qadri said. “We have no idea about the candidates who were shortlisted for the final selection. This seems to be the fairest selection done for filling the posts.”
The critics questioned handing over of the selection process to outside agency when the state has its own recruitment bodies – J&K State Selection Board and Public Service Commission.
Syed Aroot, however, told The Wire that he was selected in a fair manner.
“I have been selected through a recruitment process consisting of written test and interview,” he said. “Right now I am driving my car and I will call you back after 15 minutes.”
However, repeated calls on his mobile phone later went unanswered.
The opposition National Conference trained guns on the chief minister saying the selection of Syed Aroot was a “cruel joke”.
“The PDP’s tall rhetoric has fallen flat on its face and this selection list is another proof of PDP’s insidious and nepotistic style of politics. Most of the people figuring in the list are either children of close associates of PDP leaders or have direct patronage from the powers that be. The chief minister is directly culpable for this open loot and plunder she has authorised in the state. The state institutions have been ravaged by the PDP and corruption has been institutionalised by the chief minister and her family members,” said National Conference’s state spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu.
Demanding an immediate independent probe into the entire selection process, Mattu said while the youth of the state are reeling under unprecedented unemployment and hopelessness, “children of PDP leaders are being adjusted in government departments and boards through manipulation and open corruption”.
“Is this why the state government has placed its leaders as VCs of these boards so that they could adjust their children in these institutions? What is the message you are sending out to our youth?” he demanded.
Anger in the Valley over the appointment of PDP leader’s son also has its roots in some recent high-profile appointments made by the government in different departments wherein the candidates were handpicked for the jobs without the posts first being advertised.
Towards the end of last year, the government made three high-profile appointments of commissioner for persons with disabilities, mission director skill development and mission director for integrated child protection scheme (ICPS), without advertising the posts.
While Iqbal Lone, a close aide of social welfare minister Sajad Lone, was made the commissioner, Hilal Bhat was made the head of the ICPS and G.N. Peer (Suhail Masoodi) was appointed as mission director skill development.
These appointments invited sharp criticism from the opposition. The people and the government reacted by cancelling Bhat’s appointment and replacing him with a KAS officer. But within days he returned to the position.
Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.