PDP Drops Haseeb Drabu from Cabinet After Political Storm Over the Finance Minister's Kashmir Remark

Opposition, separatists lash out at PDP ‘U-turn’; Party releases Drabu speech, says remarks "pulled out of context" and then backtracks.

Srinagar: After his controversial remarks that Kashmir “isn’t a political issue” created a political storm in J&K, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Monday removed Finance Minister Haseeb A Drabu from the cabinet.

The development comes a day after the PDP asked Drabu to retract his comment and sought an explanation from him for making the statement “detrimental to the party’s interests”.

Confirming the decision, party’s vice-president Sartaj Madni said a letter has been sent to the governor N.N Vohra to inform him about Drabu’s removal from the council of ministers.

Both opposition and separatists had launched a scathing attack on Drabu and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday saying the minister’s remark was “misleading and distortion of history”, and a “proof of surrender” of PDP’s political self-rule.

The controversial remark

On Saturday, news reports quoted Drabu as saying at an event, “Kashmir: The Way Forward”, that “Don’t see J&K as a conflict state and a political issue, it is a society which has social issues right now…”

“It (J&K) is not a political issue as far as I can see. They have been barking up the wrong tree for the last 50 or 70 years by talking about the politics of it, and the political situation has never improved. We seriously need to look at in terms of how it (Kashmir) is a society that is in search of itself,” Drabu was quoted at the function organised by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The report was prominently displayed on the front pages of all local newspapers in J&K  on Sunday. By the afternoon, Drabu as well as PDP found themselves in the midst of a political storm.

More so because the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ framed by the PDP and Bharatiya Janata Party for ruling the restive state clearly talks about the political issue of Kashmir and its resolution through dialogue. Drabu, a senior and influential PDP minister, who is seen as close to the central BJP leadership, was in fact himself the architect of the agenda from his party’s side.

The finance minister’s statement comes at a time when the allies, PDP and BJP, are at loggerheads on moving forward on a resolution for Kashmir, with chief minister Mehbooba Mufti repeatedly stressing the need for talks with Pakistan.

‘Shocking & shameful U-turn’

At a hurriedly called press conference on Sunday, the opposition National Conference termed Drabu’s comments as “unrealistic, incorrect, misleading and distortion of history”.

“It’s shocking and shameful U-turn by the party (PDP) which, for years sought support and votes primarily to help in the resolution of a political issue…it is a total sell-out by the party,” said NC’s general secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar.

Asking the chief minister to explain if the finance minister’s statement was the official position of her party, Sagar said if Kashmir wasn’t a political issue, why was PDP talking about self-rule and seeking a dialogue on Kashmir.

The PDP, the senior NC leader said, has time and again used “rhetoric” as it aspires to become a bridge between New Delhi and Islamabad. “If there is no political issue, what gap does PDP want to bridge?” asked Sagar.

 ‘Distortion of history’

The separatists reacted with outrage. “He (Drabu) is a classic example of a person trying to act like a lawyer in politics who has no ideology, faith and ethics but is always ready to present his clients’ wishes and whims,” said Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik.

JKLF chief Yasin Malik said Drabu was a “classic example of a person trying to act like a lawyer in politics who has no ideology, faith and ethics but is always ready to present his clients’ wishes and whims.” Credit: PTI

“Issuing ridiculous and absurd statements in the pursuit to distort historical facts can only be termed as naivety and ignorance,” Malik said. “…these people should know that facts don’t change by mincing words and coining new terms.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Hurriyat Conference termed Drabu’s statement as “deceptive” and part of a “propaganda to mislead and misdirect audiences in order to dilute the reality of the Kashmir dispute and weaken the discourse on Kashmir”.

“Individuals, for realisation of their ambitions, become voluntary tools in the hands of oppressors and act as their mouthpiece whom the oppressor uses and discards as suits its interests,” said a Hurriyat statement.

Even the valley’s business associations slammed the minister’s remarks. According to Javaid Ahmad Tenga, chairman of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the finance minister has done “a great disservice” to his own party and people of Kashmir by his statement. “This is outrageous and should be condemned by one and all,” said Tenga.

Retract remarks, PDP tells Drabu

As the controversy hogged headlines, by late afternoon the PDP asked Drabu to retract his statement, adding a condition – “if it (statement) has been reported correctly in the media”.

The party’s vice-president Sartaj Madni said PDP recognises J&K as a political issue and ever since its emergence the party has “relentlessly been pursuing” a resolution through reconciliation and dialogue, both at internal and external levels.

Madni cautioned all party leaders to be careful in their statements and observations while commenting on the basic political philosophy and core agenda of the party.

“It is unfortunate that the problem is seen by some forces in the sub-continent as a mere management assignment to contain peoples’ aspirations and the resolution commitment is being aimlessly undermined. The PDP feels highly perturbed at the obvious lack of urgency in resolving this issue and reiterates its commitment to uphold its stated objectives in which the resolution of the political issue has paramount importance,” said Madni, adding that PDP was committed to push its agenda for a peaceful and dignified resolution of the Kashmir problem.

Within minutes of Madni’s statement, PDP’s disciplinary panel headed by senior minister AR Veeri initiated action against Drabu.

“Your statement has the potential of creating a serious dent in the image and credibility of the party. Therefore, you are advised to explain as to why a statement detrimental to party interests was made,” Veeri asked Drabu.

“We will wait for his (Drabu) response. The chief minister is arriving from New Delhi late Monday morning. The party leadership will meet and take a further decision,” said PDP’s chief spokesperson Muhammad Rafi Mir.

Meanwhile, there was a late evening twist to the controversy. At around 7:30 pm, the PDP released the full text of Drabu’s speech, saying it “has been reported out of context”. But an hour later the party withdrew the statement.

Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.