Drama Unfolds At Kashmir Press Club

Photo Courtesy: Kamran Yousuf

Senior Journalist, Aides Accused Of Forcible Takeover Of Club

Srinagar- A high voltage drama unfolded at the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) here on Saturday after a senior journalist and his associates took over the club with the alleged official patronage, evoking widespread criticism from the media bodies.

According to reports, a group of scribes led by Times of India correspondent Saleem Pandit appeared at the KPC here on Saturday afternoon and held an hour long meeting before announcing the formation of a three-member interim body with himself as President, Zulfikar Majid, as General Secretary and Arshid Rasool as Treasurer.

The interim body, as per a statement, has been formed till elections are held in free and fair manner.

The statement further said that various journalist bodies across the Kashmir Valley unanimously decided to form an interim body.

However, hours after the alleged takeover by the Pandit led group, at least nine Kashmir-based journalist bodies issued a joint statement describing the move as “Illegal and arbitrary”. The statement termed the group which took over KPC as “disgruntled” journalists and alleged that they were having an “open support from the local administration.”

The statement claimed that the “disgruntled” journalists had barged into the valley’s premier press club and had held the office members as “hostage”.

“On January 15, the day when the administration had declared weekend lockdown in view of Covid surge, a group of journalists barged into the club office and forcibly took control of the club by keeping the office members hostage.” The joint statement reads. “Large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this highly condemnable and completely illegal move.”

Expressing anguish over the “illegal and arbitrary” takeover of KPC, the statement further reads that “the administration, by allowing a few disgruntled elements to hoodwink the Club constitution, bylaws and flout all norms of law, has set a wrong and dangerous precedent”.

The authorities, the statement further reads, had already communicated about the mandatory re-registration, which was initiated by the KPC management, but it took authorities more than six months to verify the credentials of the management body.

Notably, a fortnight back, the J&K Administration had issued a re-registration for Kashmir Press Club but in an unprecedented decision, it was withdrawn a day after the independent journalist body announced to hold elections of the Club on February 15, this year.

“On 29 December, the re registration was finally issued following that the Club decided to initiate the process of fresh elections and also announced the date. But all of a sudden a group of journalists, including some non members, approached the district administration with a proposal for an “interim body” and it is followed by a communication from the government that the re-registration has been kept in abeyance.” The joint statement reads.

The nine journalist bodies which have opposed the takeover include: Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK), Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA), Kashmir Press Photographer Association (KPPA), Kashmir Press Club(KPC), Jammu and Kashmir Journalist Association (JAKJA), Kashmir Video Journalist Association (KVJA), Kashmir Working Journalists Association, Kashmir National Television Journalist Association (KNTJA) and Kashmir Journalist Association (KJA).

This move, the statement read, in which a group of journalists self-appointed itself as an “interim body,” is uncivil, illegal, unconstitutional and without any precedence. It has been taken at a time when the process of registration is still pending before the authorities.

The journalist bodies have also appealed to the press bodies across the country including Press Council of India, Press Club of India, Federation of Press Clubs and Editors Guild of India to take a strong note of how the “local administration is supporting lawlessness and throttling a democratic media body”. “If such incidents are allowed to happen with a Press Club in Kashmir this can be precedent for the future.” the statement ends.

Notably, on Friday, The Jammu and Kashmir administration had suspended the registration of Kashmir Press Club citing an adverse report by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of J&K Police.

Ex-CMs Allege State Sponsored Coup

Reacting to the developments two former Chief Ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday lashed out at the government for allegedly sponsoring a coup at the Kashmir Press Club.

“There is no government this “journalist” hasn’t sucked up to & no government he hasn’t lied on behalf of. I should know, I’ve seen both sides very closely. Now he’s benefited from a state sponsored coup,” National Conference Vice-President Omar Abdullah posted on his official Twitter handle.

Toeing the same line, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti alleged that every “illegal & undemocratic” action undertaken by government of India is carried out at the barrel of a gun.

“Todays state sponsored coup at KPC would put the worst dictators to shame. State agencies here are too busy overthrowing elected bodies & firing govt employees instead of discharging their actual duties. Shame on those who aided & facilitated this coup against their own fraternity,” Mehbooba posted on Twitter.

“These pictures convey the most obvious yet disturbing reality gripping Kashmir. Every illegal & undemocratic action undertaken by GOI is carried out at the barrel of a gun. The aim is to hide the growing number of skeletons tumbling out of the closet & scuttle honest reportage,” she wrote in another post, showing security personal inside the club.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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