|Omar tries to hold back his tears in the Assembly in Jammu while talking of the student’s death on Tuesday. (PTI)
Jammu, March 5: The death of a 24-year-old postgraduate student in alleged army shooting today had Omar Abdullah in tears, saying things he had never said before: that he was a tired man, had no answers to many questions, and could do little to prevent human rights abuses in the state.
The chief minister was speaking in the Assembly in Jammu shortly after Tahir Ahmad Sofi got shot in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town when the army allegedly fired on a demonstration.
The army denied any role in Tahir’s death while admitting that its soldiers had fired in the air after a violent mob “attacked” them. It said it had ordered a time-bound court of inquiry. The police claimed to have registered an FIR.
The Baramulla crowd was protesting the mysterious death of a Kashmiri student, Mudassir Kamran, in Hyderabad. The police claim that Mudassir committed suicide but the Valley protesters allege he was killed for participating in a demonstration against Afzal Guru’s hanging.
Omar was scheduled to speak in the Assembly when the news of Tahir’s death arrived and led to an uproar. The Opposition People’s Democratic Party walked out in protest against the killing.
During his 20-minute speech, Omar struggled to check his tears and paused several times to try and regain his composure.
“I don’t know where to start. I had made a big preparation (for today’s speech). I wanted to say a lot,” he said.
For the next three minutes he did not utter a word, kept his eyes down and sighed deeply. The House watched in pin-drop silence. “I don’t understand why people are so eager to have this chair on which I now find myself,” he said after the long pause.
“What answer will I give? The questions these members pose to me, I want to pose these questions to myself. Why? Why?” Omar said.
“Are we holding the flag of this country for this — that I have to repeatedly apologise?”
Omar alluded to Guru’s execution: “Somebody is hanged; the decision is taken somewhere (else); the mercy petition is rejected somewhere; but I’m held responsible. The decision (whether) to return his body or not is taken somewhere, but I’m held responsible.”
But he added that he was a resident of this state and would have to live in the state. “I have to remain here. These are my people — where will I go?”
Omar asked how he could explain that the system in the state could not take action against the soldier who killed the student because of the immunity enjoyed by troopers under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
“Do you think I am mad to talk about the AFSPA? I am not saying it for political gain: I am saying it because I know somewhere it is misused. People want answers.”
Omar said the army had fired on a crowd in which no militant was present and asked why it had needed to shoot. He said he was seething with anger and that it had become difficult for him to hold back his emotions.
“With great difficulty I am keeping my emotions under control. I am tired. Whenever I find that the situation has become a bit conducive (for peace), something happens.”
He seemed to be expressing helplessness in preventing such incidents, saying he could “at most raise my voice or seek justice... I can (at most) say such things should not happen”.
Omar said it was no fun to talk about development when such killings took place. He, however, said he would not curse the country because acts like today’s were committed by just a few people.
Omar later tweeted he would not resign and his speech did not express his helplessness.
“Note to PDP — don’t confuse anger & sadness with helplessness. What you saw today was me angry & sad at the tragic loss of life.... Note to others spreading rumours about my impending resignation — I haven’t resigned. If my resignation could bring a person back to life I’d resign in a flash. My responsibility to the state & people is to ensure incidents like today’s see justice done,” he wrote on Twitter.
An army spokesperson said the militants had plans to entangle the force in a protest and “attack the army” while using the crowd as a “shield with a view to triggering large-scale violence”.