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Wazwaan row in J&K

Omar Abdullah at the National Conference meeting in Srinagar on Saturday. (PTI)

Srinagar, March 15: In Kashmir, the bitter cold and the piping-hot wazwaan make for a great combo. Not so today.

The ruling National Conference triggered a political storm after it served wazwaan, Kashmir’s famed multi-dish mutton cuisine, to its leaders during a working committee meet that was also addressed by chief minister Omar Abdullah.

The dish was served as the Valley was seething with anger over the killing of a youth in police firing yesterday. Some places were under curfew and a shutdown called by separatists had paralysed life.

That police vehicles were used to ferry the dishes to the venue fanned the flames at a time temperatures have plummetted following unusual but heavy snowfall earlier in the week.

Kashmiri chefs or wazas were caught on camera as they got out of police vehicles around noon, carrying the dishes in their hands. Media persons were barred from entering the hall when the dishes were served.

The ruling party had called the meet to chalk out strategy for the general election. NC sources said some 200 party workers attended the meet.

As news of the feasting spread, rival parties went ballistic. “There was a cold-blooded murder of an innocent youth yesterday and today you had NC leadership enjoying the luxury,” said People’s Democratic Party chief spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar.

The Awami Ittihaad Party (AIP) said the act was highly condemnable. “It shows how insensitive they are. It is very unfortunate. Plus they have also violated model code of conduct.”

The ruling party, however, defended the action. “Did we know he would be killed…. We have all sympathies for the family of the person who has died but life has to go on,” NC leader and Omar’s uncle Mustafa Kamal said.

“The party had arranged it (wazwaan). It was not a government wazwaan. It was purely a party event and not a government event…. This is not the first time we are serving wazwaan… it is our culture.”

Kamal said they had not made any requisition for official vehicles to ferry the dishes to the venue. “That is for him (master chef) to answer. If police were present in large numbers at the meeting, it is because the chief minister was there.”

As the political storm raged, protests continued for the second day against the killing of Farhat Ahmad Dar by security forces. Hundreds joined his funeral at Bandipore where pro-freedom slogans were raised.

Officials said a murder case had been registered. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered.