The Kashmir Press Club, the Valley’s biggest organisation of journalists, witnessed a coup on Saturday with a group of members removing its ad-hoc but elected body and taking over the reins.
Journalists’ organisations and senior politicians in the Valley reacted angrily, with former chief minister Omar Abdullah alleging a “state-sponsored coup”. The Press Club has some 300 journalists as members.
The development comes a day after the administration suspended the Press Club’s just-issued re-registration certificate following an adverse CID report. This had sparked allegations about government efforts to take over or emasculate one of the few pillars of resistance to the Centre’s iron-fist rule in the Valley.
The Press Club had annoyed the authorities by opposing their onslaught on journalists and their functioning on multiple occasions, at a time sections of the local media had turned pliant.
A group of journalists led by M. Saleem Pandit, who works for the Times of India, took over the Press Club’s management on Saturday and announced an “interim” body. They accused the existing ad-hoc body of delaying “elections for unknown reasons”. Police were deployed outside the club without reasons being cited.
“The elected body served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021.... The club was headless for around six months, putting media fraternity into unwanted trouble,” the new faction said in a statement.
Pandit was founding president of the club till its maiden elections were held in July 2019. The other two members of the interim body are Zulfiqar Majid (general secretary) and Arshad Rasool (treasurer).
The group said the interim body would manage the club till fresh elections were held.
“Now, therefore, on January 15, 2022, various journalist organisations across Kashmir valley unanimously decided to form an interim body of three members with Pandit as president,” it said.
The outgoing body called the takeover “forcible”. It said elections had been deferred because of the delay in re-registration, and that the (now suspended) re-registration had paved the way for fresh elections.
Outgoing Press Club general secretary Ishfaq Tantray told The Telegraph: “They just declared they are an interim body, without really bothering to prove whose support they enjoyed. This is illegal.”
He claimed the interim body had “threatened” staff and taken over seals and writing pads.
Journalists believe the CID had stepped in to scuttle fresh elections. The government has not clarified whether it backs the interim body’s move.
Nine journalists’ organisations have in a joint statement condemned the “illegal and arbitrary takeover” and said the new group enjoyed “open support from the local administration”.
“On January 15… when the administration had declared a 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 statement said.
“A large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this….”
The statement said “press bodies have decided to take legal recourse”. It urged the Press Council of India, Press Club of India, Federation of Press Clubs and the Editors Guild of India to intervene.
On Thursday, Pandit’s faction had written to the Srinagar deputy commissioner saying the club was in a “mess” and urging the government to intervene.