The Modi government granting Padma Bhushan to the co-founder of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Muzaffar Hussain Baig, amidst speculations of the BJP leadership trying to break the Kashmir-centric party, has left people wondering in the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The name of Baig in the list of 16 persons who have been conferred the award has surprised also the political observers. Padma Bhushan is the third-highest civilian award after Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan and it has been given to Baig within months of the BJP withdrawing support to Mehbooba Mufti resulting in the fall of the PDP-led coalition government.
Baig, who remained constantly critical of the functioning style of Mehbooba after the death of her father Mufti Sayeed, is one of the few Kashmiri politicians who were not detained by the government even as the entire top leadership of the party, including Mehbooba, was put under preventive detention after the abrogation of the Article 370 on 5 August last year. This was the first Republic Day in J&K after the abrogation of the special status of the state and its splitting into two UTs.
Interestingly, the Twitter accounts of Mehbooba Mufti and the PDP are silent on the issue of the award. Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija handles her mother’s Twitter account and is generally quick in bashing the Modi government in her posts. However, she too has gone silent on the issue. The PDP had recently expelled about half dozen leaders who first met the Lt Governor GC Murmu and then the visiting diplomats of various countries in Srinagar.
Soon after the death of Mufti Sayeed, the PDP that was sharing power with BJP had reportedly sought Padam Vibhushan posthumously for him in 2017. However, the Modi government did not oblige despite high expectations among the PDP activists.
In what is being perceived a shrewd political move, Baig on Sunday dedicated his Padma Bhushan to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as he posed with a copy of the Constitution on the Republic Day. “This award has not been conferred upon me but it is for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Baig, a former deputy chief minister and finance minister said.
“There can never be any referendum in J&K. Pakistan PM Imran Khan and the US President are asking for autonomy to J&K. It means they’ve accepted that J&K is an integral part of India. We demand that J&K should be given what the Constitution gives us,” he said.
He also sought the release of all political detainees, including Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti.
Baig was among the five persons of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh whose names appeared in the list of Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree awards.
In another stroke, the government on the Republic Day eve gave another shocker to the Abdullahs by dropping the popular title of Sheikh Abdullah, “Sher-i-Kashmir” from the police medals for gallantry and also meritorious service.
An order issued by the government said that these medals will henceforth be read as; Jammu and Kashmir Police Medal for Gallantry and Jammu and Kashmir Police Medal for Meritorious Service.
Sheikh Abdullah, who was the first Prime Minister of J&K and was also father of Farooq Abdullah and grandfather of Omar Abdullah, was popularly known as Sher-i-Kashmir. The government had recently deleted the state holiday on his birth anniversary from the list of holidays.