To be fair, the KPC story is getting murkier day by day because a single narrative is repeatedly being presented before the media in the world

Over the last week or so there has been uproar over the developments at the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) and media across the country has been publishing one sided stories over the issue.

The reality is that the KPC came into existence only in January 2018 and Saleem Pandit was unanimously elected as its interim president. However, in May 2018, when Pandit filed a story in Times of India regarding tourists being targeted by stone-pelters, the then PDP government led by Mehbooba Mufti didn’t like it and they used their proxies in the club to remove him from his position. An FIR was also registered against him by the government for filing a story.

No media in the country spoke about it. Those, who are beating their chest in the name of press freedom, are silent. After Pandit’s illegal ouster, the KPC was headed by Shuja-ul-Haq, perceived to be close to both Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. From May 2018 to July 2019, he gave primary membership of the club to even those people who were either office boys in newspapers or were working as salesmen in network marketing companies. The idea was to prepare a vote bank.

In July 2019, the first election of the KPC was held. It was not held in a free and fair manner. Reporters and correspondents of local newspapers, who were members of the club, were threatened by the owners that they would lose their jobs if they voted against Shuja-ul-Haq. There are witnesses for the same, who can come before any independent body and give their version.

Despite such coercive methods 48 votes were cast against Shuja-ul-Haq who, though, eventually managed to secure 92 votes and become the KPC President. However, unfortunately, the newly elected body instead of developing facilities for the journalists in the KPC, chose to confront the government purportedly under directions from across the border.

The bonafide journalists in Kashmir were feeling stifled and choked due to the prevailing situation in the KPC. They wanted to get out of it and as such, when the two-year term of Suja-ul-Haq officially ended in July 2021, they approached the KPC to hold an election or announce an interim body as per the constitution of the club to run its day-to-day affairs if it is delayed due to any reason.

It never happened. Instead, Suja-ul-Haq who ventured into a non-journalistic profession after he lost his job with 'India Today' in late 2020, continued to remain as the KPC president. The similar situation was with Ishfaq Tantary, who was the General Secretary of the club. He started a business in his native Baramulla town after he lost his job with The Tribune.

To the majority of journalists in Kashmir, it was unacceptable to see that the club was being run by former journalists and that too, even after their term had expired.

Under such circumstances and with the support of the majority of journalists, the management of the KPC was taken over by Saleem Pandit and this writer on January 15—all this to ensure that free and fair elections are held in the shortest possible time.

However, this didn’t go well with the disgruntled group and they made it look like an “armed coup” and “state-sponsored coup.”

Reality is that Saleem Pandit is a protected person, who has been receiving threats from terrorists for the last 20-years. Not only Pandit, but over 20 other scribes have been given security by the UT administration as they are potential targets of terrorists. In June 2018, Shujaat Bukhari, the Editor of Rising Kashmir, was killed by the terrorists barely 300 meters away from the KPC building.

The security guards of Salim Pandit, like every other protected person in the country, accompany him wherever he goes. On January 15 also, the guards were with him when he along with other journalists went to the KPC.

The ‘disgruntled network of activists’ who under the garb of journalism had occupied the KPC, photo-shopped the picture and made it look alike as if it was a “military coup.” The fact is that this writer along with several other journalists was sitting in the club the whole day but this was deliberately never shown to the people.

Those who are chest beating about imaginary “military coup” are themselves living in security provided by the UT administration. As an independent journalist, this writer never accepted any perks or privileges from the government like those who are today hollering about imaginary “state sponsored” coup.

What is, however, intriguing is the restlessness in the Pakistani establishment over an issue which is out-and-out an internal affair of journalists from Kashmir. Why does the Pakistani Foreign Ministry meddle in the internal affairs of Kashmiri journalists? What role do politicians like Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and others have in the affairs of the KPC? If it is perceived as a “state-sponsored coup”, why does the same state choose to close down the club? Why is a single narrative being projected before media bodies in India?

The other part of the story some vested interests are projecting is about holding of elections and registration process, which is an absolute lie. The CID has not given clarification to some members of the managing body of the club due to their past involvement in militancy. The registration has been kept in abeyance due to this reason.

In all, the truth is: A vocal minority of 30 to 40 members of the KPC is trying to dominate the silent majority of 260-270 members of the club. Time has come when the media fraternity should come forward to support those who live by journalism and its ethics in Kashmir.

***The writer is a senior journalist who has been covering Kashmir conflict for the last 19-years; views expressed are his own