Srinagar: The Ladakh Police have begun summoning people from Srinagar for receiving a forwarded message on WhatsApp.
The message in question is an audio clip of a conversation between a councillor in Ladakh and a Congress member in Srinagar, in which they allegedly berated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Army.
The Congress has questioned the probe, claiming that though the audio clip was circulated on several WhatsApp groups and on social media, only people connected with the party are being summoned.
Zakir Hussain, a Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council member from Shakar in Kargil district, was arrested last month after his conversation with Srinagar-based fellow Congressman Nisar Khan went viral.
They were discussing the 15 June violent confrontation between India and China in the Galwan Valley, in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of People’s Liberation Army personnel were killed.
Hussain could be heard using derogatory language against PM Modi and mocking the Army over the stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh.
However, as soon as the clip went viral, Hussain came out with a statement. “That conversation was carried out in a not-so-serious environment and it was just a casual talk with a friend who betrayed my trust. Whatever is stated in the conversation does not correlate with the realities and factual position on the ground,” he said.
“Just like the rest of the citizens, we also have knowledge only about what is being shared/telecast by mainstream media. On the contrary, we the people of Kargil have been fighting against the enemies and defending our motherland since 1948,” Hussain stated.
“I, as a true Indian, strongly condemn the Chinese aggression and my sympathies are with the families of those who lost their precious lives defending our country against the Chinese. I apologise to all my fellow citizens including the Indian Army, the government and the families of those who lost their lives recently defending our motherland.”
Although Hussain tendered a public apology and clarified his stand, both he and Nisar Khan were expelled from the Congress, and then arrested.
The clip also garnered strong reactions on social media, with the BJP demanding stern action against both.
Expanding the investigation
The police in Kargil have now expanded the scope of the probe and are not only questioning those who had recorded the audio conversation, but also those to whom the clip was forwarded. At least two persons, both belonging to the Congress in Srinagar, have been summoned by the police in Kargil, sources told ThePrint.
“We have summoned some individuals, and if someone refuses, there will be further action. We have to probe how the clip found its way to social media, who sent the clip, who forwarded it, and so on,” said Dr Vinod Kumar, senior superintendent of police for Kargil.
“We are calling people from both Ladakh and Kashmir, and if need arises, we will summon people for questioning from other places to establish links. Those who have been forwarded the clip are also being summoned,” he confirmed.
‘Where is the logic?’
However, J&K Congress chief G.A. Mir said the scope of the investigation should have been limited to those heard in the clip, and not those who received it as a WhatsApp forward.
“The audio file was sent in many WhatsApp groups by Nisar Khan. Instead of focusing on the intention behind the conversation and spreading the clip, police has begun summoning people who received it. Where is the logic in this? It is not as if the people who are being summoned asked for the clip to be sent to them,” Mir said.
He added that the mother of one of those who has been summoned is suffering from cancer, and he is the only person at home to take care of her.
“Summoning Srinagar residents to Kargil in times of Covid-19 is a risky thing to do. Who will take responsibility if the individual or his mother catches infection? Instead, why don’t the Kargil police dispatch a team to Srinagar and question the persons they think can help the investigation. If that is not possible, why can’t the assistance of J&K Police’s IT wing be taken?” he questioned.
“This is harassment, something which the BJP has been doing to senior Congress leaders as well as ground workers of the party,” he said, adding that far worse things are being said on television and social media than the conversation between Hussain and Khan.
“Still, we believe law should take its own course. We have expelled Hussain and Khan, who was not an officer bearer in the first place,” Mir said.
BJP leader Ashok Kaul, meanwhile, rebuffed the Congress claims, stating that police was carrying out a straightforward investigation.
“These claims are baseless. It is a police investigation and authorities are discharging their duties as per their mandate. The words of the official (Hussain) are highly condemnable and should be probed thoroughly,” Kaul said.
However, Kargil-based activist Sajjad Kargili said the judiciary should decide on the guilt of Hussain and Khan, but the BJP was “politicising a private conversation” when the region was “facing far more grave issues”.
“Should this be a priority of the ruling party? We are facing grave issues on the ground, which are far more serious than WhatsApp conversations,” Kargili said.
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