The news quickly hit the headlines in India. Mr. Abdullah has been regarded as the hope of troubled Jammu and Kashmir state, which for years was ravaged by a rebellion against Indian rule and remains tense today. (See the Monitor’s profile of Abdullah here.)
The scion of Kashmir’s leading political dynasty dismissed the allegations – which were made by a leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during a speech in the state assembly – as groundless and politically motivated.
“But if I hadn’t taken this decision, I would have carried this thing with me for the rest of my political career,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that he wanted his name cleared while he was out of office so no one could accuse him of using his power as chief minister to influence investigations.
The scandal, which broke in 2006, involves the alleged procurement of underage girls as prostitutes for a number of establishment figures in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s capital, including politicians, police officers, and bureaucrats. It sparked several weeks of protests across the Himalayan region.
The case is still under investigation by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which in 2006 arrested two former state ministers and lawmakers but later freed them on bail.
PDP leader Muzaffar Baig alleged Tuesday that Abdullah’s name appeared in a list of suspects presented in 2006 by CBI to the court that has been trying the case.
Several Indian newspapers have since quoted senior CBI officials saying that Abdullah’s name is nowhere on the list.
Since Abdullah became the state’s youngest-ever chief minister earlier this year, he has sought to make Kashmir’s authorities more transparent, especially over alleged human rights abuses.
He stumbled in May, when the bodies of two young women were found near a security forces base near Srinagar. Quoting the findings of a forensic report that was later discredited, he said the women had been neither raped nor murdered, triggering weeks of protests.