J&K can return to normalcy only with full Statehood and release of political prisoners
At least two dozen politicians in Jammu and Kashmir remain in detention, some unnotified, a year after it was deprived of its Statehood and special constitutional status on August 5, 2019. Last week, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s detention was formally extended by another three months under the J&K Public Safety Act, but several others remain restrained within their homes in Kashmir, which is now a Union Territory under the rule of Delhi. Last week again, the administration flat out denied before the Supreme Court that former Union Minister and Congress leader Saifuddin Soz was under detention, though he has been restrained from moving and speaking freely. He was allowed to visit his ailing sister but denied a meeting with his daughter by the police on Friday. Neither the J&K government nor the Centre has released a list or number of leaders who were detained last year. At least 16 National Conference and eight PDP leaders are under house arrest, according to these parties. Former IAS officer and chief of the J&K People’s Movement Shah Faesal and Awami Ittehad Party leader Engineer Rashid are in detention too. Peoples Conference (PC) chief Sajad Lone was released after 360 days in detention, last week. Two former Chief Ministers, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were released in March.
The 2019 move of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre went beyond the strident Hindutva position against the special status of J&K by reorganising it as two Union Territories. The wisdom of the decisions remains an open question, though they refurbished the BJP’s claims of muscular nationalism. The dubious legislative route that the Centre took and the communication restrictions on the population that followed cast a shadow on India’s standing as a constitutional democracy. The judiciary — the J&K High Court and the Supreme Court — has not shown any alacrity to settle the constitutional and legal questions raised before it and in fact, appeared to privilege the Executive’s position in the last one year. Some scholars have linked the continuing Chinese aggression in Ladakh to the change in J&K’s status. The spirit of Indian federalism has been weakened. Mainstream politics in J&K has become impossible with leaders in detention and those released reportedly undertaking to stay away from any public discussion on J&K’s future. This is not a sustainable situation if India wants to protect its global reputation and uphold the faith of its own citizens. There are two steps the Centre can take to start a conversation with the people of J&K — release all political prisoners and restore its Statehood. These will be wise steps towards healing and progress in J&K.