J&K’s fate was changed a year ago, restoring rights, democratic politics, people’s voice and statehood are key to road ahead
An unspecified number of politicians, some of them unnotified and unnoticed, in Jammu and Kashmir continue to remain under detention, one year after it was deprived of its statehood and special constitutional status on August 5, 2019. Only last week, detention of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti 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 direct rule of Delhi. It was also last week again, the J&K UT administration flatly denied before the highest court of the country that 83-year old Saifuddin Soz, former union minister and Congress leader was under detention. He was pulled down by the police when he was talking to media-persons from the boundary wall of his house on Thursday last. He was allowed to visit his ailing sister but denied a meeting with his daughter by the police the next day. Both the J&K government and Centre have not released the list of leaders, social activists and others who have been detained since last year.
The number of habeas corpus petitions pending before the J&K High Court continues to be the same except for a few, wherein it quashed the detentions and ordered release on humanitarian grounds. 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. These detentions and complete curfew like restrictions that spanned more than five months appeared to be enforced by the 2019 move of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre that went beyond the strident Hindutva position against the special status of J&K by bifurcating it into 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 experts have linked the continuing Chinese aggression in Ladakh to the change in J&K’s status. The spirit of Indian federalism has been weakened beyond any doubt. 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. It should be clear to it that the continuing political vacuum in the Valley can only cause damage. There is a limit to how much, or how long, panchayats from a flawed election can be propped up in place of an elected Assembly.
Though the Election Commission took exception to his comments, Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu was right in saying that elections could follow the completion of delimitation. Except for the decision to make new domicile rules in keeping with the abrogation of 35A that defined “permanent residents”, and the delimitation exercise, the government has appeared unclear on a roadmap ahead. 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 accompanied by a dialogue process that should include all sections of the society.