Farooq’s release

ON March 13, Dr Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Kashmir and also a central minister, was released from detention. He responded by declining to offer any political comments until two former chief ministers, his son Omar and Mehbooba Mufti, are also released along with others detained at the MLAs’ hostel, notably Shah Faisal.

Earlier on Feb 12, A.S. Dulat met Farooq. His visit was cleared by the Indian government and was facilitated by the Intelligence Bureau. He could not have failed to secure Farooq’s consent as well. Dulat and Farooq go a long way back. Dulat joined the Indian Police Service in 1965 and was deputed to the IB. He was posted to Kashmir in 1988 and headed the IB’s Kashmiri operation group during the insurgency. He rose to head RAW from 1992-2000 and later joined prime minister Vajpayee’s office in 2000. In Kashmir, his task was “to keep Farooq Abdullah in good humour”. Farooq told him he was “like a brother” to him. Dulat knew everybody in Kashmir who mattered except Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Besides, he has extensive contracts in Pakistan and co-authored a book with former ISI chief Asad Durrani.

The day after Farooq’s release, Dulat said in a press interview that while he himself was fully committed to India and brought up his children in the same way, now he did not know how to answer questions his grandchildren may ask.

Modi’s regime poses an existential threat to Kashmir.

His prime worry should be how to face the existential threat that Narendra Modi’s regime poses to Kashmir. It is out to erase both its Muslim and Kashmiri character and goes far beyond ‘abrogation’ of Article 370. Holidays to mark Shaikh Abdullah’s birthday and Freedom Day are gone. The iconic Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre, named after Shaikh sahib, has had ‘Sher’ dropped from its name. Dulat is both an operator and conciliator. He candidly wrote, “[T]he IB was a key … to the central government’s hold on Kashmir”. The IB has been managing elections, bribing politicians across the board, and manipulating him as well. But he knows that the status quo is fragile, which is why he publicly stated that he would ask the government to start talking to Pakistan.

A new political outfit, the Apni Party, was launched in Srinagar on March 8, less than a week before Farooq’s release. It comprises known pro-Delhi politicians, headed by one Altaf Bukhari formerly of Mehbooba’s PDP. They met Modi. A statement from the prime minister’s office revealed the Modi-Bukhari consensus. Bukhari “hailed” the abrogation of 370 and 35A. Modi promised him to apply central laws to Kashmir in a “fast-moving process of political integration”.

Modi outlined the stages of that progress: first, delimitation of constituencies in order to tilt the balance in favour of Jammu; next, elections, and “only after that would statehood be restored”. No wonder that the Congress’ Kashmiri leader called this so-called Apni Party an “agency party” (read: a plant of the IB). No self-respecting Kashmiri would contest such a poll.

The next day these faithfuls met the deputy prime minister and home minister Amit Shah. The agenda is to bring back Kashmiri Pandits in large numbers, and inflate Jammu’s seats in the assembly to reduce Kashmiri’s predominance. Detainees will be freed, internet restored, curfew relaxed and Kashmir’s status restored “at an early opportunity”.

The fact that this very assurance was given repeatedly since Aug 5, 2019, suggests that restoration was an integral part of the original plan — bring Kashmiris to their knees and give them some crumbs to ensure that they acquiesced. Amit Shah bluntly told Bukhari & Co, “Article 370 is gone; that’s now an old story … let’s move ahead of it”. And this plan is what Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar and all the detained leaders of Kashmir are up against. Farooq has been deceived more than once; last on the eve of Aug 5 when Modi personally assured them that no such plan was afoot.

One cannot help suspecting that Dulat’s aim was to persuade Farooq Abdullah to accept the new status quo. But what leverage does he have now? The answer is — the people of Kashmir. They are waiting for a lead and a leadership. He has their work cut out for him to revive the process formalised at the all-party meeting in the Gupkar Declaration at his residence on Aug 4, in which “it was unanimously resolved that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend [the area’s] identity, autonomy and special status … against all attacks whatsoever. That modification, abrogation of Articles 35A and 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation … would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. … The representatives of the political parties resolved to remain together and stand united in their struggle for safeguarding identity, autonomy and the special status of [Kashmir].” Will Farooq Abdullah take the Gupkar route or the Dulat route?

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020