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Cong stays away as 6 Opp parties demand release of J&K leaders

The statement has been signed by NCP’s Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja, RJD leader Manoj Kumar Jha, and former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.

Jammu and Kashmir crisis, Jammu and Kashmir bifurcation, Jammu and Kashmir detentions, Jammu and Kashmir leaders detained, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah, PSA, Public Safety Act, India news, Indian Express National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti were detained following the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decision to abrogate J&K’s special status under Article 370. (File Photo)

IN A joint statement on Monday, six Opposition parties demanded the immediate release of former J&K chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. Calling their detention a “blatant violation of their fundamental rights”, they said “democratic dissent is being muzzled by coercive administrative action”.

The statement — which comes a day after former J&K minister Altaf Bukhari launched a new regional political outfit, the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party — has been signed by NCP’s Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja, RJD leader Manoj Kumar Jha, and former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.

The Congress, however, chose not to sign the statement. Saying that they had reached out to the Congress, an Opposition leader involved in the exercise said: “We wanted a big name, ideally former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to be a signatory… but there was no prompt response from the Congress”.

An Opposition leader said the “first draft” of the statement included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s name as a signatory. “I was surprised when the statement came out today… it did not have his name,” he said.

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He said the parties chose not to wait and released the statement because there was a sense of urgency. Pointing to the launch of the new party in J&K, he said. “One of the demands of the new party was the release of the political detainees. There is speculation that one of the detained chief ministers could be released. So we did not want to be pre-empted… and we chose to release the statement.”

National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti were detained following the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decision to abrogate J&K’s special status under Article 370. Last month, they were booked under the stringent Public Safety Act. NC president Farooq Abdullah, who was under house arrest, was detained under PSA in September.

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Saying that India and its Constitution have always stood for “unity in diversity with everybody’s views respected, honoured and heard”, the joint statement said that “in the government of Narendra Modi, democratic dissent is being muzzled by coercive administrative action, which has threatened the basic ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution.”

“There are growing assaults on democratic norms, fundamental rights and civic liberties of citizens of the Indian Republic. As a result, dissent is not only being stifled, but the avenues of raising critical voices are also being systematically muted. Nothing exemplifies this more starkly than the continuing detention, on flimsiest of grounds, of three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — for over seven months,” it said.

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“There is nothing in the past records of these three leaders to lend credence to the Modi government’s false and self-serving claim that they pose a threat to ‘public safety’ in J&K or that they have endangered national interests with their activities,” it said, pointing out that the BJP had “allied with all three of them, and their parties, in the past, both at the Centre and in the state.”

“The very validity of the J&K Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978 can be challenged following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution as the state has now been stripped of its special status. The indefinite detention of the three former CMs of J&K, along with many other political activists, is a blatant violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution,” it said, demanding the immediate release of all political detainees.

The joint statement said the detentions must be seen in the “larger context of the prolonged lockdown of the state since August 5, 2019, which also is an attack on the constitutionally assured rights and dignity of millions of our sisters and brothers in Kashmir.”

“We also demand complete and verifiable restoration of the rights and freedoms of our Kashmiri brethren, who, against all odds, have repeatedly shown their allegiance to the Indian Union, by being an integral part of our democratic process,” it said.

“All this exposes the oft-repeated lie of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah that the situation in J&K is ‘completely normal’. Whereas the government has recently organised well-choreographed visits of foreign diplomats to Srinagar in a bid to show the world that the situation in J&K is ‘normal’, it has placed all kinds of hurdles in the attempts of representatives of India’s own political and media establishment to move freely in the state and assess the situation on the ground,” it said.

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This is the second time in a fortnight that non-Congress Opposition parties have come together to issue a joint statement. Following the communal violence in Delhi, while the Congress had met President Ram Nath Kovind to demand that Home Minister Amit Shah be sacked, the Left and some other parties — including the NCP, RJD and DMK — had written to the President separately.

First published on: 10-03-2020 at 04:32:50 am
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