It is not official — and yet it is.
Officials don’t label it as “house arrest” or even “detention”. But at least 10 senior Opposition politicians, including eight former ministers, have been confined to their homes in Jammu after the Centre removed J&K’s special status and decided to bifurcate the state over a fortnight ago.
They include Devender Rana, younger brother of Union Minister of State (PMO) Dr Jitendra Singh. Rana is former political advisor to J&K ex-chief minister and National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah. The others are key figures from the NC, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Congress and Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP).
Contacted by The Indian Express, senior officials and police officers claimed that no orders were issued to place any of these leaders under “house arrest”.
But The Indian Express visited the homes in Jammu of at least five of these leaders to find that they were confined inside with tight curbs in place: all visitors were questioned by police posted outside, and only friends, relatives and supporters were allowed in.
Many of the leaders told The Indian Express over phone or in person, under the condition of anonymity, that were informed by senior police officers through “verbal communication” to remain in their homes — and visitors were being allowed on the condition that they will not engage in any political activity or issue any statement.
For instance, The Indian Express was allowed entry in the house of one former legislator only after the policeman posted outside was convinced that the detained leader was an old friend.
Some politicians were not even willing to admit that they are virtually under house arrest. “They (police) may be in a better position to tell you,’’ a senior Congress leader and former minister told The Indian Express on phone. However, he admitted that he has not moved out of his house for over a week.
When contacted, Sanjeev Verma, Divisional Commissioner, denied that any politician has been placed under house arrest in Jammu. “We have not issued any such orders. They are moving freely,” he said.
“They are moving out of the state, meeting supporters and attending social engagements,” Tejinder Singh, SSP Jammu, said.
But the picture on the ground tells a different story. Outside the house of a senior Congress leader and former minister, for instance, policemen barred all visitors. “We have orders from higher-ups not to allow anyone inside,’’ said an Assistant Sub Inspector posted outside although this newspaper had confirmed an appointment with the leader on phone.
Some of the detained politicians told The Indian Express that unlike in the Valley, the Opposition leaders in Jammu district are allowed to use their mobile phones, and leave the state for “personal, medical or religious reasons for a short period subject to permission from the administration”.
The Indian Express was able to confirm that one of these leaders – Harsh Dev Singh, JKNPP chairman — was allowed to leave for Delhi by train to attend “some engagement” after being confined to his home for 11 days. However, sources close to Singh said, he has been asked to inform J&K Police as soon as he returns.
The other leaders who were allowed to leave on “medical and personal grounds” over the past week are former ministers and JKNPP leaders Yashpal Kundal and S S Slathia.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a detained Opposition politician said: “There is pressure from the administration on us to not indulge any political activity in exchange for concessions like access to telephones, visitors and travel. There are warnings that in case of violations, we will be formally arrested and sent to jail.”
Asked why no official order was sought before submitting to such curbs, another leader said: “It is better that we are at least with our families at home, and free to talk to anybody including friends, relatives and visitors.”
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Speaking to The Indian Express, Muzaffar Iqbal Khan, a former sub-judge who took voluntary retirement this year to join the NC, said: “I was staying at my Manjakote house in Rajouri district when a police team knocked on my door on August 5 (when the J&K Reorganisation Bill 2019 was passed) and informed that I have been put under house arrest.”
Khan said he was taken to the Rajouri Dak Bungalow and detained till the evening of August 10. “I was released after my wife and children reached Manjakote. I have moved to Jammu now but I have not been able to contact my father (Mohammad Aslam, a former Rajouri MLA). I don’t know whether he continues to be under house arrest,’’ Khan said.
Official sources said Khan was released after a few days, and that no former legislator or minister is being detained in Rajouri currently.
Some of the key political figures who have been confined to their homes in Jammu:
Devender Rana: Two-time legislator and former political advisor to ex-CM Omar Abdullah with rank of state minister, he is the younger brother of Union MoS Dr Jitendra Singh.
Choudhary Lal Singh: Two-time MP from Udhampur and three-time MLA from Basohli, he was Cabinet minister in the PDP-Congress government in 2002 and in the PDP-BJP government that fell last year. Although he had shifted from the Congress to the BJP, Singh contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a candidate of Dogra Swabhiman Sanghathan, which he had launched, but lost his deposit.
Raman Bhalla: Senior Congress leader and two-time MLA, he was a minister in the PDP-Congress and NC-Congress governments from 2002 to 2014. In 2019, he unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Jammu-Poonch.
Sajjad Kitchloo: NC leader and former Kishtwar MLA, he was MoS (Home) in the NC-Congress government till 2013. Later, he served as Member of the State Legislative Council.
Abdul Majeed Wani: Congress leader, former minister and two-time MLA from Doda.
Firdous Tak: PDP spokesperson and former MLC, he is a former lawyer and journalist.
Javed Rana: Senior NC leader and former Mendhar MLA.
Harsh Dev Singh: JKNPP chairman and former Education minister, he is a three-time MLA from Ramnagar constituency between 1996 and 2014.
Surjit Singh Slathia: Former minister and ex-MLA of JKNPP.
Yash Pal Kundal: JKNPP leader, former minister and ex-MLA of Samba, he was confined to his home for three days.
Congress and NC leaders claimed that more of their former MLAs and ex-ministers, including Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy, G M Saroori, Viqar Rasool, Abdul Gani Malik, Shah Mohammad Tantrey and Aijaz Khan, have been detained in Jammu. However, The Indian Express could not independently verify the claim.