The grounds on which the government has invoked the draconian Public Safety Act against former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti read like a fake WhatsApp forward. But the Union Home Ministry, no less, has peddled this misinformation to keep the two politicians in extended detention, raising serious questions about the bona fides of decisions taken by those in charge of the country’s internal security.
The material on which the two chief ministers have been charged is essentially based on statements made on and off social media, and actions taken by the two former chief ministers, plucked out of context, and presented as proof of their separatist credentials.
For instance, Abdullah’s ability “to convince his electorate to vote in huge numbers” is being held against him, for the purported reason that it shows he “enjoys the support of gullible masses”. Leave aside the evident contempt for people who elect politicians to power, the government seems to forget that it was the National Conference and the PDP that provided credibility to India’s decision, from 1996 onward, to demonstrate to the world that it could hold elections in J&K, even those that were flawed, as a snub to separatism and the designs of Pakistan.
The case against Mufti is as, if not even more, absurd, embellished with comparisons to a medieval queen for “her dangerous and insidious machinations and usurping profile and nature”. Mufti’s tweets and statements, conveying to the BJP, her then willing partner in the ruling coalition, that India would be left with no friends in Kashmir if Articles 370 and 35A were revoked, have also been twisted and taken out of their political context.
It increasingly appears that the government has no plan for Kashmir that can be democratically or transparently implemented, and that it is counting on “national security”, or purported threats to it, to justify all actions. The J&K High Court has as good as abdicated its role by declaring last week it was “not a proper forum to scrutinise the merits of administrative decision to detain a person”. With this, the court, which even earlier quashed PSA cases only on procedural grounds, has effectively removed itself as the main remedy.
Abdullah’s sister has petitioned the Supreme Court on the PSA cases against the former chief minister, but the court’s track record does not offer confidence. Pleas against a peaceful protest in Delhi on the grounds of traffic problems get a quicker hearing than habeas corpus petitions and those relating to Article 370. Five months after a petitioner from J&K approached the court, the bench went so far as to acknowledge fundamental rights violations in Kashmir, but puzzlingly did not strike down as illegal the actions causing those violations. The government must urgently release all those in custody in J&K, restore the Internet, and put its actions to an accountable, political test in Kashmir. Anything less will only set a troubling precedent for the entire country.
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