Updated: March 31, 2021 8:05:08 am
The denial of a passport to former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her mother can only be read as harassment of the leader of the People’s Democratic Party. Mufti’s passport had expired in the middle of 2019, and when she reapplied for it last December and it did not come through she moved the J&K High Court for directions that her application be expedited. The response of the regional passport office to the court beggars belief. It has said that she cannot be given a passport under a clause of the Passport Act stating “that the departure of the applicant from India may, or is likely to be detrimental to the security of India”. This, according to the passport office, was based on an “adverse” report about her by the state CID. Mufti’s mother’s plea was also rejected on the same grounds. All this makes it seem as if Mufti — whose party bore the brunt when the J&K Apni Party was formed while she and other party leaders were detained from August 2019 (she was released only in October 2020), and which is now being further denuded by a movement towards Sajjad Lone’s Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference — is being targeted.
The government must explain why and since when it has seen her as a security threat. After all, in October 2020, at the time of her release after 14 months of detention, the J&K administration withdrew charges against her under the draconian Public Safety Act. Under her leadership, the PDP also participated in the District Development Council election. In recent days, she has been summoned for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate. Her aide, Waheed Para, has been jailed and charged with funding terrorists, after his release from a long detention, and the investigation against him has become a roving inquiry. All this only gives credence to Mufti’s charge that she is being singled out for “not toeing the line”.
Disturbing precedents are being set in J&K. The Supreme Court has recognised the right to travel abroad as part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. When the state uses clause 6 (2) (c) of the Passport Act, 1967 against a former chief minister and member of the Lok Sabha, who also happens to be a former ally of the BJP, it opens the door to the misuse of this provision against all citizens on arbitrary grounds.
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