Updated: February 8, 2020 12:51:07 pm
The Centre has acted unconscionably in extending the custody of two former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir and two other politicians of the former state under the Public Safety Act, as their continued detention under CrPC 107/151 was becoming untenable after the passage of six months. The draconian Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 is a preventive detention law, used against those from whom the authorities fear a threat to “the security of the state or the maintenance of the public order”.
Those arrested under this law can be held for up to two years, need not be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours, cannot apply for bail in a criminal court, and cannot engage a lawyer to challenge the arrest. The government has not said what threat mainstream Kashmiri politicians, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, pose to national security. Certainly, no such threat was perceived when Abdullah and his father, Farooq Abdullah, also a former chief minister and serving Lok Sabha member — he has now spent four months as a PSA prisoner — called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 1, just two days before the government stripped J&K of its special status and bifurcated it into two UTs. What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that for all their claims that the August 5 decision is popular in J&K, Prime Minister Modi and his government are afraid to put this to a democratic test.
The Modi government’s “new Kashmir” does not appear to have space for established J&K politicians who could challenge its plans. With each passing day, the government lowers the bar of democratic conduct further by acting with impunity. Its actions in Kashmir belie the claim of “normalcy restored in the Valley” that ministers routinely parrot. Indeed, no place can be normal when its elected leaders are imprisoned only for opposing the government’s policies, and when its people do not have the means to access or disseminate information because of a communications blockade which has been relaxed in name only.
How long can the government continue with this? And what are the consequences of these actions? Whatever the PM may say about them now, mainstream political parties like Abdullah’s National Conference and Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party were the Centre’s allies in the difficult terrain that Kashmir continues to be. The government may have served narrow political considerations by removing them from the scene, but it is not serving India’s interests. Such actions erode the foundations of a federal democracy, and will leave long-lasting damage — if they have not done so already — that will be hard to repair. It is disquieting that there is no concerted voice of protest from other political parties for the unconditional release of all politicians who remain in detention in Kashmir.
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