The Union government’s latest move, to slap the Public Safety Act on former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, smacks of desperation and muddled thinking in the highest echelons of policymaking. The move belies the government’s claims that normalcy is being gradually restored in the Valley. Had that been the case, the Centre wouldn’t have felt the need to slap a draconian law on former chief ministers and a clutch of other incarcerated political leaders the day their six-month detention without charge was coming to an end.
The PSA, a preventive law that allows for detentions without trial for up to three months with provisions for multiple extensions, is used against individuals whom the state deems to be a threat to internal security or maintenance of public order. Detainees of PSA, a law that ironically was introduced by Sheikh Abdullah, can be imprisoned 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.
To suddenly slap this stringent law on former chief ministers who have remained in house arrest since the Centre abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, speaks of an anomaly within the Narendra Modi government regarding its Kashmir policy.
On the one hand, in reading down Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution and ending Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, the BJP is implementing a core agenda that has formed part of its action plan since its inception and occupied a prime spot in its manifestos for 2014 and 2019. And yet, when it comes implementation of the policy, instead of clarity of thinking and a clear pathway to its objective — as would have been expected of a party that had the abrogation of Article 370 firmly in its agenda — the BJP is afflicted with a curious ad-hocness.
It is evident that the Modi government’s plan of incarcerating existing political leaders of the Valley who have been an inalienable part of its dystopian reality and allowing grassroot leaders to grow organically, has not fructified in the short term and the political vacuum that was created since withdrawal of special status has only grown. Despite the tall claims that the existing structure and politicians are replaceable with a new crop of political leaders who may kickstart the political process, the move to further detain regional leaders proves the failure of that policy.
This has led to a situation where the government’s hand was forced by circumstances arising from the failure of its policy. The Centre is aware that it would be legally untenable to keep the Abdullahs and the Muftis under further detention without charge, but it is still not confident enough to put its 5 August decision to democratic test. It is apprehensive that if the former chief ministers and the other leaders of National Conference and PDP are set free, they may use their political clout to mobilise public opinion against abrogation of Article 370.
The preventive detention of Abdullah and Mufti, who have been incarcerated since 5 August last year, may be extended beyond six months only if an advisory board, constituted two weeks before the completion of the 180-day period, recommends that. In absence of such a mechanism, the Centre had little option but to invoke the PSA.
The desperation within the government is evident when we see the ridiculous charges brought against Abdullah and Mufti to justify their continued detention. In Abdullah’s case, his popularity and mass appeal have been mentioned as causes, and his act of aiding the Indian State by getting people to take part in the democratic process despite threats from separatists and terrorists have been cited as Kafkaesque reasons for slapping the draconian PSA.
This surreal move would have been a black comedy had the sinister underpinning not been painfully clear. The PSA dossier, as leaked to the media, mentions that Omar Abdullah’s “capacity” “to influence people for any cause can be gauged from the fact that he was able to convince his electorate to come out and vote in huge numbers even during the peak of militancy and poll boycotts”.
Among other charges, the PSA dossier reportedly accuses Abdullah of “instigating people on Twitter against the unity and integrity” of India even though no posts on the microblogging site have been cited to back up this allegation. Incidentally, Abdullah’s last two tweets since his incarceration on 5 August call for “peace and calm”.
Violence will only play in to the hands of those who do not have the best interests of the state in mind. This wasn’t the India J&K acceded to but I’m not quite ready to give up hope yet. Let calm heads prevail. God be with you all.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 4, 2019
The absurdity doesn’t end there. As NDTV has reported, the dossier alleges that “in order to secure support of common people, the subject (Omar Abdullah) removed all covers / curtains and while resorting to his dirty politics has adopted a radical methodology by way of instigating general masses against the policies of central government.”
No explanation, reportedly, has been given on how a man in solitary detention may mobilise masses against the Centre, and it is not clear how a leader’s popularity may be held against him. In Mufti’s case, she has been mentioned as a “Daddy’s Girl” who is “known for dangerous and insidious machinations…. She has been promoting separatism as corroborated by several confidential reports filed by (intelligence) agencies…” The dossier also apparently touts the “green colour” of party flag as a “reflection of its radical origin”.
If encouraging people to come out and vote was not absurd enough to be touted as a reason behind invocation of PSA, citing the color of a flag takes the absurdity to another level altogether. Omar Abdullah’s sister has challenged the decision of the government to detain him under PSA. Unless the government inexplicably wants to become a laughing stock, it is hard to explain the theatre of the absurd being staged by it.
The slapping of PSA was, in itself, an admission on the government’s part that it has no legitimate reason to keep the Abdullahs and Mufti behind detention. The ridiculous charges make it even more glaringly apparent.
If the government’s motive behind keeping Abdullah and Mufti under detention is to prevent them from mobilising public opinion, then it has admitted that one of its narratives behind abrogation of Article 370 — that it wants to rid the state of its corrupt politics by removing unpopular politicians — was false. Modi government has itself proved the futility of its Kashmir policy.
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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2020 19:06:06 IST