Abrogation of Article 370, detention of Kashmir politicians BJP's strategy to lure ultra-nationalists who won't buy Hindutva candy

  • A fortnight and counting since the revocation of Kashmir's special status, no one seems to be quite sure how many mainstream politicians have been incarcerated or continue to be under some form of detention or the other

  • There's a good reason for that: the blanket clampdown on the media

  • Leaving aside the merits of the abrogation and the dismemberment of the state, nothing rational explains this heavy-handed, occupation-minded operation

A fortnight and counting since the revocation of Kashmir's special status, no one seems to be quite sure how many mainstream politicians have been incarcerated or continue to be under some form of detention or the other. There's a good reason for that: the blanket clampdown on the media.

A 7 August report said 400 politicians, aides and separatists had been incarcerated. Another put the figure at 100 on the same day. The figure 500 was also put out on the same day in respect of the number of political workers under arrest. What the word 'aides' or the phrase 'political workers' means is anybody’s guess. Until, minimally, the media is unshackled we won’t get to know the extent of the ‘lockdown’ or ‘crackdown’ because the anodyne snippets the government is feeding the media, the nation, and the world aren't exactly credible.

 Abrogation of Article 370, detention of Kashmir politicians BJPs strategy to lure ultra-nationalists who wont buy Hindutva candy

File photos of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

It is certain, however, that two former chief ministers – Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been imprisoned. They were detained, Emergency-style, the day before the decision to scrap Article 370 was announced, which means that they have been deprived of their liberty for a fortnight. As far as the public can tell, no charges have been cited for the detention and it looks unlikely that they have been afforded the luxury of legal confabulations.

It is important that we remind ourselves that Mehbooba was the last chief minister of the now all but moribund state of Jammu and Kashmir, heading a coalition government in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a partner. Let us further remind ourselves that Omar is not just a former chief minister, but was an MP for over a decade and a minister of state for external affairs in the National Democratic Alliance government led by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We shall return to this theme in a bit.

Omar's father, Farooq Abdullah, also a former chief minister and a Cabinet minister (for renewable energy) in the second United Progressive Alliance government for five years, seems also to be under detention, even though Union Home Minister Amit Shah told the Lok Sabha that Farooq was ensconced in his house of his own accord and he (Shah) could not force him to leave it. Farooq himself claims that he is under detention, though.

On 16 August, The Guardian, in its online edition, published a story in which Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija Javed, a 30-something show business personality, claimed that she had been locked up in her house and threatened with dire consequences if she attempted to make her voice heard. She appealed for help to the international community. Iltija has no known connection to political activity, but had angered the government by writing a piece for The Telegraph (Kolkata), describing the conditions of life in ‘locked-down’ Kashmir, among other things. Given that she wrote a letter to Shah from captivity on 15 August saying that Kashmiris were caged like animals while the rest of the country celebrated Independence Day, she shouldn’t hold her breath anticipating an early release.

On the same day, 16 August, Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir was placed under house arrest, while two other Congress leaders were put under preventive detention.

So, has the government offered a single reason for arresting or detaining responsible mainstream politicians that wash even the slightest bit? Let us first iterate the fact that neither of the Abdullahs are separatists, nor is Mehbooba. They have held high, responsible office. We can also assume, in the absence of even a scintilla of contrary evidence that the Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief is not a subversive.

When Mehbooba was detained – arrested, actually – the magistrate in question expressed the apprehension that she and workers of her party could conduct public processions leading to a breach of peace. Let us assume that the same rationale applies to the Abdullahs. Why Mir should be detained a fortnight after the abrogation of Article 370, when curbs are supposedly in the throes of being eased is unclear. The police have said that his movements and those of former Congress minister Raman Bhalla had been restricted ‘to maintain law and order’. At this stage of the game? The rationale is specious to the point of being risible, especially given the number of security personnel – which is in the region of 50,000 on the ground. The Kashmir Valley has a population of 6.9 million, which means that there is some kind of trooper for less than 140 people in the Valley.

Returning to the former chief ministers, let us assume that they would indeed have taken out public processions to protest the ‘surgical’ abrogation of Article 370 and the plan to dismember the state. So? As far as we are aware, that is a democratic afforded to people and politicians across the rest of the country. Was any case made out that former chief ministers and Union ministers would deliberately foment violence by delivering incendiary speeches or otherwise. Not as far as we can make out.

In any case, even if the magistrate’s apprehensions were not entirely groundless, all that was necessary was a temporary ban on public rallies and meetings. As things stand, Section 144 has been promulgated in any case, which ought to meet the government’s concerns. The government denies that a curfew is in operation, but independent media reports confirm that it is, even if it’s an unofficial, undeclared curfew.

Even if we discount all the above arguments, what do we make of the continued detention of these senior political leaders a full fortnight on from Day One, as it were? The potential flashpoint, Independence Day, has passed peacefully. There seems to be no earthly reason to still keep them incarcerated. What kind of easing of curbs does this amount to? The detention of Iltija and the threats issued to her, for openly expressing a view that tens of thousands of others are expressing, are nothing but surreal – straight out of a Kafka novel. If Iltija is to be detained, will mainstream politicians in Delhi and elsewhere who have expressed much the same opinion be similarly deprived of their liberty?

What are we, then, to make of ‘Operation Jackboot’? Clearly, the ‘lockdown’, with all its appurtenances, is meant to make an example of Kashmir and its people. The message is: We have a strong prime minister, a strong home minister and a strong government; don’t mess with us. Leaving aside the merits of the abrogation and the dismemberment of the state, nothing rational explains this heavy-handed, occupation-minded operation. The don’t-mess-with-us message is clearly meant to consolidate behind the ruling party an additional support base of ultra-nationalists, who don’t necessarily buy the Hindutva candy.

Updated Date: Aug 17, 2019 11:55:05 IST