Dr Farooq Abdullah the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir berated by Kashmiris over the years for his pro-Delhi stance and holding the national flag aloft even during the peak militancy has been arrested under draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). Yet another former chief minister and currently Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad moves the Supreme Court for permission to visit his native state that finally happened but not before tendering a commitment that he would not indulge in any political activity during his visit limited to only four districts namely Jammu, Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramullah.
Not to forget the third former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who is also cooling her heels under house arrest. Also not to forget she is a former ally of the BJP and led the PDP-BJP alliance government in the state not long ago.
These developments have come in the midst of repeated claims by both the Centre as well as the state administration that all is well in Jammu and Kashmir particularly Kashmir. Coupled with these developments the Apex Court is hearing a clutch of petitions, that included one by Azad, variedly related to the Centre’s sudden decision to partially abrogate Article 370 that had given special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir since divided into two Union Territories (UTs).
In the light of the Centre and the state administration’s claim that both Farooq and Azad could disturb peace and tranquillity and Mehbooba could instigate crowds in Kashmir if permitted to either visit or undertake any political activity, the action against them is
less justifiable and more baffling. First and foremost the Government by booking Farooq under PSA and repeatedly preventing Azad from visiting J&K before Supreme Court came to his rescue, has raised a spectre of doubt on its own claim that all was well in Kashmir.
By putting restrictions on the mainline nationalist political leaders and even putting under house arrest many from the state level parties, an impression has also been created that no political activity was welcome in the state which only passes from one phase of uncertainty to the other with no clear roadmap ahead. Under the prevailing circumstances all talks related to electoral processes and politics, be it the delimitation of constituencies or subsequent holding of Assembly elections, does not inspire any confidence which normally such an exercise should do in a democracy.
Slapping NSA on Farooq and showing no inclination to permit political activity in the troubled state makes it amply clear that the state turned into UT is in for a long haul and that a new political experimentation would happen as and when the decision makers of the day deem fit. Such a situation provides only one clarity that a different kind of vacuum has hit Jammu and Kashmir. Rest is all left to speculation.
There are two aspects to the prevailing situation- firstly the ground situation and how to control it through restoring people’s confidence and secondly to restore democratic process with a firm assurance to provide a level playing field to all the mainline political parties and their leaders. The challenge would be daunting in the face of the current dichotomous situation whereby there are restrictions, announced and unannounced, on the opposition whereas the ruling BJP has the entire field open to it and having a field day.
Interestingly, BJP and its erstwhile form Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) have over the decades questioned the alleged partisan political processes and related allegedly rigged elections in the state. There is no doubt that being the front ranking opposition party of that time particularly in Jammu region of the state, earlier BJS and later BJP was the worst victim of this Government or Delhi controlled politics. It is irony that the same party which has withered many such political storms and strode on them to form a formidable Government at the Centre is being accused of following the same pattern for reasons best known to them.
An added factor this time around is amending the Article 370 to divest the state of its special status and split it into two. There is nothing static in this universe and neither is Article 370. Yes it needed a relook and subsequent abrogation as well but through taking the main stakeholders into confidence.
Article 370 has become an emotional issue and has different meaning for different people and regions. It means differently in Jammu region from how the people in the Valley look at it while Ladakh, comprising of Leh and Kargil, also views it differently depending on which region of the hilly desert one belonged to which is also true of Jammu region to some extent. On top of that there is a nationwide view of the controversial Constitutional provision which at times overrides the local feelings.
On the social and political levels it is a scary situation. There is a case that people in Jammu and Kashmir must accept the ground reality but their right to question and protest must be restored and in turn they should be satisfied by the powers that be. Prolonged restrictions and long-term banking on the security apparatus to contain people’s feelings are neither in the interest of the country nor the state turned UT. There are no two opinions that the
pressure should be continuously mounted on those daring to challenge India’s sovereignty and seeking to foment trouble in the state.
Getting back to Farooq’s arrest under PSA and Azad rushing to Supreme Court for permission to visit the state where he was once the chief minister, it will weaken India’s case internationally. It is certainly not good optics leave alone calling it good tactical and political move.
Jammu and Kashmir is passing through yet another dark alley currently. On October 31 its status would change to UT but contours of what awaits people ahead of that are not clear. It is imperative that the Centre should take the people of the state into confidence and unveil its future plans on concrete basis. Merely reiterating commitment to development and employment will not serve any immediate purpose.
After all there is a broader question of political empowerment involved. Political empowerment of the people of Jammu region, political empowerment of displaced Kashmiri Pandits and of course addressing the concerns of Kashmiri Muslims as apart from identity majority of them looked at Article 370 as means of political empowerment, rightly or wrongly.