New Delhi: Accusing the Modi government of “muzzling” democratic dissent by “coercive administrative action”, opposition leaders, including NCP chief Sharad Pawar and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday demanded immediate release of three former chief ministers and all other political detainees in Jammu and Kashmir.
Nothing exemplifies this more starkly than the continuing detention of three former chief ministers –Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti– of J&K for over seven months on “flimsiest of grounds”, they said in a joint statement.
There is nothing in the records of these three leaders to “lend credence to the government’s false and self-serving claim that they pose a threat to public safety in J&K or that they have endangered national interests with their activities,” it said.
Apart from Nationalist Congress Party’s Pawar and Banerjee, the statement was issued by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja, RJD leader Manoj Kumar Jha, and former ministers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.
National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mufti were detained following the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decision to abrogate special status of the erstwhile state, besides its bifurcation into two union territories. They were booked in February this year under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).
NC president Farooq Abdullah, who was also under house arrest after the move by the Centre, was detained in September under PSA.
“We demand the immediate release of all political detainees in Kashmir, especially the three former chief ministers of J-K,” they said.
India and its Constitution have always stood for unity in diversity with everybody’s views respected, honoured and heard, it said, adding “however, in the government of Narendra Modi, democratic dissent is being muzzled by coercive administrative action, which has threatened the basic ideals of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution.”
“There are growing assaults on democratic norms, fundamental rights and civic liberties of citizens of the Indian Republic. As a result, dissent is not only being stifled, but the avenues of raising critical voices are also being systematically muted,” the statement alleged.
The leaders said the indefinite detention of three former CMs of J-K and other political activists is a blatant violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
Ironically, the BJP itself has allied with all three of them, and their parties, in the past, both at the Centre (with NC) and in the state (with People’s Democratic Party), the statement said.
This must be seen in the larger context of the “prolonged lockdown” of the state since August 5, they said, adding it “exposes the oft-repeated lie of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah that the situation in J&K is completely normal”.
The government has recently organized “well-choreographed” visits of the foreign diplomats to Srinagar, but it has placed “all kinds of hurdles” in the attempts of representatives of India’s own political and media establishment to move freely in the state and assess the situation on the ground, they said.
Under these circumstances, political parties committed to safeguarding the fundamental rights of the citizens and securing the sanctity of the Constitution, cannot sit quiet, they added.
“It is our bounden duty to demand the immediate release of the three former chief ministers of J&K and all the other political detainees.
“We also demand complete and verifiable restoration of the rights and freedoms of our Kashmiri brethren, who, against all odds, have repeatedly shown their allegiance to the Indian Union, by being an integral part of our democratic process,” the joint statement said.
Opposition leaders also raised questions over the validity of the J&K PSA, 1978, saying it can be challenged following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution as the state has now been stripped off its Special Status.