Kashmir: An outlandish charge in Abdullah's PSA dossier
While the central government has booked Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, along with their four-party comrades, under the Public Safety Act, political analysts say the move will delegitimise the electoral process in J&K.
The people in the Valley of Kashmir may take a government announcement or a published news item with a pinch of salt, but they pay due attention to what they hear through the grapevines. A couple of months after the ruling dispensation did away with the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and broke it up into two federally controlled territories, rumours began flying thick and fast about suave Omar Abdullah growing a beard; and about he and his political opponent Mehbooba Mufti being booked under the draconian Public Saftey Act ( PSA). Nearly four months down the line, both rumours have proved true.
On January 25, a photograph of Omar Abdullah sporting a few inches long scraggy grey beard began doing the rounds across the social media, and just last week Abdullah and Mufti, along with their four-party comrades, were booked under the PSA after already having been in detention for six months.
The charges listed in Abdullah’s dossier seem rather strange and incongruous with what the government of India had been tom-tomming about since decades.
One of the main charges is his ability to get the people to throng to polling booths and cast their votes despite boycott calls by separatists and militants.
"For years India has been legitimizing Jammu and Kashmir's accession with India through the electoral process and now it is itself delegitimising the same process", says a prominent political analyst of the Valley who declined to be quoted in this report.
In 1989, an armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir and hundreds of young men joined various militant outfits. Amid the escalating violence, the legislative assembly was suspended in January 1990 and the state was brought under president's rule, which lasted for over six years.
"The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was on the edge and it was the National Conference and its leaders who initiated a democratic process and took the state out of the political crisis in 1996", says Sheikh Bashir Ahmad, provincial secretary of the National Conference.
Ahmad asks how a person could be booked for encouraging the people to defy the boycott calls given by militants. The 1996 elections were conducted under the shadow of the gun. While militants killed many political leaders and plastered the walls in the small towns and villages with posters asking the people to stay clear of the polling stations, the government encouraged the security forces to take people out to vote.
"These elections were held to show the world that normality has returned to Kashmir and people have reposed their faith in the democratic process", said the political observer.
In 2002, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who emphasised the importance of Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat ( Humanity) and Jamhooriyat ( Democracy) to find a resolution to the Kashmir issue, promised free and fair elections in the Valley. During these elections, Mufti's Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) formed the government with the support of the Congress party.
After every election, New Delhi would trumpet the return of normalcy to the Valley. A good voting percentage was used by the government to not only delegitimise the separatist leaders but to also show the world that democracy was alive and well in Kashmir.
The elections of 2009 which brought the National Conference back into the state assembly were hailed because of the good participation of people in the electoral process. Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister, billed the highest yet voter turnout as "a vote for democracy".
"Even many political leaders in India said that Pakistan should now know what the people of Jammu and Kashmir want", says Ahmad.
The 2009 elections were significant because they were held immediately after the Amarnath land row which brought tens of thousands of the populace to the streets in Kashmir and led to the collapse of PDP-Congress government.
In these polls, the BJP won 11 seats from Jammu for the first time. "The political parties are the vehicles for peoples' participation in the electoral process. It is bizarre that people who strengthen democracy are booked under PSA", Ahmad asserts.
The controversial Public Safety Act was originally formulated to rein in the forest smugglers during the regime of Sheikh Mohamad Abdullah in 1978. The law has, however, been frequently used for political vendetta and retribution. Amnesty International in its 2010 report, ‘A Lawless Law: Detentions under Public Safety Act‘ has said that around 10,000 to 20,000 have been detained under the law since its inception.
In a recently released report, J & K Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons' (APDP) said that 412 persons have been detained under the PSA after ruling dispensation read down the special provisions of Jammu and Kashmir.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign, Abdullah had promised that he would revoke the draconian law if voted to power in the upcoming assembly polls. The assembly elections, which are due for long, have not been held, Abdullah and his father, however, have been booked under the law.