Farooq Abdullah’s release: Centre’s new Kashmir gambit?
Former chief minister and Member of Parliament Dr Farooq Abdullah was released from detention under the Public Safety Act on Friday. It is not immediately clear what made Abdullah’s sudden release possible. More so, when the government had recently extended the detention under PSA of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, another former chief minister.
In a surprise move, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Friday ordered the release of the former chief minister and Member of Parliament Dr Farooq Abdullah. The government chose not to extend Abdullah’s detention under the Public Safety Act which expired today, effectively paving the way for his freedom after seven months of incarceration. Abdullah, along with other major Kashmiri leaders, including his son Omar Abdullah, also a former chief minister, was detained on August 5, 2019, when the Centre withdrew Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous status within the Indian Union.
It is not clear when and whether Abdullah will be allowed to walk out of his residence which had been converted into a sub-jail, and also how long it will be before he resumes his political activity. It is also unclear as to what the nature of this political activity will be. Will he assume an antagonistic line towards the Centre as can be expected considering his party’s long-standing political position on Article 370, or will he be more restrained in pressing his demands? These are the questions whose answers may come in the days to come. Abdullah can also choose to be reconciliatory as has been the general drift of his politics - although he can intermittently be unpredictable and temperamental.
It is also not immediately clear what made Abdullah’s sudden release possible. More so because the government recently extended the detention under PSA of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, another former chief minister. Incidentally, two weeks ago, former RAW chief A S Dullat had met Abdullah at his Gupkar Road residence. However, little is known as to what transpired between them. When asked, Dulat refused to respond. "I have no comments to offer," Dulat had told media.
Was the release of the outcome of external pressure? It could very well be. Recently, Representative Pramila Jayapal had sponsored the bipartisan House Resolution 745 in the US, which although not binding, urged India “to reinstate internet access, release those detained, and preserve religious freedom.”
However, it is unlikely that the foreign pressure alone would have forced New Delhi’s hand. Abdullah’s release is believed to be a part of a larger Kashmir gambit. The move would have been unlikely if the Centre had expected Abdullah to embark on a vociferous opposition to Article 370. So, what is up New Delhi’s sleeve? A lot depends on how Abdullah chooses to act.
If at all the two actions are related, almost around the time that Abdullah’s release was ordered, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet proposed to the “leadership of SAARC nations” a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus.
“We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy,” the PM tweeted. “Together we can set an example to the world and contribute to a healthier planet."
This offer, as is obvious, goes to Pakistan as well, and thus can also be read as the first reconciliatory overture to the country following the withdrawal of Article 370.
Abdullah‘s release also comes in the backdrop of the launch of a new J&K party, Apni Party, led by Altaf Bukhari who in 2018 was ironically the consensus candidate for chief ministership when the NC, the PDP, and the Congress had decided to join hands to form the government to foil the BJP’s alleged attempt to poach upon their members.
It would be interesting to see how Abdullah approaches Bukhari’s party that is believed to have been created by New Delhi as an alternative to the NC and the PDP. Thus, there are many ways in which Abdullah’s release can play out. But for now, we can only wait and watch.
The government order of this morning revoking the Public Safety Act imposed against former Chief Minister and sitting Lok Sabha member Dr Farooq Abdullah and releasing him from detention reads:
“In exercise of the power conferred under section 19(1) of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978, the Government hereby revokes the detention order bearing DMS/PSA/120/ 2019 dated 15-09-2019 issued by the District Magistrate, Srinagar, extended for a period of 3 months, vide government order Home /PB-V/668 of 2020 dated 11.03.2020 of Dr Farooq Abdullah s/o Late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah R/o Gupkar Road Srinagar with immediate effect"
Soon after his release, 82-year-old Abdullah told journalists at his Gupkar residence that his freedom was incomplete until all the political leaders were released.
“I will not answer any political question and prefer to remain mute until all the political prisoners are released", Abdullah said.
Abdullah also thanked his well-wishers, media and leaders of opposition political parties who pushed for his release. The move came close on the heels of a joint statement issued by various opposition political parties seeking the release of political prisoners in Kashmir.
Abdullah was detained under PSA on September 15 last year after being under house arrest for a while.
After the August 5 move, the government in Jammu and Kashmir had detained thousands of people apart from Abdullah and two other erstwhile chief ministers, and a bureaucrat turned politician. The Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy had on Wednesday informed the Rajya Sabha that the Jammu and Kashmir authorities had taken 7,357 persons in preventive custody since August 2019. He said that 451 people are under detention and of them 396 were slapped with PSA.
NC welcomes the move
The National Conference, the grand old party of Jammu and Kashmir, has welcomed the release of Abdullah. In a statement issued in Srinagar, the party deemed the move as a step in the right direction for the restoration of the genuine political process in Jammu and Kashmir. "This process will receive further fillip when party Vice President Omar Abdullah and other political detainees are set free", said the statement.
The party exhorted the government to release all the political prisoners immediately. The party's Jammu based provincial secretary Sheikh Bashir Ahamd told Asiaville that finally, good sense has prevailed on the government. He said he hoped that all the prisoners including members of civil society members would be set free soon.