Just hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Parliament his government will not tolerate any step that undermines the unity India, People's Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday stood by its decision to release hardline separatist leader Masarat Alam, saying the party will not keep people "illegally detained in jails".
"We are part of a democracy and very proud of it. So people of Jammu and Kashmir are also entitled to their democratic rights. We can't keep people in jails illegally for life," said Nayeem Akhtar, senior party leader and a close aide of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Akhtar said Alam was released by a high court about six times in the past but was always re-arrested after being slapped with fresh charges.
"We have nothing to do with it, his release was part of a judicial process. We can't keep a person languishing in jail forever even after the courts have released him," he added.
"In March 2013, a Supreme Court ruling in the Masarat Alam case said that he cannot be illegally detained, and upheld the high court's decision quashing his detention," Akhtar added.
On Monday, following a ruckus by the opposition in Parliament over the issue, Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi told Lok Sabha that the Centre was not consulted by the Jammu and Kashmir government on the decision to release Kashmiri separatist leader Alam.
"Parliament, in one voice, has condemned this type of action. I assure the country and the House that whatever is happening there (in J-K), the Union government was neither consulted not informed... Government does not accept such action.
"In one voice, we express our anger against those supporting separatists and misusing the law. In the coming days, we will take whatever action is required and we are committed to the nation's integrity," Modi said.
"We have asked for a clarification on the Masarat Alam issue and when it comes we will inform you...We will not tolerate any step which undermines unity of the country."
Reacting to the PM's statement in Parliament, Akhtar said that "the Prime Minister was entitled to an opinion but the state government had done nothing against law".
Akhtar also commented on the criticism by Congress and National Conference over the release. "National Conference and Congress are responsible for what is going on in Jammu and Kashmir. They have always subverted the democratic process in the state. Now that the state is under a democratic government, we will follow law," he said.
PDP has also said the step (to release Alam) was taken to facilitate creation of a conducive atmosphere for talks with separatists.
Senior party leader and MLC, Firdous Tak told reporters in Jammu that these steps are being taken under reconciliation policy to create a conducive atmosphere to facilitate talks with separatists.
"For undertaking reconciliation, we have to start from somewhere. We have to understand, when we to have talk to separatist leaders, we have to create conducive atmosphere for talks (to commence)", Tak replied to a question on the steps taken by the government soon after taking over.
Alam, 42, was released from Baramulla jail on March 7 after close to five years in detention as part of a state government's initiative to release political prisoners facing no criminal charges.
This crisis comes even as the BJP continues its firefight against Mufti's remarks crediting Pakistan and the separatists for peaceful conduct of assembly elections in the state, and is being viewed as a decision that has driven another wedge between troubled alliance partners BJP and PDP.
Meanwhile, sources say PDP is also planning the release of more political prisoners including some stone pelters who have been detained under the Public Safety Act.
However, those released are unlikely to include Qasim Faktoo, husband of Dhuktaran-e-milat chief Asiya Andrabi. Faktoo has been served life term by courts in Kashmir on charges of murder of human rights activist, HN Wanchoo. He has been in jail for 22 years and the high court had rejected his plea for release, saying he has to serve the jail term till he is alive.
(With agencies input)