Free Kashmir’s democrats | HT Editorial
It will help both domestic policy and international imageUpdated: Oct 06, 2019 20:35 IST
It’s been two months since the government decided to push through constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in Parliament. Article 370 was effectively abrogated; the state was bifurcated; and J&K and Ladakh, it was decided, would now become Union Territories (UTs). The constitutional changes — and there is no doubt that the government had adequate mandate and legislative support for it — were accompanied by a clampdown in the Valley. Communication links were snapped. Security mobilisation was ramped up. Political leaders, including those who had sworn by the Indian Constitution, were detained.
The government’s case was simple. It argued that restrictions were necessary to prevent violence, for ease of communication and mobility would give terrorists an advantage. This, to be fair, has proved effective, for compared to earlier protests, killings have been at a minimal. But this has come at a cost. Civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens — and Kashmiris are entitled to the same rights as all other Indians — were compromised. Normal life was affected. And political mobilisation — once again a key democratic right — was curtailed.
It is time for a review. The government must now lift restrictions, without compromising security. It must release Kashmir’s mainstream leaders, of the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, as well as other smaller forces which have participated in elections under the Indian constitutional framework. These leaders have spoken up for India in difficult of times. Terrorists have killed thousands of mainstream activists because of their pro-India stance. The continued detention of these leaders only strengthens the Valley’s radicals. Their release will benefit Delhi in two ways. For one, its ambition of bringing development to J&K cannot be fulfilled without local partners; elections in the UT would not have legitimacy without the participation of locally established forces; and democratic activity needs to find an outlet. And second, releasing leaders will allay apprehensions in the international community. The fact that the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in the US presidential race, Elizabeth Warren, has now expressed concern must caution Delhi that international attention is not fading. but growing. For India to fulfil domestic objectives, and win international support, Kashmir needs to open up.