Jammu and Kashmir: Detention is not the answer | HT Editorial
The decision to book former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows for detention up to two years, is ethically questionable, legally flawed, and politically counterproductive. The two leaders were booked under PSA soon after completing six months in preventive detention. Omar’s father, former CM Farooq Abdullah, is also detained under PSA. Sections of the media have cited a government dossier outlining the charges. If these reports are accurate, Omar Abdullah has been accused of espousing radical ideology, of having the capacity to influence people and encouraging an agitation, and of instigating people against India. Ms Mufti, too, has been reportedly, accused of promoting separatism, and making provocative statements which have led to violence.
The government’s approach over the detention of leaders is disconcerting. For one, it violates the spirit of the Constitution. Individual liberty is at the heart of the democratic constitution. The government has shown no tangible evidence which suggests that the Abdullahs or Ms Mufti had done anything to stir violence or seek to break up the Union. Yes, these leaders have been critical of the government’s decision to effectively nullify Article 370 in the state and divide it. Yes, they run parties which can organise demonstrations in opposition to these moves. But this is their fundamental right as Indian citizens. If the government truly wants to integrate J&K with the Union, it cannot do so without giving to the citizens in J&K the same rights exercised by Indians elsewhere. It also cannot do so unless democratic activity gets restored, which can truly happen only when these leaders get released.
The move also undermines the Indian State’s interests. The Abdullahs and Ms Mufti, in the most difficult of times, when the street mood was laced with resentment against Delhi, and when terror groups from Pakistan wreaked havoc, have stood up for the Union. The current charges against them defy common sense — for it is almost an implicit suggestion that their backing of the Constitution and democracy merits punishment. Will this not strengthen those who are against India? The Centre may want to encourage a new force in Kashmir’s polity — but it must not happen by curtailing individual rights. Delhi is weakening its own political and diplomatic case on Kashmir.