Life under detention: Kashmir political rivals turn friends
They say politics makes strange bed fellows, but in Jammu and Kashmir adversity has. The detention of mainstream leaders together at MLA hostel in Srinagar has apparently made friendship bonds between the otherwise political rivals in the Union Territory. The mainstream leaders who till last year were sworn political enemies, now share food in the hostel and spend hours together chatting about the latest events in the region, India and the world.
As many as 33 political leaders of different mainstream political parties are currently lodged at MLA hostel in the heart of the city. The leaders - mostly former ministers and legislators of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Conference (PC) - were detained hours before Parliament revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 and bifurcated state into two Union Torritories.
These leaders were first detained at Centaur Hotel which was designated as a sub-jail and were recently shifted to the MLA hostel. Now, five months of detention has set new friendship bonds between these leaders.
“Special curd is brought for former J&K minister Nayeem Akthar from his home. He takes some of the curd and rest is being distributed among all 33 detainees,” said relative of one of the detained political leader. “Now every detainee has developed special liking for the curd prepared at the house of former bureaucrat-turned-minister. The curd is being brought every day from his home.”
Likewise, for PC chairman Sajjad Lone, chocolates and fruits are brought from his home by his relatives and acquaintances which is also being shared among the leaders who till last year were his sharp critics.
Though there is a separate room for every leader, only two leaders - former minister and Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone and former legislator and PDP leader Yasir Reshi - have television sets in their rooms. Other leaders watch television at common room or mess room either at lunch or dinner. “All the leaders prefer to watch television at the common room. BBC, Al-Jazeera and NDTV are the preferred news channels for all the leaders,” said an official at the MLA hostel.
The food is brought for all the leaders by their relatives and the most of the detainees share each other’s food on the regular basis. “Former assembly member Altaf Kaloo who had got elected from South Kashmir’s Pahalgam constituency in last elections has been assigned the job to distribute food among the detained leaders as he is considered good at sharing the food even between his former rivals,” said relative of a political leader. “I had prepared meat dishes for my brother which I handed over to Altaf Kaloo; it was he who distributed the stuff among the leaders.”
Most of the leaders prefer to spend time in reading books. Sajjad Lone, former IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal and PDP youth president Waheed Para have turned voracious readers during incarceration. “These leaders are spending most of their time either studying books or discussing politics of Kashmir and India. Apart from books on Kashmir, some of the leaders have also started studying books on religion and biographies.”
Even the leaders sometimes prefer to play cards to keep themselves busy. Compared to Centaur Hotel, which was located on the banks of picturesque Dal Lake, the MLA hostel is not soothing and for initial days the lack of facilities even led to brawls between leaders and the people guarding them. However, most of the leaders have now been allowed to bring electronic heating gadgets, blankets and quilts from their homes which has made things comfortable.
“The lines are blurred here. The leaders who used to speak against each other are now close friends. On Wednesdays and Saturdays - the designated days for meeting these leaders - all of them sit in one hall and chat with each other. Their relatives also mingle with each other. We don’t know whether this bond will remain once they are out, but it seems this detention has cemented their bonds,” said nephew of a former minister in PDP-BJP government.