Move to slap PSA on Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah sparks criticism in Valley
The invocation of the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) against former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, enabling their detention without trial for up to two years, drew flak in the Valley on Friday as a blow to the democratic process in the newly created Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
Even so, several people, especially in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, welcomed the move, noting that the administration often used the same Act to detain people when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) were in power in the erstwhile state.
The Jammu & Kashmir administration on Thursday booked four politicians, including NC’s Abdullah and PDP’s Mufti under the PSA. The completed six months in preventive detention on February 5.
PSA was invoked against them hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted Abdullah and Mufti in a speech in the Lok Sabha, pointedly referring to their “ anti-Constitution” speeches before their detention in August last year, when the Centre nullified Article 370 that guaranteed J&K’s special status.
“It’s not in tune with democratic and constitutional practices. The former CMs didn’t break any law; still this stringent act was used against them,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, former head of the department of political science at Kashmir University.
He noted that Abdullah and Mufti had represented India or had been part of the Indian political system and were in alliance with national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The preventive detention of both former CMs under the Code of Criminal Procedure was to end just before they were booked under PSA, a law under which a person can be detained for at least three months and up to two years without trial. In December, the detention of former J&K CM and Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah, Omar’s father, under the PSA was extended by three more months.
Omar Abdullah’s cousin, Muzuffar Shah, vice-chairman of the Awami National Conference and currently under house arrest, said his family was not going to change its stand against the revocation of Article 370 because of such tactics being used by the administration. “For our family it doesn’t matter whether we are under detention under preventive custody or PSA,” he said.
Ishfaq Ahmad, an information technology professional, said the administration’s move showed the uncertain future confronting J&K. “The detention of the two former chief ministers shows how rampantly and blatantly PSA has been used in Kashmir to silence political dissent. Besides, the detention of former CMs shows the failure of the government to convince these leaders that abrogation of Article 370 was a step in the right direction.’’
The detention of the former CMs under PSA was discussed on social media and at shopfronts. Some noted that the same Act had been often used by erstwhile state governments when the two were in power.
“Today, the same medicine is being tried on them. Though it is sad that they have been booked under the stringent PSA, here we have people who have been booked under PSA 10 to 12 times even when these people ruled the state. They must now be realising how it feels when people are held on political grounds,” said Fayaz Ahmad, who runs a shop in Lal Chowk.
Amir Ahmad, a private-sector employee, referred to the use of force against protestors who took to the streets during the tenures of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
“In the tenures of Omar and Mehbooba, hundreds of youth lost their eyesight after pellets were used on them but that does not mean the central government was right in abrogating Article 370. The centre also put thousands of youth in jail and booked hundreds under PSA. Our special status was taken away and our legislature downgraded. We have been rendered powerless,” he said.
A senior PDP leader who was part of the government and was released recently from detention said on condition of anonymity that it was in the interest of peace to let the democratic process evolve again and release detained political leaders
The leader added that the detention of politicians under PSA “has left the valley leaderless and people clueless. In no way does it contribute to normalcy. Mainstream space can’t be criminalised or restricted, it has to be given its own space in democracy”.
To be sure, the detention of both Abdullah and Mufti under the PSA was welcomed by their critics, who cited their social media posts and statements as challenging the country ‘s integrity.
“They want the country’s disintegration so it’s right to book them under the PSA,” said Mohammad Hanief, the Poonch-based father of Indian Army soldier Aurangzeb, who was abducted and killed by terrorists in South Kashmir in 2018.
“It’s a good decision. They are still issuing controversial statements, especially through Mehbooba’s Twitter handle. Though she has authorised daughter Iltija, you can see the content. She is challenging the integrity and sovereignty of India despite the fact that she is under detention. They are resorting to blackmail politics. Let them stay in prison because since 1947, these two dynasties have ruled and exploited people in the name of religion, separatism and special status,” said Dinkar Gupta, a cellular phone company employee in Jammu.
Sunil Pandita, a Kashmiri Pandit who migrated from Shopian in the Kashmir valley to Jammu, disagreed.
“They are two former CMs and booking them under PSA will do no good. It seems the government wants to damage the order of the day and regional politics. The Centre should adopt a reconciliatory approach. They have been under detention for six months and now [detained under] PSA. Like the Congress, the BJP is also resorting to arm-twisting tactics. This reminds me of the Emergency days during Indira Gandhi’s rule,” he said.