It is now six months since the leaders of mainstream political parties in Jammu & Kashmir have been detained. It is a travesty of democracy for any leader to be incarcerated for this long without any trial or due process. The Centre must lift the communication blockade and release political leaders to restore normalcy and peace in the trouble-torn Valley. After taking the bold step of abrogating Article 370 in a bid to fully integrate the strife-torn border State with the rest of India, the NDA government appears to be fast losing the narrative. By invoking draconian provisions to extend the detention of prominent leaders of the Valley and curtailing their political freedom, the Centre is making a mockery of democracy. Three former Chief Ministers—Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti—have been under arrest since August 5 when Jammu & Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories. This has created a political vacuum, a void that is bound to be filled by forces inimical to India. Secessionists will find greater traction if the mainstream politicians are discredited. The detention of Farooq Abdullah, president of National Conference and Srinagar MP, was extended by three more months in December under the Public Safety Act (PSA). This marks a new and dangerous low in the overreach of state power to curtail liberty and political freedom. Treating the mainstream political leaders, who had kept the political process alive despite several odds, as a threat to public safety is a travesty of justice and an assault on democratic principles.
Unless the communication blockade is lifted completely and political leaders are released, it would be difficult to restore normalcy. It is also paradoxical that the Centre had facilitated a guided tour of foreign diplomats while preventing opposition leaders from visiting the region. The delayed outreach initiative, involving the visits by Union Ministers, is not expected to heal wounds of the Valley unless it is backed up by genuine efforts to withdraw the restrictions. The harsh crackdown on civil liberties, blanket ban on communications, stifling restrictions on the movement of people and detention of political leaders have not helped India’s cause, though the international community has, by and large, acknowledged that scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter of the country. There is also a greater international appreciation for India’s concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan. It is necessary for New Delhi to consolidate on this global goodwill and take swift measures to restore civil rights in the Valley. It doesn’t augur well for a democratic country to have the dubious record of the longest internet shutdown in one of its regions. The hope for economic, emotional and constitutional integration of J&K should not be allowed to slip away.