On the floor of Parliament, on August 6, 2019 Union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that Farooq Abdullah, former Union Minister and several times Chief Minister of what had been the state of J&K, had neither been detained nor arrested, declaring “He is at home on his own will.”
In what is widely seen as a mockery of the rule of law and indeed of the first principle of democracy, the 81-year-old former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir continues to languish under arrest since the August 5 lockdown that
preceded the reading down of Article 370.
This detention was formalised under the Public Safety Act (PSA) in the wake of Tamil Nadu’s MDMK chief Vaiko’s habeas corpus plea to the Supreme Court.
When I was on a personal visit to Srinagar, my request to the local authority to be allowed to call on Abdullah was rudely rebuffed. And so, the government has taken recourse to a draconian law of the former state, which should by now have been no more than detritus to suffocate democratic liberty in the freshly minted Union Territory.
Have our countrymen, and indeed our apex court so readily forgotten those who upheld the country’s flag through war and insurrection in the face of terrorist threat and Pakistani aggression, both military and diplomatic? Who do we expect will now provide political leadership to the people in the politically volatile Valley?
Under the cloak of integration, all mainstream Kashmiri parties and their political leaders have in fact been ejected from the refuge of national laws and for that matter, political processes that they had championed. Those under detention range from CPI(M) leader Tarigami to the leaders and cadres of the National Conference, the Indian National Congress, the People’s Democratic Party and include Sajjad Lone, leader of the BJP’s election ally, People’s Conference.
When I met Sajjad in Srinagar on the eve of the parliamentary elections, he had expressed the hope that with Modi’s support and his commitment to the common Kashmiri he would make gains over Abdullah’s National Conference by the time the Assembly elections were held. That we now know, was not to be.
In an era where demonstrable Desh Bhakti is demanded as proof of love of country, Farooq Abdullah should have found the pride of place. Son of a nationalist who had stood up for accession to India in face of a military invasion by Pakistan following India’s hard won Independence and a lifelong campaigner for the dignity of his people within the framework of India’s democracy, he has been part of the national democratic opposition or part of government since his return to India from a self-imposed exile in the UK since the ‘70s.
In this, he has been associated with the entire range of national political parties in opposition or governing alliance. He fought the Congress led by the redoubtable Indira Gandhi ruling at the Centre in the state Elections of 1983, only to find himself done out of power by defections when, seeking a greater participation in national politics, he made so bold as to organise an Opposition Conclave in Srinagar in October of that year.
Serving in PMO at the time I remember having warned his Principal Secretary Mahmood ur Rehman that PM would take this ill, but Abdullah persisted. And when PM visited Ladakh after Operation Bluestar in 1984, Abdullah travelled to Leh, despite having been told not to bother, to reassure her of his support.
He allied with the party when PM Rajiv Gandhi reached out to form government in 1987. With the outbreak of separatism under the VP Singh government at the Centre in 1989, the state saw a long spell of Governor’s and then President’s Rule, brought on by Abdullah’s resignation in 1990 following the VP Singh government’s failure to act on the advice of the CM.
The then Union Home Minister, himself a Kashmiri, sought to force out a democratically elected government in the state, albeit that election was flawed, thinking to expropriate personal political advantage. Instead that measure precipitated the state into outright insurgency.
During this time, Abdullah busied himself travelling the country and the world with other representatives of India explaining India’s stand on Kashmir. With the return of popular government in 1996, Abdullah was once more participant in elections to once again form the government in J&K and was a party in the National Democratic Alliance led by Vajpayee in whose Union government, his son Omar was a high profile Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
It was as NDA ally that Abdullah also worked towards greater autonomy for J&K state within the Indian Union in keeping with the promise of Article 370. Abdullah then himself was appointed Minister in the UPA governments of Dr Manmohan Singh (2004-2014).
Surely this record should have marked Abdullah as a pillar of State and proof of the integration of the state with India, not a risk to public safety. And he was liberal with his pronouncements of Bharat Mata ki Jai and adorning his forehead with a tilak as he made obeisance to the Sindhu in Ladakh in the company of the then Home Minister LK Advani, much to the annoyance of the orthodox among his constituents.
Representation in a legislature, both state and Union through free and open elections, is a basic right of every Indian and the key to the exercise of democracy. Panchayati Raj can be part of this exercise provided that panchayats function under Article 243 (d) of the Constitution as institutions (by whatever name called) of self government, but are no substitute.
And although the J&K State Panchayati Raj laws of 1989 passed by none other than Abdullah’s government should have been supplanted by the Constitution, that law, subsists in J&K. The few members elected through recently staged elections are in fear of their constituents and can hardly claim to be peoples’ representatives.
Even with its forcible demotion, there will have to be a J&K Assembly and Farooq Abdullah is its tallest political leader, even were we to include amongst these the separatist leadership. There will be no restoration of democracy in the state without his participation.