FOUR years after he was put under house arrest, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was released last week, shortly after he petitioned the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Being the religious head of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and the chairman of the region’s main separatist group, the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar has social and political clout in J&K. Thus, his release assumes significance in view of the demand by various organisations for the restoration of the democratic process in J&K and the holding of Assembly elections. This process has been on hold since the abrogation of Article 370 by the Central Government on August 5, 2019, when the state’s special status was withdrawn and it was reorganised into two union territories. A day earlier, the Mirwaiz had been detained along with top political leaders and hundreds of separatists and Internet service was suspended under the stringent Public Safety Act.
Notably, former Chief Minister and sitting MP Farooq Abdullah was released from detention in March 2020, while another ex-CM, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, was freed in October that year. On both occasions, there was good reason to hope that their release would pave the way for the resumption of the electoral exercise in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, many others, including politicians, continue to be under detention. They must also be set free. After all, the Solicitor-General had last month assured the Supreme Court — which was hearing petitions against the abrogation of Article 370 — that the Centre was ready to hold elections in J&K ‘any time now’, even though it could not specify any time-frame for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood.
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