Omar’s detention ends

Free Mehbooba, too, and restart political process

Omar’s detention ends

The release of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah after nearly eight months of detention, coincidentally at the height of Covid fear, is a timely reminder to the rest of the country as to how it feels to be locked up. Omar’s release comes 11 days after that of his father and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. Farooq had insisted that his freedom is incomplete till other leaders are released. Now one more ex-CM, the former ally of the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti continues to be in confinement. With Farooq and Omar walking free, Mufti’s release can only be a matter of time. But these developments raise a fundamental question: what did the government achieve by keeping the most important political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir incarcerated for three quarters of a year?

A former constitutional authority of J&K had recently made an extremely flippant remark — revealing his confidential conversation with the head of the Union Territory’s bureaucracy — that there was apprehension of a thousand people getting killed after the abrogation of Article 370. This statement exposed a mindset, which also reflected in the arrest — first under preventive detention, and then the dreaded Public Safety Act 1978 — of the most popular leaders of the Valley. But contrary to the muscle-flexing bravado of this variety, it was the maturity and sobriety of the leaders of J&K that helped people come to terms with the new reality, however harsh and offensive it might have appeared to them. Even while walking out of Hari Niwas, Omar Abdullah, who turned 50 in detention, was mindful of the people’s hardship during these trying times of the pandemic caused by Novel Coronavirus.

The Centre should now release Mehbooba Mufti, and then act decisively to restart the political process. The first step is the restoration of 4G Internet connection, helping people to reconnect with the world, and also to help them work from home during this global lockdown, just as the rest of the country does. When Delhi and Mumbai have finally realised what a lockdown means, they need to empathise with the people of J&K.

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