The incarceration of National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah has suddenly become a big political issue in the country. Opposition parties are demanding Abdullah’s release from detention and his presence in the parliament. But the government has so far been non-committal on the NC leader’s release. Abdullah has been under detention along with other mainstream leaders since August 5 when the central government repealed Article 370 which granted Kashmir autonomy under the constitution. However, when Abdullah’s friend Chacko filed a petition in Supreme Court for his release, government slapped Public Safety Act on him. Under the Act, Abdullah can be detained without trial for six months extendable up to two years. But now the opposition is putting pressure on the government for Abdullah’s release. And it remains to be seen how the government will react.
Even though the government has resorted to sweeping arrests of political and civil society actors, Abdullah’s arrest has stood out as an act of overreach. Abdullah is not only the tallest mainstream leader in J&K but also one of the senior most leaders in the country. He has always stood for the country’s cause in Kashmir and for which he has often been abhorred by separatist groups.
Abdullah is important also because of who he is in his personal capacity: son of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who was instrumental in tying Muslim majority J&K’s lot with Hindu majority India. Sheikh rejected Muslim majority Pakistan that asserted its right to the state, and still does, under Two-Nation Theory which partitioned India following liberation from Britain in 1947.
In and out of power, Abdullah batted for India in Kashmir, a stand he stuck to despite its unpopularity in the state. He continued to do so after 1989 when he lost power following outbreak of the armed separatist movement against New Delhi’s rule. New Delhi then desperately needed a well-known Kashmiri leader to stand by its cause. Abdullah was this leader, biggest of them all. His support for India at the time compensated for the absolute lack of visible popular support for the country in the Valley.
Abdullah also came in handy to New Delhi through nineties to fight off the international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Kashmir. He was gainfully deployed across the world to defend India on Kashmir and blame Pakistan for the turmoil in the state. In 1994 when India was at the receiving end at UNHRC over its human rights record in Kashmir, Abdullah was sent to Geneva to defend the country as part of the team led by the then opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The team had managed to fend off UNHRC intervention in Kashmir. This makes Abdullah’s detention under the PSA an act of far-reaching import. And the BJP government in New Delhi will be doing no good to its cause in Kashmir by prolonging it.