In a surprise move, J&K government on Friday ordered the release of former chief minister and Member Parliament Dr Farooq Abdullah. The government didn’t extend Abdullah’s detention under Public Safety Act which expired today, effectively paving the way for his freedom after seven months of incarceration. Abdullah along with other major Kashmiri leaders including his son Omar Abdullah, also a former chief minister, were detained on August 5 when Centre withdrew Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous status within Indian Union.
Abdullah has since steered clear of talking about Article 370 or criticize the Centre for its revocation. In a statement, Abdullah has said the current environment in Kashmir wasn’t conducive for such a political discourse. He has instead demanded release of prisoners and shifting of those lodged in outside jails to Kashmir. It is difficult to predict what Abdullah will do in near future. Will he take on an antagonistic line towards Centre as can be expected considering his party’s long-standing political position on Article 370 or will he be more restrained in pressing his demand? These are the questions for whose answers we may have to wait. Abdullah can also chose to be reconciliatory as has been the general drift of his politics – albeit, he can intermittently be unpredictable and temperamental.
It is also not immediately clear what made Abdullah’s sudden release possible. More so, when the government had recently extended the detention under PSA of Omar and Mehbooba Mufti, another former chief minister. Incidentally, two weeks ago, former RAW chief A S Dullat had met Abdullah at his Gupkar Road residence. And now, in an interview, Dulat has given an impression that he acted as a conduit between Abdullah and Centre.
Some people have also pointed towards external pressue. Recently, Representative Pramila Jayapal had sponsored the bipartisan House Resolution 745 in US, which although not binding, urged India “to reinstate internet access, release those detained, and preserve religious freedom.” However, it is unlikely that the foreign pressure alone would have forced New Delhi’s hand. Abdullah’s release is believed to be the part of a larger Kashmir gambit. The move would have been unlikely if Centre expected Abdullah to embark on a vociferous opposition to Article 370. So, what is up New Delhi’s sleeve? Much of it, however, will be clear by how Abdullah chooses to act.
It would be interesting, how Abdullah approaches Syed Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party that is believed to have been created by New Delhi as an alternative to the NC and the PDP. There are thus many ways in which Abdullah’s release can play out. But for now we can only wait and watch. What people in Kashmir would immediately want is the restoration of political activity where the leaders can speak freely. Here’s hoping Kashmir gets to that environment soon.