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8th Feb 2020 – The Hindu Topic 1

“Extended folly: On invocation of PSA against Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti”

Six months after the BJP government at the Centre revoked the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and reduced it to two Union Territories, several senior leaders of the erstwhile State continue to be in detention. On Thursday, the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA) was invoked against former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, among others. They were in preventive detention without charges until then. The 83-year-old Farooq Abdullah, another former CM, had earlier been detained under the PSA, and he remains in detention. There is no clarity regarding the number of prisoners or the future course for J&K, despite the elaborate rhetoric from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament on Thursday on the subject. With the dilution of Article 370 that accorded special status to J&K in August last year, the region has now been fully integrated with the rest of the country, the Prime Minister claimed. Indeed, the malevolent instruments of power deployed in J&K have since then dangerously spread to other parts — the crackdown on legitimate political activities, the vilification of leaders critical of the government as anti-India, and high-handed policing that is not merely condoned but glorified. The PM defended the indefinite and arbitrary detention of people as essential, and accused the former CMs of making “unacceptable” statements.

 

Explained | The Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act

 

If the executive were to draw boundaries on what statements are ‘acceptable’ and arrogate to itself the authority to punish unacceptable ones, it would be dangerous for a constitutional democracy. The Supreme Court had in January chided the government for the indefinite restriction on Internet in J&K, following which services have been partially restored. The Court cited the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, and also criticised the frequent and widespread use of Section 144 by governments. While the Court order was rousing in its tone, it did little to restrain the government. The changes to Article 370 and the manner in which they were effected, are under the consideration of the top court, which has not shown the sense of urgency these questions deserve. Though the BJP has always had an ideologically deterministic approach towards J&K, its policy has been nothing more than improvisation. At least at this late hour, the Centre must make an honest approach to restart a political process in the Valley. Indiscreet moves such as attempts to graft an inorganic layer of leaders into Valley politics are destined to fail. With all their follies, regional outfits and their leaders remain India’s best bet in J&K. Their continuing detention betrays a perturbing lack of awareness of this basic fact in decision-making in New Delhi.

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