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Call to free Kashmir leaders

The joint statement is an attempt to break the silence on the Kashmir situation as subsequent controversies
Farooq Abdullah (second from left) and Mehbooba Mufti with the other leaders at the all-party meeting in Srinagar.

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 09.03.20, 07:05 PM

Leaders of six non-Congress Opposition parties on Monday demanded the immediate release of all political detainees in Kashmir, especially the three former chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

In a joint statement, they said the indefinite detention of the three former chief ministers, along with many other political activists, is not only a blatant violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution but also exposes the “oft-repeated lie” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah that the situation in the newly created Union territory is “completely normal”.

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The statement, issued from NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s office, has been signed by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI general secretary D. Raja, Manoj Jha of the RJD and two senior members of the Vajpayee cabinet, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.

The joint statement is an attempt to break the silence on the Kashmir situation as subsequent controversies — the citizenship law and related protests, Delhi riots and now the coronavirus — have pushed the issue out of the mainstream narrative.

The continuing detention of the three former chief ministers — all of whom have been allies of the BJP in the past — exemplifies the assaults on democratic norms, fundamental rights and civil liberties under the Modi government, the statement said.

“In the government of Shri Narendra Modi, democratic dissent is being muzzled by coercive administrative action, which has threatened the basic ideals of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution.... Dissent is not only being stifled, but the avenues of raising critical voices are also being systematically muted.”

Billing the grounds of their detention as flimsy, the statement underscores that “there is nothing in the past records of these three leaders to lend credence to the Modi government’s false and self-serving claim that they pose a threat to ‘public safety’ in J&K or that they have endangered national interests with their activities.... The very validity of the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, can be challenged following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution as the state has now been stripped off its Special Status.”

Condemning the clampdown in Kashmir, the Opposition leaders further questioned the “well-choreographed visits of the foreign diplomats to Srinagar in a bid to show the world that the situation in J&K is ‘normal’” while placing all kinds of hurdles in the attempts of representatives of India’s own political and media establishment to move freely in Kashmir and assess the situation on the ground.

“Under these circumstances, political parties committed to safeguarding the fundamental rights of the citizens and securing the sanctity of the Constitution, cannot sit quiet. It is our bounden duty to demand the immediate release of the three former chief ministers of J&K and all the other political detainees. We also demand complete and verifiable restoration of the rights and freedoms of our Kashmiri brethren, who, against all odds, have repeatedly shown their allegiance to the Indian Union, by being an integral part of our democratic process,” the statement said.

This is the second time in a fortnight that the Congress is not part of an Opposition mobilisation outside Parliament. In the last week of February, the Congress suo motu announced a protest action against the Delhi riots, leaving the rest of the Opposition to fend for themselves. Subsequently, the Opposition separately petitioned President Ram Nath Kovind for his intervention.



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