National Conference vice president and former Jammu-Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has been released after 232 days in prison. His father, former chief minister and Party President Farooq Abdullah had been released earlier on 13 March. Both the Abdullahs and several other mainstream political leaders including another former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, were arrested and put in jail following the abrogation of special rights of Jammu-Kashmir and the bifurcationof state into two union territories on 5 August last year. Apart from political leaders, many prominent figures in social and service fields were also rounded up and put in prisons in and outside the state.
It was as part of fulfilling an electoral promise of the BJP to abrogate the provisions in Article 370 that granted special privileges to Kashmir, that the entire democratic voices of Kashmir were silenced with the backing of massive military presence and terror laws. As for tre senior parliamentarian Farooq Abdullah, when the Supreme Court was all set to hear the petition by MDMK leader Vaiko against his illegal incarceration, a few hours prior to the hearing, the Centre applied the draconian provisions of the Public Security Act on 15 September. Thus, what the Centre did, under absolute military control, was to turn Jammu-Kashmir from a state with constitutional rights and protection into a centrally administered region under the direct control of the union home ministry and the national security apparatus in a way its writ can run at large. The entire rage of the Centre, and the sangh parivar that steers the regime, was directed against twin families of Abdullah-Mufti. The Modi regime thereafter slapped PSA on the whole spectrum of political party leaders, who had been active in electoral politics, had stood firm against secession and extremism and had acted as bridge between Srinagar and New Delhi in the efforts to solve them.
Only very few of the tight controls imposed then on Kashmir have been relaxed by the governmentn even now. Thus, when the prime minister's declaration came about the country being brought under a lock-down for 21 days due to the corona virus threat, it was not for nothing that some comments in social media read 'Welcome to the experience of Kashmir since 5 August last year'. For the last nine months, Kashmir has been in a 'politial quarantine'. Telecommunication and internet curbs are still in place. Doctors bemoan the fact that because data speed is significantly reduced even during these times of Covid, it takes an hour to download a file required for hospitals. The only available sites are a few included in the government's White List. All telecom and internet services are being monitored. Political observers point out that what exists in the valley is a war situation that had existed in the northeastern region from thte 1950s to 80s, in order to ensure loyalty to India. Further, in the present context, the Centre sharpened its spite towards Kashmir by withdrawing even Article 35A of the Constitution, which the government had granted then to allow economic and landowner status with the objective to make northeastern states stand with it. When the political leaders were charged under PSA and their residences, rest houses and star hotels were converted to prisons, about 450 youth were rounded up and taken out of the state, mainly in the prisons of Uttar Pradesh ruled by Yogi Adigyanath. Among them now are many dead, battling serious illnesses, or unable to let their parents see them simply because they do not have money on their hands. It is when these tribulations continue with no solution or relief in sight that the government has paved the way for the release of the Abdullahs. There has not been a clear answer to the question whether leaders of other political parties including PDP and People's Conference would also be released.
Ever since Jammu-Kashmir's ruling coalition fell in 2018 and Mehbooba Mufti parted with the BJP, she has been the bete noire of the latter. And in order to wreak vengeance on the parties, lately the BJP has cobbled a new political outfit called 'Jammu-Kashmir Apni Party' inducting many from it, including former finance minister. But parties ranging from the National Conference to the PDP and other groups had made a 'Gupkar Declaration' under the leadership of Omar Abdullah on 4 August last year that unless Kashmir's lost privileges were restored, they would not take part in any political process sponsored by the Centre. When their leaders were put in jail, the BJP was seeking ways capitalise on it to rope in those left in disarray and form 'Apni Party' as part of restarting a political process in line with their wishes. But after the BJP entertained them in Delhi and gave them promise to restore full statehood to Kashmir, now the release of National Conference leaders has stunned the Apni Party. The party, as well as the Velley in general, do share a suspicion whether there has been any covert deal between the BJP and National Conference - which used to be a BJP ally once in the past. There are some who see signs of a broad political drama unfolding from the fact that Sara Abdulla, who had worked hard for Omar Abdullah's release, is the wife of the youth Congress leader Sachin Pilot of Rajasthan – a state which the BJP has set its eyes on for operation in the manner of Madhya Pradesh. Whatever drama is enacted, as long as the Centre and the sangh parivar are lost on how to break the imbroglio in Kashmir – currently under the military boot - the tale is lilkely to continue.