Farooq Abdullah’s release a welcome first step

Farooq Abdullah’s release a welcome first step

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah

The release of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah after seven months of detention is a welcome gesture from the Centre. The government has not made any comment on it, but it may be considered as part of a move to better deal with the situation that has emerged after the scrapping of Article 370 in August last year. Abdullah, two other former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, and many other political leaders were detained then, some of them under the draconian Public Safety Act. The 82-year-old Dr Abdullah’s release may be sudden, but it is not a surprise because the government was known to be in contact with him. Former RAW chief AS Dulat visited him last month and it could only have been at the behest of the government. So, it is most likely that there is a plan behind his release. 

After his release, Abdullah has rightly said that his freedom is not complete without the release of other leaders like his son Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. There is a political vacuum in Kashmir after the detention of most leaders of regional political parties. Such a vacuum exists in other areas of life also. The lockdown and the restrictions on communications aggravated the situation. These have been gradually relaxed, but many are still in place. The government has tried to present a normal image of Kashmir to the outside world and even arranged the visits of foreign delegations there. It is also holding panchayat elections in the erstwhile state. But these do not give a credible picture of normalcy. There are reports of militants being arrested or killed in encounters and radicalism gaining ground. Infiltrations from across the border have been reported and there may be more such pressure in the wake of the US-Taliban accord in Afghanistan. 

No normalcy is possible in Kashmir without the restoration of the political process there. This calls for the release of all detained leaders and engagement with them. Some leaders who belonged to the National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress have launched a new party called the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party this month. This party has the blessings of the Modi government. The day after Abdullah’s release, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told representatives of the new party that his government would work to restore the statehood of J&K “at an early opportunity’’. This is the first specific statement from the Prime Minister about a government plan for Kashmir. The plan has to necessarily include the widest political spectrum in Kashmir, and Abdullah’s release might well be a signal that Delhi understands this. 

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