Incomplete step

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The 80-year-old Abdullah, who underwent two cataract surgeries while in detention, has been restrained since his release.

It would not be enough to simply welcome the release of member of Parliament and former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir Farooq Abdullah. It must also be pointed out that a grave violation of fundamental rights was committed by placing him, other political leaders, and thousands of others under detention in the first place. No valid reasons were given for invoking the J&K Public Safety Act against the National Conference chairman, or indeed against two other chief ministers and other politicians, just as no reason has been given now for why such a danger to public safety — for that is what slapping him with the PSA had implied — has now been let go from house arrest. Or should it be inferred from the government’s actions that arrest and a case under a draconian law are only instruments to be deployed and withdrawn at its discretion and whim?

The 80-year-old Abdullah, who underwent two cataract surgeries while in detention, has been restrained since his release, stating that while a “free and frank exchange of political views is essential” to understand the Centre’s actions in J&K since August 5, 2019, he will not make any political statements until such time as the others remain in detention, and that he will keep what he has to say for Parliament. It is not known if the Centre has had any dialogue with Abdullah or reached an “understanding” with him, as is being suggested in some quarters. But what appears to be clear is that the government may have realised that the newly floated Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party can neither be a credible alternative, nor even begin to engage with the people of Kashmir and kickstart the political process unless it begins releasing the former state’s established politicians. The engagement and participation of the National Conference, J&K’s biggest regional political party, is as essential to the political process as it ever was. What remains to be seen is if and how the NC, which passed an autonomy resolution in the J&K Assembly in 2000, will play in a game in which the goalposts have been radically shifted.

Farooq Abdullah himself has not made the demand that the others be released immediately, asking only for those imprisoned outside the former state to be brought back to J&K “pending their release” as it will enable their family members to meet them more easily in the time of coronavirus. Yet the release of the detained politicians, including Abdullah’s son Omar, and the People's Democratic Party leader, Mehbooba Mufti, several other topline leaders and many more, under house arrest and in prisons in and outside J&K, is imperative. The government must lose no time in taking the next step.