Authorities set up six special jails in anticipation of the August 5 decesion. One of them is the Centaur Lakeview Hotel on the Srinagar’s famous Boulevard where most of the political class is being held for more than three weeks now, reports Shams Irfan after spending many hours outside the jail interacting with the relatives of the special detainees
Every morning a long line of luxury vehicles park outside Sher-e-Kashmir International Conventional Centre (SKICC), in Srinagar, overlooking picturesque Dal Lake. These vehicles chauffer relatives of politicians detained inside.
Since August 5, the Centaur Lakeview Hotel, adjacent to the SKICC, is designated as a sub-jail where over 50 politicians, ex-lawmakers and ministers are held in preventive detention. Their detention orders are signed and renewed after every ten days by their local Magistrates, relatives of the detainees said.
SKICC has two parts; one is Convention Centre and other Centaur Lakeview Hotel, where politicians are detained. SKICC is a state property and Centaur Lake View Hotel is a property of the Hotel Corporation of India.
For last few days they are allowed to meet their families, relatives and in some special cases’ their political workers too.
But situation was completely different in the first fortnight when entry was restricted to close relatives only.
In one of the cars YawarNabiBhat, 28, is waiting impatiently for last one hour for his mother to come out.
This is his fifth visit since his father DrGhulamNabiBhat, 62, a former National Conference (NC) lawmaker from Tral was detained during a nocturnal raid from his Sanat Nagar residence. “Two days before abrogation of Article 370 my father’s Personal Security Officers (PSOs) were withdrawn,” said Yawar, a businessman. “They were asked to report back to Tral Police Station.”
On August 6, the same SPO’s along with DySpTral knocked at their house and told Bhat to get ready as they have orders for his detention. “They told him to pack his bag quickly,” said Yawar.
Bhat’s family was told that he would be taken to a guesthouse at Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), Pampore.
The next morning, despite restrictions, Yawar and his mother visited EDI but Bhat was not there. “Then someone told us to try SKICC where a number of politicians were held,” said Yawar.
On August 8, Yawar and his mother visited SKICC, where they were told that Bhat is detained inside. “However we were not allowed to meet him. We could only send a few pairs of clothes to him through a security officer,” said Yawar.
For next three days Yawar and his mother DrRehanaRafiq would visit SKICC hoping to meet Bhat, without success.
Finally on August 11, Yawar’s mother was allowed to meet her husband for thirty minutes inside lobby area under the watchful eyes of officials. Bhat told his wife that he was driven to Tral first where he spent the night inside Police Station.
“I don’t understand why my father was picked. He was an MLA some 12 years back,” said Yawar.
The same confusion brings three recently elected Corporators of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to SKICC gates.
They carry an application addressed to Dy SP jail, SKICC, Srinagar seeking his permission to visit Deputy Mayor of Srinagar city, Sheikh Imran who is detained since August 8. Elected independently, Imran joined Peoples Conference days ahead of the August 5.
“We don’t understand why Deputy Mayor is detained?” asks NighatGul, 36, who is Ward in-charge for Imran. “Why he is being singled out?”
As they wait for their turn to enter the SKICC, Imran’s wife walks towards the front gate. “Till yesterday we were hailed as basic blocks of democracy. Now see how they treat us,” said Inayat Mir, 47, a Corporator from Nawabazar area of Srinagar.
Before entering SKICC premises visitors are asked to keep their belongings including cell-phones, watches, wallets, pens outside. “They don’t allow us to take anything inside,” said Mir.
A political worker of former NC lawmaker from Khanyar, Ali Mohammad Sagar, came out after meeting him. He was happy to see Sagar and his son Salman Sagar in good shape.
“Since last one week they are allowed to take their meals together with other detainees,” he said refusing to reveal his name. “Before that they were served in their rooms. None of them was allowed to move beyond their designated floors.”
He saw Sagar, his son Salman and Sajjad Lone sitting together in the lobby area. “They are allowed to sit together but under the watchful eyes of a police officer. They can talk about anything except current situation and politics,” he said. “Sagar was allowed to go home three days back but he refused to leave unless everyone is released,” said his party worker.
The latest addition to the SKICC sub-jail was Shah Feasal who was detained in Delhi and flown back to Srinagar. Their personal belongings were taken at the time of entry.
A number of workers have also come from south Kashmir to meet political leaders detained here. “I have come to meet Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri,” said a political worker who refused to give his name. “He was shifted from Khanabal to SKICC recently after there was no space left.”
These political workers came along with DrVeeri’s wife who came from Jammu to meet her husband. “They are well but depressed by isolation and detention,” said one political worker who refused to reveal his name.
Apart from DrVeeri, Mehbooba Mufti’s uncle SartajMadni, Congress’ Hilal Shah, former lawmaker from PahalgamAltafKaloo were also shifted to the Centaur Lakeview Hotel from Anantnag.
But the busiest former lawmaker at SKICC is Shia cleric Imran Reza Ansari. At least two delegations of four workers each met him to seek his suggestion for finalization of Moharam related preparations. “We don’t know how we will manage without him,” said Haji Ali Mohammad Bahar, 52, a resident of Khushipora, HMT in Srinagar. “Without his advice or consent we have never observed Moharam. He is not just a politician but our spiritual leader too,” said Bahar emotionally.
Ansari joined Sajjad Lone led Peoples Conference (PC) last year after he quit PDP.
“Ansari Sahab is not feeling well. They should let him out at least for Moharam,” said Ahmad Ali Ganie, 26, a volunteer during Moharam processions.
Despite restriction SKICC has helped politicians to cool their heels and get connected with God. “Most of them pray regularly now,” said a NC worker. “Prayers are led by Sagar, Zahoor Ahmad Mir and NayeemAkhtar alternatively. Isn’t it strange,” he asks with a smile on his face.
But as relatives wait under the scorching August sun to meet their loves ones, they have become centre of jokes for passer-bys. “These people have always remained on the other side of the barricades. Now things are reversed. I hope they understand what a Kashmiri has suffered under them,” said a biker who had stopped to ask why so many people are waiting outside SKICC gates.
“We are as helpless as any other ordinary Kashmiri is right now,” said Yawar as he waits impatiently.
Governor Satyapal Malik also talked about these “prisoners” in his recent news conference on August 28. He said the arrested leaders will have a brighter future in politics when they are released if “they have some brains”.
“I have gone to jail 30 times, whoever goes to jail will come out shining as a future leader,” Malik said. “They can take political benefit of detentions in future. Don’t you want new political leaders to emerge in Kashmir?”
Malik said the Kashmir leaders are detained closer to their homes. “I was lodged in a jail far away from my home. If those detained have brains, they will reap the political benefit of the detention. I am wishing them well.”
Malik insisted: “Those who go to jail become political leaders. The longer they stay the more they will brag in elections. So, if you sympathise with their political careers, don’t question the detention.”