Political Winter

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With the Lt Governor GC Murmu administration hunting for alternative accommodation to Kashmir’s detained political class, the winter chill is expected to freeze the politics for the time being, reports Tahir Bhat

Dr Farooq Abduulah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

In the maiden meeting related to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Home Minister Amit Shah presided over in Delhi on November 5, the issue of political detainees cropped up prominently. Three top officers from India’s newest UT attended the meeting. Reports suggest that some individuals would be released but nobody knows whether it would be the first or the second rung.

Since August 5, reports in newspapers suggest that around 6300 youth and political workers were rounded up. Of them, according to The Hindu almost 5000 have been sent home, after they signed the undertaking that they will not indulge into anything that would disturb the peace. “Of the total 279 political leaders and party activists detained, the number now stands at 227, including a BJP leader,” the newspaper said. “Around 34 senior political leaders remain detained at the Centaur Lakeview Hotel in Srinagar.”

Till then, the GC Murmu administration will have to take care of them. Right now, there are interesting instances taking place. Firstly, it is the cost that the government will have to pay for hiring the literally abandoned hotel and converting it into a sub-jail. Greater Kashmir reported that the hotel management and the government is Rs 2.65 crore – at the rate of Rs 5000 per room per night. Jammu and Kashmir’s Home Department is offering Rs 800 per 24 hours.

The 5-tar facility that has suffered seriously because of the situation was partly used by the CRPF for most of the last 30 years. Part of the contingent still lives there. Owner’s failure in maintaining the property was on the newspaper front pages when at least two of the inmates, currently in detention, were bitten by rats. One of them actually required medication. Will the government rake the issue up, once the accounts will be reconciled?

Secondly, the weather conditions have gone bad because of early snowfall on the peaks. The hotel lacks the heating facility and is looking for an alternative accommodation which can house Kashmir’s political class. The concerns are mounting. Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija, has written an application to the Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, seeking her transfer to some better place. She is currently being held in a Tourist Development Corporation hut in Cheshma Shahi.

“I’ve repeatedly raised concerns about the well being of my mother. I wrote to DC (deputy commissioner) Srinagar a month ago to shift her someplace equipped for the harsh winter. If anything happens to her, the Indian government will be responsible,” Iltija tweeted. “A doctor recently ran multiple tests on her as she was not keeping well. As per those tests, her Vitamin D, hemoglobin and calcium levels are low.” Iltija who has been using her mother’s twitter handle to stay in news said the accommodation, her mother is currently lodged in is ill-equipped for Kashmir’s harsh winters.

Unlike Mehbooba, two of her predecessor Chief Ministers’, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, are separately being held – Abdullah Sr at his home and Omar in the HariNiwas palace complex.

Nazir Ahmad Laway

Owing to the weather conditions, the pressure is gradually mounting on the administration to shift the detainees. Reports suggest the administration is looking for alternatives. One idea was to shift them to the MLA Hostel on the M A Road but the multi-story complex is occupied by former lawmakers from Jammu and newly elected councilors of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). Since most of the flock has influence in ruling BJP, the LG’s administration may not dislodge them.

Now, the government is talking to a private hotel, where one category of the political detainees may be housed. These could include Peoples Conference’s Sajjad Lone, NC’s Ali Mohammad Sagar, PDP’s NaeemAkhtar and Dr Shah Faesal. But it would still leave 30 others to require alternative accommodation.

There are many others who are nor in formally designated jails. They are in house arrest. One such case made interesting news last week when the Jammu and Kashmir High Court dismissed as “not maintainable” and “unnecessary” a petition by Sheikh Abdullah’s two children and a grandson in which they had pleaded for freedom from house detention.

Khaleda Shah, and Dr Mustafa Kamal – daughter and son of Sheikh Abdullah, and his grandson Muzaffar Shah had gone to the court against their “house arrest” since August 5. Muzaffar, a businessman, runs his father’s Awami National Conference which he set up after he broke away from DrFarooq Abdullah and pulled his government down in 1984 with Congress’s support.

Police denied the “allegation” of “house arrest” saying they had “neither been put under house arrest” nor had “their liberty been curbed / jeopardised”. On this basis, the Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey dismissed the petition, said an official spokesman in a statement.

On October 24, Shah said, he was stopped by police from moving out and two sitting MPs – Justice (Retd) HasnainMasoodi and Mohammed Akbar Lone – were witness to it.

“In writ proceedings, a fact is to be supported and proved by authentic documentary evidence. Press cutting cannot be relied upon as authentic documentary evidence,” Justice Magrey ruled, insisting the court cannot hold enquiry into disputed facts. “In the instance case, the respondents (police) have clearly disputed the statement made in the writ petition about the house arrest of the alleged detainees. The petitioner asserts that he can prove the arrest by evidence. This court will not debar him from doing so but that can be done only before the proper forum and in appropriate proceedings.”

Now, Shah is trying to prove that he, his mother and uncle are under house arrest. He is supposed to produce evidence!

“It is a shame that in this democracy…, you are locking up people, locking up a former first lady of the state, a lady so aged, herself a freedom fighter and had the honour of hosting Mahatma Gandhi…,” Muzaffar told The Telegraph. Her mother Khaleda, 83, is also the widow of former chief minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah. Interestingly this was perhaps the first disposal of a petition related to political detentions.

Earlier, PDP’s VedMahajan in a statement made a similar appeal with special reference to Mehbooba saying she is even being even preventing from moving out of the hut for walks.In order to get the administration out of this crisis, NC and PDP have been seeking the release of the political workers and the leaders. “We urge the government to take urgent steps to normalise the situation and allow democratic activity to take place with the release of all mainstream political leaders detained since August 5, including three former chief ministers,” National Conference said in a statement.

But officials seem not in a mood to permit any of the politicians to move out of the detention. Instead, the authorities have drafted a list of 450 Kashmir residents who will not be permitted to fly abroad. The Economic Times that broke the story said the “no fly list” includes journalists, lawyers, businessmen and politicians.

A letter Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija wrote to DC Srinagar.

“A lot of things are in the pipeline for J&K and administration has to take steps to ensure that things happen smoothly,” the newspaper quoted a senior police officer saying. “Some people could create trouble in that smooth transition.” It quoted another officer saying that the people included in the list had been chosen because of their contacts abroad. However, he added that the ‘no fly list’ could not officially be called an ‘exit control list’.

“The move, which comes in the wake of the Centre’s decision to rescind J&K’s autonomy, is aimed at ensuring Kashmiri voices do not influence international public opinion,” news website, the Wire reported.

Politics has taken a backseat in Kashmir. When the lawmakers from European Parliament were flown to Srinagar, for the first time, three known political faces were in news – Muzaffar Hussain Beig, Altaf Ahmad Bukhari, and Usman Majid. Thetrio met them in Delhi at a luncheon meeting that NSA Ajit Dival hosted. Nothing much was known about them later.

The only other development was the presence of PDPs member of RajyaSabha, Nazir Ahmad Laway, who attended the oath ceremony of the Lt Governor GC Murmu. Laway was sacked from the party within 24 hours.

These developments indicate sort of a political winter in Kashmir. No political activity is expected to take place as the winter chill will freeze Kashmir and its politics, for the time being.

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