Public Safety Act or PSA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are the readily available weapons for the government in Jammu and Kashmir to whip and whisk people who differ with it. While PSA gives civilian government power unlimited, AFSPA is a military tool to suppress peoples’ aspirations. Since July last year around 1000 people have been booked and jailed under PSA across the valley. Though many of them have been released but many more are still behind the bars. Many more are reported to be in line to be charged and jailed under this law. PSA provides for arresting and jailing a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion that he/she may disrupt law and order in the state or may act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state. The Act bypasses all the institutional procedures and human rights safeguards of ordinary criminal justice system in order to secure a long detention term. The order of the detention under the PSA cannot be held to be inoperative or invalid on the grounds of technical issues, vagueness, nonexistence of one or more grounds or that the grounds are irrelevant, or the officer had no territorial jurisdiction to make such detention (section-10A of the Act). The government has powers to restrict or stop circulation of any documents in and out of the state and may seize those documents to prevent entry. The Act also empowers the government to declare any area as prohibited or protected and can restrict entry thereto. Interestingly, PSA has impunity provision as well. Section 22 of the Act states that no suit, prosecution or any legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act. This is almost similar to the impunity armed forces enjoy for their actions under AFSPA. Hundreds and thousands of civilians have been shot at and killed by armed forces across Jammu and Kashmir in the name of combating militancy. On many occasions the capricious use of gun by the men in uniform caused embarrassment for the government forcing it make claims of probe into the killings. However, the legal cover provided to armed forces under AFSPA always came in the way. Only last month, when a posse of soldiers shot at three young and unarmed youth at Ganowpora in Shopian, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti claimed that FIR was lodged against the erring army officer. But she was contested by her bosses in central government that her government does not have any jurisdiction to register FIR against any army officer in presence of impunity the armed forces enjoy under AFSPA. It was against this backdrop that the ‘erring’ army officer’s name was not mentioned in the status report of the case the state government filed in Supreme Court on Monday. The Supreme Court has directed the state government not to probe the FIR till next date of hearing next month. The two laws are a double-edged blade hovering over the heads all the time. According to unofficial reports around one lakh people have died since late 80s when armed trouble started in the state but every time the perpetrators escaped under AFSPA. The story of PSA is no less tragic. More than 30,000 people have been arrested and jailed by different governments on different occasions in Jammu and Kashmir under this law since its promulgation in 1978. The reprehensible law is a legacy of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah, whom people of Kashmir used to address as “Sher-e-Kashmir and Asia Ka Buland Sitaraa”. Shiekh Abdullah’s Ja’nnasheens (heir apparent) Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah only but carried their family legacy with all the passion and fervor. One had expected that after its rise to power, PDP would do away with the law or, at least, amend it to stopped its misuse. But it is unfortunate that the PDP has not proved different. It even proved worse. Most of the persons presently facing the brunt of the law are the common people who hit the streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
And now Shah Faesal
After Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti, it is now Shah Faesal. The former civil servant has been booked under infamous Pubic Safety Act which allows detention without trial from six months to two years. He is the seventh pro India politician booked under the PSA. Since 1990, the PSA has been used an instrument to silence the voices and activities of separatists. But with the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional position under Article 370 of the Indian constitution in August last year, pro India voices opposed to the abrogation of 370 too were brought under the scale of the PSA. Dr Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and National Conference patriarch was the first high profile pro India politician to have been booked under the law. Ironically, the law (PSA) was promulgated in the state by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (Farooq Abdullah’s father) to deal with his political opponents. Over 25,000 people are reported to have been booked under PSA by different government at different stages. But it was for the first time that government of India booked its own people under this law. Shah Faesal is the latest politician to have been booked under PSA. Shah Faesal was an IAS officer. He gave away his lucrative bureaucratic position to join politics in 2018, and formed his own political outfit—Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement.
Politics in Kashmir is a tightly controlled market in which entry is free but the rise and sustenance requires resources and patronage. He was projected as future hope in Kashmir, who had the capacity to influence the young minds. He, indeed, acquired an iconic image when he qualified prestigious IAS examination in 2009 with first rank. Many young educated youth were inspired by him and in the process got to the All India Civil Services. In 2016 when Kashmiri youth overwhelmingly hit streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, many media outlets in India tried to project Shah as the real icon of Kashmiri youth. Right from University scholars to school drop-outs, a rage of sorts was igniting the young minds into defiance. Burhan Wani, by use of social media, had indeed become an inspiration. Though militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is around 32-year old but since 2002, it had started a gradual decline. And many areas in the valley, south Kashmir in particular, were declared as militant free. It was against this backdrop that 2008 assembly elections, despite Amarnath Land row, witnessed huge participation of people. The rise of Burhan Wani, gave a new direction to the entire political spectrum. Many people viewed Shah Faesal’s political move as a counter to it. He was a part of political project aimed at influencing a change in the thoughts and minds of young Kashmir by prompting and promoting new icons in Kashmir politics. But the scrapping of Article 370 changed the entire scenario. Many well established politicians and their parties like National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) within no time became irrelevant. The novice rather naive Shah Faesal was no exception. As a part of the lockdown in the aftermath of abrogation of 370, Shah Faesal was detained at Delhi airport on August 14, 2019 as he was about to fly abroad. He was brought back to Srinagar, and detained since. Minutes before his arrest in Delhi, Shah Faesal, in Hard Talk with BBC, criticized government of India over abrogation of Article 370. He said that in the new scenario one could either be a stooge or a rebel, and “I can’t be a stooge”. He remained in detention without trial over six months before PSA was slapped on him last week.
AAP ki Dilli
Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has dealt a stunning defeat to the BJP in Delhi assembly elections. This is the third consecutive win for the AAP since it made its debut in electoral politics in 2013. In its first rendezvous with power politics (2013), AAP won 28 seats and formed government with Congress support which lasted only for 49 days. The party, however, made a strong comeback in 2015 assembly elections by winning 67 out of 70-seat House, leaving just three seats for the BJP. Congress drew a blank. AAP almost repeated 2015 victory by winning 62 seats in the latest elections. BJP improved its tally from three to eight. Congress was again pushed to the margins of maintaining its 2015 record of zero seats. For the BJP it was a high stake election as the party has lost power in many states over the past one year despite winning parliamentary elections thumpingly. Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and more recently Jharkhand are some of the key states where BJP was edged out of power by its rivals, mainly Congress. BJP was desperate to win Delhi to arrest its declining political hegemony. The last time BJP has won assembly election in the union capital was in 1993 after it (Delhi) was accorded semi-state status. It had then won 49 seats. BJP made a clean sweep of Delhi in parliamentary elections, last year. To maintain continuity, BJP put in all its resources at its command to win the assembly elections. While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah were the star campaigners for the BJP, around 200 of its MPs, central ministers and chief minister of various states also campaigned for the party. It was the most bitterly fought election the country has ever seen with BJP heavily depending on its nationalistic and polarizing political pitch. One of the BJP leaders compared the elections as India-Pakistan match. Some other BJP leaders made utterances like Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro s**lo ko, Boli se nahi manega toh goli se toh maan hi jayega, Ye log aapke ghar mein ghusenge, behen betiyo ko rape karenge. All this sloganeering and smearing was made against the backdrop of street protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh where protesters have been camping on a public road 24×7 since the passage of the law on December 12 has become the epicenter of opposition to the CAA.
One should give full credit to Arvind Kejriwal who kept cool even in serious provocations. One of the BJP ministers even called him a “terrorist”. Kejriwal rather remained stuck to positive campaign and his “Kaam ki sarkar”. He sought people to vote for him and his party for the work they did in the past five years. AAP is credit with providing quality education, affordable healthcare, and free water and electricity to the people of Delhi. He asked people to vote him and his party only if they thought that the AAP was good at governance. This struck a very chord among voters who put their weight behind Kejriwal. This is for the first time many years that people have voted any party to power merely on its performance. What added to the credibility of the AAP is also the clean image its ministers enjoyed. AAP was born out of a anti corruption campaign begun by senior social leader Anna Hazare of which Arvind Kejriwal was an important part. The victory has not only given a boost to the AAP to strengthen its position further but would also help its expansion plans. The election has a serious message for the BJP as well that common people care more about needs of their daily life. They want the government to deliver. Mere slogan shouting is not enough to get them along.
Promises for power continue
As parliamentary elections are underway, election promises by the candidates and their campaigners are all time high. They are promising everything under the sun. National Conference leadership, the state’s key pro India party, is leading the election campaign with all the promises it knows would never be fulfilled. National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah once again repeated his rhetoric of abolishing Public Safety Act(PSA) if his party comes to power. The former chief minister, during a rally in Khanabal,Anantnag, said the party will withdraw all the cases against the stone pelters and will also abolish Public Safety Act (PSA) if it is voted to power. Interestingly, the party has made similar promises in the past as well but once attaining power, it, like its rival PDP, has put the issue on the back burner. Instead, the draconian law that PSA is has been used with more impunity than ever in the recent years. In north Kashmir alone, official data reveals that as many as 779 persons have been slapped with PSA from 2009 to 2017.Omar and president of his rival party PDP, Mehbooba Mufti, both served as J&K’s Chief Ministers during these years. The law was introduced during the Sheikh Abdullah government in the 1970s, initially to discourage timber smuggling. However, it has often been used by the successive state governments against their own people, drawing severe criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad.At present, according to January 2019 figures, there are as many as 230 people who have been booked under the Public Safety Act in 2018 alone. Recently, after Government of India banned the socio-religious group, Jamaat-e-Islami (J&K), the authorities detained hundreds of its members and slapped PSA against many of them. Other than this protection of special status of the state has been the scoring point for valley based political parties. Kashmir-centric political parties, on threatened to fight against BJP’s election commitment of abrogation of the Article 370 and annulling the Article 35A. The BJP has made the promise in its election manifesto .Peoples Conference leader, Sajad Lone, whom the BJP has been supporting, has also criticised the move and said it would be a “disaster”. National Conference chief, Farooq Abdullah, who is seeking re-election to the Lok Sabha from Srinagar, said abrogation of Article 370 will pave way for “Azadi” (independence) for the people of the state. Pakistan has also warned that abrogation of the Article 370 will not be accepted. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal had, on Saturday, claimed that abrogation of the Constitutional provision by India is violative of UN resolutions.PDP president Mehbooba Mufti is using the special status of the state and the buzz surrounding it to stage a comeback after her party’s coalition government with the BJP fell last year.She has adopted a more hardline posture than any of the regional parties on the issues related to Article 35A and Article 370. “The relationship between our state and the country is based on our special constitutional position that legitimises it. If we remove, what legalises this relationship, it will turn into an occupation and colonization,” she recently said. On the other hand Sajad Lone, who was a minister in the PDP-led coalition government in the state from the BJP quota, has also vowed to defend the state’s special status.”Article 35A is a matter of faith and dignity for the people of the J&K through which the Constitution of India guarantees to safeguard the special identity and unique status of Jammu & Kashmir. In matters of pride and identity, profit and loss is immaterial. Can a country allow a foreign country to undermine its sovereignty and national pride just for the sake of some monetary gains,” Lone asked.Although Congress leaders in their campaign have focussed more on issues dominating the discourse at national level, the local leaders have made it a point to raise the issue of protecting the special status in electioneering in the valley.”No power in the world can revoke Article 370 and Article 35-A,” state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir, who is contesting from the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, claimed.