After his release on Tuesday from nearly eight months in detention, former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah called for the release of all political prisoners of the former state. In this connection he specifically mentioned Mehbooba Mufti, also like him a former CM and head of the PDP, a regional rival of the NC.
Like his father Farooq Abdullah, the most senior of the three J&K CMs put behind bars in August 2019 when New Delhi swooped down on India’s only Muslim-majority state to radically alter its constitutional status, the younger Abdullah did not talk any further politics upon his release, although in his brief remarks he did speak of the “breaking up” of J&K.
At the time of his release on March 13, the senior Abdullah had said he would hold back comments on political matters until after the release of his son Omar and Ms Mufti--besides other political prisoners--when he would have a chance to discuss the political situation with them.
Thus, what’s discernible so far is the desire of the NC to take a clearer view on politics after its leaders have confabulated with the PDP, and this can only happen when Ms Mufti is also set free. When that materialises is a matter of guess, but it is amply clear that the Centre, which has got into a logjam of its own making on Kashmir, must free Mufti without delay if it is keen to see the wheels of politics in J&K moving again.
By now it is amply clear that this cannot be brought about on the strength of the pitiful exertions of the quisling outfit, the widely scorned Apni Party--a ragtag bunch of discredited defectors got together by the RSS-BJP brass in conjunction with the think tank at the Union Home Ministry and the PMO, such as these are.
The NC and the PDP have been deadly rivals since the founding of the PDP in 1998 by Mufti’s father, the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. But the top leaders of these and some smaller parties came together at the residence of Dr Farooq Abdullah on August 4--fortuitously just the day prior to the infamous crackdown of last August--to put their signatures to the 'Gupkar Declaration'. At the heart of this document is the preservation of “the identity, autonomy and special status” of Kashmir.
It is to be seen to what extent this ambition is persevered with by Kashmir’s key mainstream leaders in the wholly changed setting. However, if the NC and the PDP are able to show common purpose away from that of the quisling party in Kashmir, any effort by the Centre to degrade the NC after the freeing of its leaders is likely to receive a setback. A sense seems to be developing among some that the NC leaders have done a “deal” with the BJP. This is likely to be dispelled if the key regional players do not bat on New Delhi’s wicket.
It cannot escape notice that the Abdullahs--father and son--have called for the release of all imprisoned leaders--those detained within J&K and those lodged in jails in other states. It is clear that those associated with the separatist brand of politics are not excluded. Being non-exclusionary in this respect is positive for social cohesiveness in Kashmir and in bridging the generational gap.