When the Supreme Court has been so understanding of the Centre's recent moves on Kashmir, including the imposition of the severest restrictions on the everyday life of ordinary people since August 5 when J&K was dissolved as a state, is there any wonder that the authorities should charge 81-year-old Farooq Abdullah under the draconian Public Safety Act?
They say the former chief minister is a “threat to public order”. This is mystifying as he has been under house arrest in Srinagar in extremely tight security conditions. Dr Abdullah is liable to be kept in detention for a period up to a year. If the pattern of PSA misuse is any guide, the former CM and National Conference head will be released within the stipulated time, but in all likelihood rearrested immediately. He may lie in jail for years without trial. It is being speculated Dr Abdullah was brought under the mischief of the PSA on Sunday as a habeas corpus plea for him, filed by Tamil Nadu politician Vaiko, was to be heard in the Supreme Court the following day. Interestingly, the court marked the habeas corpus hearing for later this month, showing little urgency. It did not, even in passing, bring up the matter of detaining Dr Abdullah under the PSA with the attorney-general and solicitor-general, whose pitiful defence of ultra-tight restrictions in Kashmir — in a plea filed by a leading J&K editor and others - was laughable. But this didn’t disconcert the three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. One of the judges, Justice S.A. Bobde, observed, when the government's law officers reeled off some data of deaths of civilians, security personnel and terrorists in Kashmir in the past 70 years (though it's not clear how this is germane), there were “formidable reasons” for curbs in the Valley. In today’s circumstances, this can be seen as an endorsement.
On the matter of restoring normality, the bench asked the government to endeavour for a return to “normal life”, but keep the “national interest” and “national security” in view. This is a weak, helpless, formulation as these two elements necessarily inform all governmental action. It’s surprising the bench didn’t question the government lawyers’ assertions that newspapers in Kashmir were coming out as before. This was a bid to dress up the present conditions as normal and peaceful. The fact on the ground is that 20-page newspapers have been reduced to four pages, and carry only government handouts.
Normal reporting and opinion-writing is not possible amid a communications and information blackout. Slapping the PSA on an 81-year old in indifferent health, and the government getting leeway at the Supreme Court's hearings, is not ideal in the run-up to the UN General Assembly session later in the month, where Kashmir is likely to draw attention....