An Agony A Day In Apple Country

4 March 2015
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today asked Jammu and Kashmir police to start the process of releasing all political prisoners who have no criminal charges against them, coming up with a directive that could further ruffle the feathers of ally BJP. The decision, likely to benefit pro- aazaadi activists and stone throwers - mostly those arrested during the 2010 summer agitation in the Valley - is the latest in a series of controversies the PDP leader and his party have stoked since the coalition assumed power on Sunday. Another potential storm loomed as former separatist Sajjad Lone skipped his first day in office, apparently dissatisfied with his portfolios. Sources said the Mufti today met the police brass, including director-general K. Rajendra, for a detailed security review where he instructed the top officers 'to initiate a process of releasing all those political prisoners in the state against whom no criminal charges are registered'. That would send a 'positive message' across the state's political spectrum, an official spokesperson quoted Sayeed as saying. 'Dissent in democracy makes the system vibrant and dynamic.... Democracy is a battle of ideas and should not be held hostage to agreements or disagreements on issues,' he added, according to the spokesperson. While release of 'political prisoners' was part of the PDP's election manifesto, it didn't find mention in the common minimum programme for governance and could make the BJP's position more untenable after the controversial comments that have dominated the political scene since the March 1 swearing-in. Moments after becoming chief minister, the Mufti had thanked Pakistan and militant outfits for allowing 'smooth conduct' of last year's elections. A day later, eight PDP MLAs put out a statement that said the February 2013 hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was a 'travesty of justice'. The BJP had in 2013 supported the decision of the then UPA government at the Centre to execute Afzal Guru. At today's meeting, the Mufti also directed the DGP to prepare a plan to rehabilitate surrendered and released militants. 'These youths should be given a chance to settle down and lead a normal life,' he was quoted as saying. The previous government, led by Omar Abdullah, had pursued an iron-fisted approach while dealing with separatists despite announcing an amnesty that benefited hundreds. Separatist sources said dozens were still behind bars. Sources in Sajjad Lone's Peoples Conference said he flew back to Srinagar this morning, apparently upset with the portfolios allocated to him last night. 'He thinks the portfolios - science and technology and animal husbandry - are insignificant,' a source said. 'It was to be his first day at the civil secretariat (in winter capital Jammu) but he did not join office,' a party official said. The Cardiff-educated Sajjad was a prominent figure in the 2008 anti-Amarnath land agitation in the Valley.