Anarchy Is Not Freedom

12 March 2015
Rising Kashmir
Prem Shankar Jha

New Delhi: Mufti Sayeed's PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir was sworn-in on Saturday, February 28, barely ten days ago. Its formation was a milestone in not only Jammu and Kashmir's but also India's history. In 1952, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of BJP's precursor, the Jana Sangh, died in prison in Srinagar, after being arrested for entering Kashmir without a permit, a requirement then under Article 370 of the Indian constitution for anyone crossing the state border between J&K and the rest of India, from either side. Since then the belief that he had been murdered has been an article of faith with BJP, and the bedrock of its determination to abolish it and fully integrate J&K with India. That is the party that, after ten weeks of patient negotiation, formed a government with a Kashmiri nationalist party, under the explicit condition that it would shelve its demand for the repeal of Article 370. It did so because it was finally prepared to concede that in death Dr Mukherjee had achieved what he had not been able to in life. The permit requirement was lifted in the very next year and today a thousand or more Kashmiris and Indians cross the border in each direction by air alone, every day. It also did so because, hampered though he has been by the rhetoric of a handful of bigots in the Sangh Parivar, Prime Minister Modi's government has resumed the search for peace in Kashmir, and realized that meeting the principle demands of the PDP-which are also the demands of most Kashmiris - is the first step on this arduous road. Modi underlined this by attending the swearing-in ceremony in Jammu. Yet, barely a week after its formation, Mufti's government is in mortal danger. The danger has arisen not from second thoughts in the BJP on the value of the coalition, but from the cable television channels of the Indian mainland. These have begun an attack on the new government with a savagery that has few parallels in recent television journalism. The attack began within minutes of the swearing-in when Mufti, whose command of English is less than perfect, said that Pakistan had 'allowed' India to hold the elections in Kashmir. Within hours this had been transformed into 'Mufti thanked Pakistan for allowing India to hold the election'. The attack ballooned in the next seven days into a denunciation of what one channel, alluding to baseball - a game that Indians do not play - described as 'Mufti's four strikes'. The other three were his demand that Afzal Guru's remains be returned to his family; the release of Hurriyat (G) leader Masarat Alam, and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti's subsequent justification of the act as simply part of a routine release of political prisoners that 'happens all the time', and therefore needs no prior decision in cabinet. The disregard for facts and naked display of prejudice in these attacks has taken the media across the borders of freedom into license. Those who followed Mufti's preceding statements in Urdu know that what he had actually said was that Pakistan had the capacity to disrupt the electoral process and had done so repeatedly in the past, but had not done so this time. This was a simple statement of fact. Two-hundred and fifty-three civilians and political activists had been killed in pre-poll violence in Kashmir in 2002, against less than a dozen in 2014. This would not have happened if Pakistan had attempted to disrupt the December polls. Returning Afzal Guru's remains to his family is not in Mufti's but India's interest. No act of any Indian government has so shamed the Indian nation as the hanging of Guru without even allowing his family to meet him one last time. Refusing even to return his remains to his family for a proper funeral had added to their excruciating pain, and doing all this surreptitiously had cost India every shred of respect it had enjoyed in the valley before. The anger in Kashmir deepened when on January 28, even as the BJP and PDP were trying to change the course of history in Kashmir, the Supreme court granted clemency to the Nithari serial rapist and killer, Surinder Koli on the grounds of inordinate delay in carrying out the sentence. Koli had been on death row for three years and three months; Afzal Guru had been kept there by the UPA government for seven years. Kashmiris concluded, therefore, that in Indian eyes serial rapist-killers ranked higher than Kashmiri 'patriots'. Mufti's act was designed to assuage a small part of this anger, and start the healing process he has set his heart upon. His most controversial act, however, has been the release from jail of Masarat Alam, and Mehbooba's attempt to portray this as routine has only added fuel to the flames. But here too it is important to understand the dilemma that the Mufti government faced. Alam is undoubtedly the most committed opponent of 'Indian rule' in Kashmir valley today. He also has a large and growing following not only among Kashmir's radicalized youth but also in the growing ranks of the Ahl-e Hadis. But he has been arrested 13 times, charged 27 times, spent 15 of his 25 adult years in prison without having been found guilty on even one count by a court of law. This does not mean he is totally innocent. It means that guilt is difficult o prove in insurrectionary situations because witnesses and policemen are not to testify. When the PDP-BJP government came to power, Alam was in prison booked under Public Safety Act but the imprisonment was illegal because Omar Abdullah's home minister had not ratified his arrest by the police within the 12 days stipulated time by the Act. So Mufti was faced with a nightmare choice on his very first day in office: he could respect the law and release Alam, or he could rearrest him on some other trumped up charge as he left the courtroom after the High Court had set him free. The first risked bringing his government down, but the second would have shown him to be another Omar Abdullah, ruling Kashmir with little or no respect for the law, as a stooge of Delhi. This would have gravely destroyed the trust he needs his people to have in him, to implement his agenda for bringing peace to state. What both the Muftis are guilty of is ineptitude. Alam's court date was known. His release could have been anticipated. Mufti therefore had the time to warn his deputy CM at least, if not the entire cabinet, and explain his compulsions to them and to Delhi before ordering the police not to rearrest Alam. Neither would have been happy, but neither would they have felt betrayed. Prime Minister Modi has therefore justifiably rapped him on the knuckles. He and our media should let things rest there. The battle against Alam is a battle of the mind. It cannot be fought by abusing the law to silence his voice. That will make us no better than the British and make a mockery of our own fight for freedom. Feedback at prem.jha262@gmail.com