Srinagar, India —
As Mohammad Afzal was preparing to visit a newly released party leader from People’s Democratic Party (PDP), he was not sure about whether his entry into the politician’s garrisoned residence will be welcomed. After making two visits now, Afzal is repentant about the very thought of making the visits.
Afzal is one among the thousands of political workers in Kashmir who lost touch with the party leaders after August 05, 2019, when the BJP-led Central government abrogated the special status (Article 370) of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the erstwhile State into two Union Territories-J&K and Ladakh.
“Workers are the foot soldiers of a political party if the party leaders have power and a say. But we have no value as our party leaders don’t have anything left with them,” he says.
He, while explaining his remorse, says, “When I entered the residence of my party leader, it wasn’t a good sight. I couldn’t talk about my affairs with the party leader when I witnessed his emotionally drained state.”
With the gradual release of leaders representing various political parties, Afzal like many other political workers was optimistic for the resumption of political activities in the Valley. However, the latest spree of Public Safety Act (PSA) detentions of political leaders has dashed all their hopes.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s recent decision to continue the detention of three former chief ministers and several other leaders under the PSA, a law that allows detention of a person for two years without trial, has further deepened the political vacuum since August 05 last year.
The political activities amid the din by two major political parties-National Conference and PDP, seeking the release of their leadership, have come to a grinding halt.
Dr Farooq Abdullah, the NC patriarch was slapped with the PSA more than six months ago, his son Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti met the same fate. NC leader Ali Muhammad Sagar, and PDP vice president and the uncle of Mehbooba, Sartaj Madani was also booked under PSA. And the latest was on Saturday—PDP’s chief spokesman and senior leader, Naeem Akther too was slapped with Public Safety Act.
An official, quoted by a local news agency, said that since the detention of these leaders under sections 107 ended after the passage of six months, slapping them with PSA was the only option left to “prolong their detention.” While wishing not to be named, he added, “This is what was decided in a high-level meeting held in Srinagar recently.”
The total number of PSAs slapped on political leaders serving detention, since August 05 last year, has reached six. The number might well increase in the coming days.
“We can’t start political activities given the present circumstances when our leaders are booked under Public Safety Act. This is not the way to treat the political leaders,” an NC worker, who didn’t want to name, says.
A PDP leader, wishing anonymity, also echoes similar concerns. He says, “Treatment meted out to our leadership has plunged Kashmir into the most uncertain period in history. How can we go for political activities when top leadership is booked under Public Safety Act .”
As the Union Territory administration recently released many leaders on the one hand while slapping PSA on several key politicians, on the other, it effectively means that the political winter in Kashmir isn’t ending anytime soon and the return of normal political activities in the Valley will take a longer time than expected earlier.
Note: Names have been changed in the story as per request by respondents.