New Delhi: Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament said statements made by three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir on the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 are not acceptable, National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti were booked under stringent provisions of the Public Safety Act (PSA).
The move came barely hours before their six-month-long "preventive detention" was to come to an end.
The PSA allows the detention of any individual for up to two years without a trial or charge. The legislation also allows for the arrest and detention of people without a warrant, specific charges, and often for an unspecified period of time.
Farooq Abdullah, Omar's father, was booked under the PSA last September, which was reviewed again in December and extended for three months.
Officials of the Jammu and Kashmir administration in Srinagar said a magistrate, accompanied by the police, served the order to Mufti at the government accommodation that has been converted into a subsidiary jail. She was handed over a dossier in which her statements from 2010 were cited as reasons for keeping her in detention.
Mufti's PDP was an ally of the BJP from 2014 and the two had formed a government in the erstwhile state till 2018 when the BJP suddenly withdrew its support and Governor's rule was imposed.
A tweet sent from Mufti's account, which is run by her daughter Iltija, confirmed the former chief minister had received the government order.
"Slapping the draconian PSA on two ex-J&K CMs is expected from an autocratic regime that books nine-year-olds for ‘seditious remarks’," said the tweet, referring to an incident in which the Karnataka Police have been questioning minor students of a Bidar school over their participation in a play that allegedly portrayed the PM in a bad light.
Ms Mufti received a PSA order sometime back.Slapping the draconian PSA on 2 ex J&K CMs is expected from an autocratic regime that books 9 year olds for ‘seditious remarks’. Question is how much longer will we act as bystanders as they desecrate what this nation stands for?— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 6, 2020
A magistrate accompanied by a police officer arrived at Hari Nivas where 49-year-old Omar Abdullah is detained, handing to him a warrant issued under the PSA, a law which was enacted by his grandfather Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah in 1978 initially to check timber smuggling.
The PSA, which came handy for the police force to book separatists and militant sympathisers, has two sections — 'public order' and 'threat to security of the state'. The former allows detention without trial for six months and the latter for two years.
Omar Abdullah, who has been junior foreign minister and commerce minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Cabinet in 2000, was served with a three-page dossier in which he was alleged to have made statements in the past which were "subversive" in nature.
All three former chief ministers have been in detention since August 5 last year when the BJP-led central government revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status by abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution.
The development came after NC leader and former minister Ali Mohammed Sagar, former NC legislator Bashir Ahmed Veeri, and Sartaj Madani, the maternal uncle of Mehbooba Mufti, were also booked under the PSA on Thursday. They are also under preventive detention since August last year.
Earlier on Thursday, replying to a debate on Motion of Thanks to the President's Address in Lok Sabha, Modi said no one can side with the statements of the three detained former chief ministers of the erstwhile state who had said that abrogation of provisions of Article 370 will separate Kashmir from India.
"Many said that Kashmir will be on fire if Article 370 is removed. Many are questioning us for detaining some political leaders. On August 5, Mehbooba Mufti said India had betrayed Kashmir and we would have been better with deciding otherwise in 1947. Can we accept such people?" he said.
"Omar Abdullah said removing Article 370 will separate Kashmir from India. Farooq Abdullah said if Article 370 is removed, no one will unfurl the national flag in Kashmir. How can we side with them?" Modi asked.
The Rajya Sabha was informed on Wednesday that a total of 389 people are currently in detention under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir. Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said detention orders have been issued against 444 people under the J&K Public Safety Act since August last year.
Opposition parties slam move
Mainstream parties on Thursday reacted sharply to the slapping of the PSA, saying the move belies the Centre's claim of normalcy in the Union Territory.
Mufti's PDP said the BJP-led government at the Centre is "testing the patience" of the people by such "undemocratic moves".
The Jammu and Kashmir unit of the CPI(M) also condemned the slapping of the PSA on the prominent Kashmiri leaders, while the Congress termed the decision "unfortunate".
"If everything is normal in Jammu and Kashmir, why the mainstream leaders are treated like criminals?" asked a PDP spokesperson. "The BJP is misleading the country about Jammu and Kashmir."
Senior CPI(M) leader and former legislator MY Tarigami said the decision puts a question mark on the Centre's claim that the situation is normal in Jammu and Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370.
"On one hand, the BJP within and outside Parliament is claiming that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is normal; on the other it is resorting to the use of draconian laws against prominent leaders," he said. "What is the meaning of slapping the PSA on the leaders after six months? They (government) are claiming the situation is normal and improving and are releasing the detained political leaders."
Tarigami said the local administration is preparing to hold elections to nearly 13,000 vacant posts of panches and sarpanches but the decision to slap the PSA does not go well with the democratic exercise.
"The elections should precede release of political detenues and political activity but they are slapping the PSA. There are already many people in jails or under house arrest, including the three former chief ministers. The claims of normalcy are completely farce," he said.
Chief spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir unit of Congress Ravinder Sharma said there is no justification for the move.
"The mainstream leaders served the erstwhile state in different capacities," Sharma said, adding the latest development does not match with the claims of normalcy by the BJP and comes at a time when it is encouraging a section of mainstream opposition leaders for political activity.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP questioned those who are vying for the release of the three former chief ministers.
"Though the BJP opposes the prolonged detention of any individual, it has no hesitation to support the same if it contributes to peace and restoring normalcy," BJP spokesperson Brigadier (retired) Anil Gupta said in a statement.
(With inputs from PTI)