The Issue That Rocks The Nation
The release of Masrat Alam Bhat, who had been in prison under the Jammu and Kashmir’s Public Safety Act (PSA), by the PDP-BJP government, has evoked a near-hysterical response from the BJP, the RSS, the Congress and all opposition parties. It was clear that this was a united political response from all parties concerned. Given its stated hard-line position on Kashmir’s separatist politics, the coalition partner in the state’s government, the BJP had to express its displeasure with the new government’s decision on Masrat. The Congress and other opposition parties had to protest harder and louder to nail the PDP and the BJP. The incident, coming early in the days of the newly formed state government, manifests the contrary pulls and tensions integral to this alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government’s decision to release Hurriyat leader Masarat Alam. Modi’s statement comes within 10 days after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) forged an alliance to form the government in J&K, bringing together two very different and opposing ideological positions.
A serious liability
A serious liability for Modi is J&K government, which has been newly installed after long negotiations between two unlikely partners. The perspective of PDP is totally at variance with BJP in terms of nationalism, unity and communal approach. A common minimum programme has been stitched based on Modi’s development model but before anything could be done the CM starts a relentless campaign to placate terror outfits and even Pakistan. Mufti’s gratitude to Hurriyat and separatists is known to people in J&K as the reason for high voting in the Valley was the bid of these elements to block BJP and to win PDP. In Jammu it was opposite of this trend. Even if Mufti was justified legally to release the separatists it was incumbent on him to keep the partner in the government notified before doing it. Maybe his predicament was that if he does so he will not be permitted. Whatever is taking shape is bound to damage not only the central government but also the ruling party that claimed sole monopoly of nationalism. It has been hit hard in its core strength. The public statements of Mufti Mohammed are coming out as if he is being briefed by Hurriyat or separatists. The predicament of Modi can be understood but he has taken a decision to form the alliance that seems jinxed since beginning. No other alternative was workable as two regions of the state had voted in such a manner that no region could be ignored if popular vote was to be honored. But this might jeopardize BJP and soon they may withdraw support.
All this has given enough fodder to opposition and they will certainly like to make the minced meat of one party that got such solid mandate from the country trouncing them all but is facing minority in Rajya Sabha. The price of democracy and the sluggish system of the Indian Constitution is such that nothing could move fast. Already logjam has started in the Parliament and crucial bills are being scuttled. At this juncture the liability that the government faces is likely to be source of continuous trouble in carrying on the legislative measures.
By NK Singh
Political experts were assured at the time that the alliance would be a difficult one. Since then, there have been minor irritants, including a strange remark from PDP leader and J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, thanking Pakistan for allowing the elections in the state to be peaceful, and a request by some PDP legislators that the remains of Afzal Guru, executed for being involved in the terror attack against Indian Parliament, be handed over to them. Sayeed is a shrewd politician and has always pursued a political line which is intended to embrace the disaffected elements in the Kashmir Valley, some of whom can be described as separatists and hardliners. The release of Alam is the coalition’s biggest challenge yet, although this isn’t clear as to what extent Mufti will push his agenda (which his party claims is part of the common minimum programme agreed upon by both the PDP and the BJP) and how long the BJP will tolerate this. Once realising that the central government was on the back foot after criticism from some of its own allies, the united opposition demanded a statement from the Prime Minister on the issue.
Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader in Lok Sabha, said: “If such people (like Alam) are released, no one will survive in this country.” Kharge added that being an alliance partner in the state, the BJP was equally responsible for what happened. Omar Abdullah, former J&K chief minister, joined the debate through micro- blogging site Twitter. “God knows I hold no brief for Mufti Sayeed but a CM has to be trusted to decide what is and isn’t in the interest of his/her state. And if you can’t trust a CM to decide what is right, then it’s better to dispense with state government and govern from Delhi directly. Mufti wants the discourse to be about anything but his alliance with BJP, his hugs with NaMo and the hollow common minimum programme (CMP) & so far his script is working,” he said in his three tweets.
Who is Masrat Alam Bhat
Forty two-year-old Alam, who comes from a middle class family, remains an enigma and unconventional separatist leader whose stride is unmatchable within the separatist spectrum. Alam was first arrested in 1990, when he was in his early twenties, for being a sympathiser of the armed struggle that broke out in 1989 and remained behind the bars till 1996 under the PSA.
A student of Kashmir’s oldest and leading Christian missionary school Tyndale Biscoe and an arts graduate of Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College, Alam tried to set up a business in 1996 but failed after frequent detentions by security agencies. He decided to join the Muslim League, an ardent supporter of Jammu and Kashmir’s union with Pakistan, and was picked up the police at regular intervals since then.
Alam was slapped with around 27 cases in various police stations of the valley, mainly under Section 147 (unlawful assembly), Section 148 (rioting and armed with deadly weapon), Section 336 (endangering life and causing injuries), Section 436 (mischief to set afire property) and Section 153A (promoting hatred) of the Ranbir Penal Code. He also faces charges of attempt to murder and sedition for his fiery speeches.
Alam first shot to limelight on the political horizon during the 2008 Amarnath land row, which engulfed regions of Jammu and Kashmir for months together. He was the first Hurriyat leader to support the joint action committee of 2008 to rescind an order of granting forest land for the pilgrimage to Amarnath. He tried to use the 2008 street agitation to bring together separate Hurriyat factions through a joint coordination committee. Alam’s Muslim League remains a constituent of hardline Hurriyat faction of Syed Ali Geelani.
He was arrested for his role in the Amarnath land row and only to be released in June 2010, when Kashmir was witnessing a cycle of street protests and deaths. He introduced anti-India songs like “Bharat ko de ragda (Stamp India with force)” and came up with anti-India graffiti like “Go India, Go Back” to galvanise support for his Quit Kashmir Movement launched in 2010.
Around 113 protesters were killed in 2010 in rare street agitation witnessed by the state, where stone throwing gained popularity among the separatist section and was seen as a shift in their strategy. He is perceived as the successor to Geelani for his role during the street agitations.
Though he does not come from the Jamaat-e-Islami cadre, which always remain a consideration in hardline Hurriyat for handing down the mantle, Alam has succeeded in earning followers among the youth who support Kashmir’s secession from India.
Alam also guided Geelani on issuing weekly calendars containing different methods of protests, which continued for 5 months, and he was finally jailed in October 2010. It took several weeks and constant raids to arrest Alam from outskirts of Srinagar near Tailbal area. (NK)
While the government initially sought to avoid the situation, it eventually conceded. Replying to the opposition the Prime Minister said, “I join Parliament in condemning the decision. I assure this House that post government formation (in the state), the Union government has neither been consulted nor informed about it (the release).” Meanwhile, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has sought a detailed report from the J&K government on the reasons for Alam’s release. Both Modi and Singh assured the Parliament that the government will clear the air in both the Houses once the report is received. The message to the PDP is clear: decisions that impinge on national security need prior consultation with the Union government; and, at the least, the BJP, as an alliance partner, needed to be kept in the loop. Senior leaders of the BJP, including the party’s legislators in J&K, are annoyed with Sayeed for not taking deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh into confidence while taking the decision to release Alam. BJP leaders argue that decisions which can impact the security situation in the state also affect national security, and must be discussed with members of the cabinet. Modi said there was no reason why his government would “keep quiet” on the issue. “We asked Jammu and Kashmir’s state home department for a report and we have received it. I want to assure the House that the Union government will not compromise ever on the question of public safety and security in the country,” Home Minister Singh said.
Centre cannot do much
While Rajnath Singh may have showing hard posturing regarding the issue, it is a fact that his ministry could do very little in this matter. As a matter of fact Masrat Alam’s arrest and release were secured under the Public Safety Act which comes under the exclusive domain of the state government and Centre has no role in it. At the maximum, the home ministry can issue an advisory which is not binding on the state.
It also now turns out that the order for Alam’s release was issued during Governor’s rule in the state before PDP’s Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took over as Chief Minister in alliance with BJP. The government of Jammu and Kashmir’s order to release was secured on technical grounds of law. The state home department’s order of February 4 says that the detention order has lapsed as the order was supposed to reach the government from the district magistrate within 12 days but took 23 days.
Nonetheless, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh toughened his stance and said “My government will not compromise with national security at any cost. For us any government, whether in alliance or not, is not our priority. Our priority is country and its security.” Meanwhile, BJP has warned J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed against any further provocations, and underlined that breach of the confidence can have serious consequences for the coalition.
The ultimatum was set by BJP chief Amit Shah after a meeting with party legislators from J&K, and was formally conveyed to Sayeed by J&K deputy CM Nirmal Singh and party general secretary Ram Madhav. In fact, at the time of writing this report Sayeed too was scheduled to reach Delhi to brief the BJP about his utterances-from praising Pakistan, militants and separatists, to Masarat’s release from jail.
The fuss over the release from prison of separatist Masarat Alam Bhat clearly shows the political benefit to most of the parties, particularly PDP and BJP are trying to extract from the issue. The fact that the decision to release Alam predates Mufti government taking up the saddle of the state’s mantles and that his detention order had expired and had no legal ground to hold him anymore, points that it is just a game of who-is-more-nationalist-than-me. Along with PDP, BJP and Congress also played to the gallery and kicked up a storm over Alam’s release. Given the socio-political constraints of Kashmir, it is imperative that government of the state should apply a healing touch. A regular review of the Public Safety Act (PSA), to assess that people detained under this act without being charged should remain in prison or not, should be made a regular feature and at the same time it should also be seen that government should not blindly release people who are charged on serious charges of murder.
By Nilabh Krishna