Hell hath no fury like a political party scorned. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been proving that to former ally Mehbooba Mufti, president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who has been kept under detention since the eve of April 5 2019, when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 was abrogated.
Over a year later, on Tuesday September 29, the Supreme Court told the administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to respond to Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija Mufti fresh plea challenging the detention. The former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has been detailed under the J-K Public Safety Act, and the SC has now said that this detention could not be forever. According to news reports, a bench comprising Justices SK Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy has also said that the PDP leader placed a request to the authorities to allow her to attend party meetings. The SC also allowed Iltija and her uncle to meet Mehbooba in detention.
However, a mere five years ago, in 2015, the Mehbooba-BJP relationship was something very different. For the first time in the history of the then state of Jammu and Kashmir it was Mehbooba, as the PDP president, who had agreed to be part of a coalition government with the BJP. The BJP had won 25 seats and the PDP 28, and a coalition was the best way to stake a claim in the 87-member Assembly. Thanks to this partnership, the BJP which is known globally as a “Hindu nationalist” party, and has roots in the Sangh Parival, was able to form a government in J&K, the only Muslim majority state in India.
According to a report in the BBC, Mehbooba Mufti had then said, “We have had discussions over several weeks and fortunately, we have agreed a deal.” She had reportedly told the media when she appeared alongside BJP chief Amit Shah, that her father and PDP candidate for chief minister “Mufti Mohammad Sayeed would soon meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” Now that J & K is a Union Territory, Mehbooba Mufti has been in detention for over a year.
Her daughter Iltija Mufti has been fighting for her release ever since her mother was detained. Iltija had filed a fresh plea challenging detention of her mother under PSA, to which the SC responded on Tuesday. Iltija, who now handles her mother’s social media accounts had also tweeted her feelings:
“Not surprised that Ms Mufti’s habeas is being dragged on endlessly. A serious matter like illegal abrogation of Article 370 has been pending for over a year so one can’t help but feel despondent.”
Not surprised that Ms Mufti’s habeas is being dragged on endlessly. A serious matter like illegal abrogation of Article 370 has been pending for over a year so one cant help but feel despondent.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) September 29, 2020
According to a report in the Outlook magazine, ‘Geo-Political position’ of J&K has been cited as the reason for Mehbooba’s prolonged detention. The government has claimed that Mehbooba’s ‘glorifying militant’ statements and the geographical proximity of J&K to Pakistan necessitate Mehbooba’s continued detention, reported Outlook. The reported reason was the government reply to a writ petition filed by Iltija Mufti. The other former CMs Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah who were also detained last year, but released a few months ago According to the Outlook report, similar reasons were given by the government when seeking continuation of detention of Omar Abdullah as well. Omar was eventually released.
The news reports have added that “J&K government also argued that entertaining Mehbooba’s petition would open flood gates of other petitions, ‘which in absence of any special ground to make a departure, needs to be avoided.’ The government argues that releasing Mehbooba would pose an “threat of deterioration of maintaining the public order,” in the UT of J&K. The report added that the PSA dossier referred to Mehbooba as a “daddy’s girl” and reportedly compared her with “Kota Rani, a medieval queen in Kashmir, who rose to power through dubious means such as poisoning her opponents”. Strangely the dossier also makes comments on the marital status of Mehbooba Mufti, terming that it did not “last long”, reported Outlook magazine.
The Peoples Democratic Party MP Mir Mohammad Fayaz had earlier raised the issue of his party chief’s continued detention, in the Rajya Sabha. He reminded the House that “The former Chief Minister ran a coalition government with the ruling party at the Centre, and now she is branded as an anti-national,” said the news report. On July 31, her detention had been extended for another three months by the J&K government. She is lodged in ‘Fairview’, which was once her official residence as the Chief Minister, and has now been declared as a “subsidiary jail”.
Interestingly the PDP president’s incarceration is being called illegal and demands for her release have only come from those considered her political adversaries. Former Union Minister Saifuddin Soz, himself reportedly under ‘house arrest’ has demanded that the government release Mehbooba Mufti “with an apology”. He had issued a statement recently and said the “The J&K UT administration cannot convince anybody in the system that there was any justification for jailing dozens of mainstream leaders for no fault of theirs.” He added, “It is a shame on the administration that Ms Mehbooba Mufti happens to be in jail, unconstitutionally. The administration should think that the incarceration against the Kashmir mainstream leadership has earned it nothing except infamy and rebuke,” stated a report in The National Herald. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had also released just before the first anniversary of the abrogation came around. He had said that “India’s democracy is damaged when GOI illegally detains political leaders. It’s high time Mehbooba Mufti is released.”
In January 2019 Mehbooba Mufti had said that the “alliance with BJP was like taking ‘glass of poison’ and ‘jumping into fire’.” The Outlook had then reported that Mehbooba said her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had hoped that the alliance between the two parties would lead to dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. It was reported that she had also said that her party was clear that a solution to the Kashmir issue was not possible without talking to Pakistan, adding that in the alliance of two years and two months she could only work for two months.