Civil servant-turned-politician Shah Faesal wasn’t immediately arrested after the state of Jammu & Kashmir was dismantled on 5 August. He was detained on 14 August when he was trying to go to Harvard University to complete his course. A friend of his told The Hindu that the authorities who detained him at Delhi airport asked him about the interview he had given to the BBC the previous day.
Packed off to Srinagar, he was detained there under the draconian Public Safety Act, using which the government can detain anyone it likes without trial, without giving a reason, for six months. (Hail democracy.)
Far from being any cause for trouble in J&K, Shah Faesal was running away to Harvard. (What a politician who deserts his people in a time of great crisis. No wonder many think the government did him a favour.)
The real reason
It is clear that the real reason why Shah Faesal has been under house arrest is because he gave the BBC an interview. And what did he say in the interview? Did he demand azaadi for Kashmir? Did he say Pakistan zindabad? Far from it. He actually expressed faith in Indian democracy and its institutions. He only disagreed with the Narendra Modi government’s decision to dismantle the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and the manner in which it was done. Modi is murdering the Constitution he said, something that opposition leaders have accused the government of the day of doing all the time.
And that’s why he is under arrest, his civil liberties suspended, his voice muzzled. Let it be very clear that Shah Faesal’s only crime is that he doesn’t agree with Narendra Modi. This is what authoritarian regimes do. This is what Indira Gandhi did during the Emergency. Opposition leaders are jailed to prevent them from speaking to the public. Authoritarian regimes tend to muzzle the voice of the opposition when the truth is inconvenient.
This is also why Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and many of their family members have also been incarcerated. These are all Indian politicians who have held the Indian flag high in a place rife with separatism, at great risk to their personal lives. But today they have been thrown under the bus, and lest they protest, they have been put in a makeshift prison.
They have been jailed because of their conscience; people who have been jailed for nothing more than a difference of opinion. It is a great shame that nobody is paying more than lip service to this injustice. ‘Preventive custody to maintain law and order’ is the standard Raj-era excuse for muzzling dissenting voices and creating a false illusion of consensus.
Silenced before you may disagree
Following the dramatic, unilateral constitutional changes announced on 5 August, the Modi government has tried to produce a false narrative that everything is fine in Kashmir, and Kashmiris are happy. To prop up this false narrative, it is necessary that Kashmiri politicians are not seen on TV or on the streets opposing what the Modi government did.
For a brief while that PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti was able to tweet while she was under house arrest, she wrote, “The overwhelming mandate that Modi ji got had given us hope that like a statesman he too would tread the path taken by Vajpayee ji & reach out to people of J&K. What an utter betrayal of trust.”
Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference was placed under an undeclared house arrest and Home Minister Amit Shah said in Parliament that he wasn’t. The Home Minister of India is lying, he said. Farooq broke free and spoke to NDTV, and he’s now again under house arrest, his plea to offer Eid prayers at a mosque rejected.
Omar Abdullah asked people to stay calm and not take to violence just before his freedom was taken away. Cheap propaganda stories have been planted through stenographer-reporters about how Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are fighting in ‘jail’. Having murdered democracy, the Modi government wants cheap thrills.
Some leaders of mainstream political parties have been shifted to jails in Agra and Bareilly. In a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter demanded to know why she’s been placed under house arrest.
She writes, “However, the security personnel have cited my interviews to various media portals and newspapers as the reason for my detention. In fact, I’ve been threatened with dire consequences if I speak up again.”
Threatened not to speak
It seems that along with Article 370, Modi-Shah have also abolished Article 19, which guarantees fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of speech and expression. We don’t know how many Kashmiri politicians are in jail just because their opinion is different from Modi and Shah’s, but it was said to be 400 in just the first two days. The arrests of journalists have also begun.
Nobody in India today empathises with Kashmiris, but who’s to say the Modi government won’t follow the same strategy across India? If opposition leaders are jailed, local media stifled, the internet cut off, how will we know if people are happy or screaming in rage? If this is not the murder of the Constitution, what is?
The Modi government wants obedience from the people, from the media and from the opposition. Soon, it will demand we must all sing this song or be ready to be jailed.
Views are personal.