Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Leader Omar Abdullah, in a series of interviews given to India’s various news organisations, has started to break his silence a year after abrogation of Article 370 and the reorganization of the state, and many months after his release.
The former Chief Minister, in an interview to The Wire’s founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan spoke on various “developments” that have been taking place post- 370 abrogation, and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into the two Union Territories.
However, the one issue that Omar still liked to keep a secret—as a “conversation for another time,” was when asked by Varadarajan to share details of the meeting that the NC leader had with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi just a few days before the day of 5th August.
“A lot of things were said (by the PM), like I said in the column that I wrote for The (Indian) Express, that is, I guess, I mean, a conversation for another time. We came out with a very different impression about what was going to unfold a few days later.” Omar said.
When asked about reports of politicians having been told to sign bonds as a pre-condition for their release, Omar revealed that one of these bonds was presented to him as well two months after his detention, and the government had tried to gag him, forcing him to remain silent.
“In October, the magistrate came with his rubber stamp and his pen, assuming that I would sign it (the bond) quite happily and run away. And he gave me the bond and said you sign this and you can leave, and the bond, as you said, says that I will remain silent on all developments in J&K subsequent to August 5, 2019 for the foreseeable future.” Omar, however, said that he had refused to sign this bond.
It was then six months after Omar’s arrest, in February, when Omar’s sister Sara Abdullah, approached the Supreme Court against the government’s move to charge him under the Public Safety Act (PSA). He was finally released by the government on March 24, 2020, without the court taking a decision on his petition.
On the question of as to why didn’t he and the other mainstream political leaders challenge their illegal detention in the courts earlier and waited for months to pass by, Omar said that he had not anticipated that his arrest would be extended for six months and later converted into a PSA detention.
“When we went in, we thought this is for a couple of days or weeks – that August 15 will pass and they will let us out. Then, the goalposts kept shifting. We heard that the government was waiting for UN General Assembly session, but that passed and we weren’t let out. Then it became about waiting for the formal transition from a state to a Union territory, which was October 31-November 1, and so we thought once that passes. they will let us out. Then the goal post shifted to the Trump visit – that perhaps before that we’d be let out. And finally we thought that six months of preventive arrest will pass and they will then have no option but to release us. But when that detention was converted to PSA detention, that is when I spoke to people and said enough is enough. I told my family, come what may, we have to challenge this detention because if we leave it unchallenged, they will keep us locked up and pretty much throw away the key, which is what they had done.” He told The Wire.
Commenting on being slapped with PSA charges, a law that Omar himself used during his tenure as the Chief Minister of the erstwhile state, Omar, in the interview, said that he regrets not revoking the Public Safety Act (PSA) when he was in power.
“Look, hindsight is 20/20, I guess… If there is one regret I have, it is that I did not revoke the PSA from the statute books when I had the opportunity and when i was in power. I should have done it then, I think the realisation dawned on me much later, though that realisation dawned on me before my arrest, and not post-arrest. Over the last couple of years we had been making the promise that if the NC is returned to power, we would strike down the PSA and remove it from the statute books. I wish I had done that in office.”
The former Chief Minister, however justified the PSA detentions made under his rule, saying,
“There may have been some questionable detentions [in our time], but by and large the people we were dealing with were people waging a campaign against the country.”
“Here (post-August) you are detaining mainstream politicians who haven’t said anything seditious or anything to disturb the peace. None of us have called for agitations, protests for youngsters to pick up the gun or anything like that.” He added.
When asked about what changes would the domicile law bring in the erstwhile state, Omar said the concerns that people have are genuine, and not misplaced.
“If we were to take a straw poll of all the domicile certificates that have been issued since this new law came into being, and see the religious breakup in those between Muslim and non-Muslim, that will prove these concerns are not misplaced.” Omar said.
“Now, I understand that it will take a long time to convert J&K from a Muslim majority to a Muslim minority state but the intent under which they are operating will be very clear to everybody.” He added.
When asked about the government’s contradiction on saying “a large number of militants have been neutralised in the past year, when for political reasons or to justify the 4G ban, they still say there is a problem of terrorism,” Omar commented:
“Actually, that is something that I would worry about, because if you are neutralising more terrorists, this means more terrorists are being created. I would understand if militancy went down, levels of violence went down and you weren’t neutralising large numbers of terrorists – that means the replacement rate was declining. But if youngsters are coming forward to pick up the gun, the fact that you are killing them in larger numbers suggests they are willing to come forward and get killed. So that whole argument that 370 is responsible for alienation, separatism, sectarianism and that whole sort of argument, if that be the case, then all these levels should have started to show a declining trend now. You should have less separatism, less alienation, less youngsters joining militancy. But that is not the case. You are killing them because they are being attracted to take part.”
Omar Abdullah also said it was clear that many of the repressive measures and anti-democratic governance methods implemented in Jammu and Kashmir had now migrated to the rest of India. “There are so many questionable precedents that have been used in J&K that have been, and will continue to be, used in the rest of India,” He told The Wire.
“Well, the great thing in democracy is nobody stays in power forever. So I am sure if things become too objectionable, the country will find alternatives.” Omar concluded.