It is an ironic twist of fate for India's biggest champion in Kashmir.
The Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, in an inexplicable act, has extended the custody of 83-year-old Dr Farooq Abdullah, four-time chief minister of the erstwhile J&K state and three times a parliamentarian — he currently represents Srinagar in the Lok Sabha and, ironically, is on the 21-member parliamentary consultative committee on defence. His detention under the Public Safety Act will continue till March 2020 and there is no guarantee it will end then. It is an ironic twist of fate for India's biggest champion in Kashmir.
In the dizzying heat of current events — the brute-force legislation of a Citizenship Amendment Act that has led to mass protests in Assam and West Bengal, and the police brutality against Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University students protesting against the CAA, Kashmir has been forgotten by many Indians. Perhaps many weren’t moved in the first place either as they are unsure of the ground realities in Kashmir or because fear of retribution by a vindictive government. Also, many propagandists and social media trolls think nothing of passing off fake images and videos to prove to the world that “normalcy has been restored in the Valley”, as home minister Amit Shah put it in Parliament on November 20.
If we borrow from former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who came up with “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, perhaps what the home minister means is that Kashmir is experiencing an “abnormal normalcy”. For what else would you call a situation where Tuesday marked the 135th day Kashmir went without the Internet? According to Access Now, an international advocacy group, only China and Myanmar have cut off the Internet for longer.
Or perhaps “abnormal normalcy” is defined by the fact that 31 political leaders and 5,000 political workers have been detained under varying provisions of the law. Presumably, the government worries that freeing detainees like Dr Abdullah’s son Omar Abdullah or former CM Mehbooba Mufti will lead to political protests and mobilisation that would prove embarrassing, given the existing international opprobrium. What, however, do they fear from an 83-year-old politician who is walking around with his wife’s kidney transplanted into his body?
After all, their dismantling of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state are now done deals, on which there will be no going back. But so scared is the Government of India of Dr Abdullah that no one is allowed to meet him — not political visitors from New Delhi, not journalists, not fellow Kashmiris. Only his family is allowed to visit him, and they refuse to speak about him to anyone because as his sister and daughter found out on October 15, the government thinks nothing of throwing women into jail, if only for a day.
So when will Dr Farooq Abdullah be released? “When things are normal,” Amit Shah told Parliament when Opposition leaders questioned him on November 18. Presumably he meant when there was “normal normalcy”. One can only worry, then, what “abnormal non-normalcy” would entail, both for Kashmir and for India.