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FPJ Edit: Curiouser and curiouser in J&K

07:00 AM Aug 03, 2020 | Editorial

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had egg on its face when contrary to its claim in the apex court that the Congress leader, Saifuddin Soz, was not under detention, photographs appearing in national dailies the very next day established just that: That he was indeed under house arrest in Srinagar and the security forces forcibly prevented him from leaving. Aside from making a patently untruthful claim on oath before the highest court in the land, what was shocking was that the authorities actually deluded themselves that they could get away with it without anyone coming to know the actual situation. Responding to a petition filed by the wife of the 83-year-old Kashmiri leader, who had challenged her husband’s ‘illegal detention’, the Supreme Court heard the J and K counsel who said that Soz was a ‘free man’. Those tell-tale photographs showed he was not. Period. However, the court disposed of the petition on the basis of the factually wrong claim of the J and K administration. They say a clever lie is one that is hard to be detected. But a more important question arising from Soz’s informal detention is whether he can cause any trouble even if he were to be allowed to move about freely? For someone who for long was a second-string leader in the National Conference before joining the Congress a few years ago, Soz, a part of the so-called Kashmir mainstream, never enjoyed much of a following in the Valley. He can hardly inspire the people in Kashmir at this late stage in his political career to agitate against the nullification of Article 370. In fact, part of the trouble in Kashmir is that leaders like Soz had become irrelevant in the Valley, with the initiative having passed to the pro-Pakistan elements and their jihadi masters. For whatever it is worth, Soz and other so-called mainstream leaders ought to be actively engaged by the authorities in search of the elusive solution to the current impasse in the affairs of Kashmir. With the first anniversary of the passage of the law neutralising Article 370 on August 5, which created two separate Union Territories out of the erstwhile J and K State, the authorities might be on extra alert to prevent an untoward incident. But keeping leaders like Soz in the loop, talking peace with them at the local level, could be helpful rather than shutting them completely out of process of decision-making. Detaining them further adds to the alienation of the Kashmiris. It is true that Pakistan is a huge trouble-maker but we cannot win the battle for the hearts and minds of young Kashmiris without ensuring that they have access to decent education, job opportunities, cultural and social freedoms available elsewhere in the country. The more we deny them ordinary, everyday freedoms the more they rebel. Co-opting leaders like Soz in the healing process will be a better strategy than holding them prisoners in their own homes. Meanwhile, five days ahead of the anniversary of the virtual abrogation of Article 370, Sajad Lone, the chairman of the People’s Conference was ‘freed’ with the condition that he can neither step out of home nor speak to the media. ‘Freedom’, then, in the Kashmir context, has an Orwellian ring about it. The authorities, stuck in the Kashmir cul-de-sac, are clueless how to find an honourable exit.

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