It has been more than 15 days since three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been detained. The region has been under a lockdown ever since the Centre on August 5 decided to hollow out the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and reorganise it into two Union Territories. Phone networks, the internet and postal services were snapped, and even the physical movement of citizens was severely limited.
This crisis should have brought the Opposition parties to the streets to protest against the decisions of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government. Instead, most Opposition parties have largely confined their dissent to social media posts and weak statements. This has allowed the BJP to set the agenda on the Jammu and Kashmir situation, with the help of a significant section of the media.
The most visible gesture by Rahul Gandhi, the former president of the Congress, the largest Opposition party, has been his online spat with the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Satya Pal Malik. Gandhi said he would visit the Valley if Malik would allow him free movement. But there was no follow up action to these tweets, despite the fact that the administration has also detained Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir.
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The problem is not just the Centre’s decision to gut Article 370 but the manner in which it was done. After having locked up Jammu and Kashmir by imposing a virtual curfew, the Centre bulldozed its way through Parliament using its brute majority and downgraded the state into a Union Territory.
As it stands, the law does nothing to prevent the Centre from replicating its actions in other states. That is why India’s Opposition was expected to protest these moves.
However, even regional parties that usually take up challenges to federal rights have been feeble in their condemnation. In West Bengal, while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed concern about the arrest of Jammu and Kashmir leaders, the Trinamool Congress has done little concrete to demonstrate its dissent. In fact, Banerjee has been reluctant to talk about Article 370, with MPs of her party walking out in Parliament during the vote on the move.
In this complex situation, the only ray of hope is Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha. Not only did the DMK vote against the government in Parliament, it has also announced a protest in New Delhi on August 22, demanding the immediate release of those detained in Jammu and Kashmir. Party president MK Stalin has minced no words, calling the actions of the Centre a “murder of democracy”.
Hopefully, this will prompt the rest of the Opposition to realise that once it starts ceding ground on the question of fundamental rights in Jammu and Kashmir, it will be hard to stop future transgressions by the BJP-led Central government. The battle for democracy has to move beyond social media and into the streets.