National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Thursday said he was given the option of being released from preventive detention in October, provided he signed a bond to “remain silent” on all developments in Jammu and Kashmir subsequent to August 5 for the “foreseeable future”, The Wire reported.

In an interview with The Wire, Abdullah said he refused to sign the bond because it silenced him in the future. “The magistrate came with his rubber stamp and his pen, assuming that I would sign it quite happily and run away,” he said. “Which is basically tantamount to saying I will no longer be a politician.”

On August 5, the Centre split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories and stripped it of autonomy under Article 370. After the Centre had announced its decision, the state was placed under the most complete lockdown in its history, with restrictions on movement, a communications blackout and mass arrests.

Almost all of the Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti – were locked up. Omar Abdullah was released seven months later on March 24 as the Jammu and Kashmir administration revoked his detention order under the Public Safety Act. Farooq Abdullah was released on March 13 but Mufti remains in detention.

‘I wish I revoked PSA’

Abdullah said he regretted not revoking the draconian PSA law when he had the chance. “If there is one regret I have, it is that I did not revoke the Public Safety Act from the statute books when I had the opportunity [as the chief minister] and when I was in power,” he said. “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.”

The politician further conceded that there were some “questionable detains” made under the PSA even during his tenure as chief minister. However, he claimed the arrests were made to deal “with people waging a campaign against the country”. “Here you are detaining mainstream politicians who haven’t said anything seditious or anything to disturb the peace,” he added.

He said that none of the detained political leaders had called for protests, and had only claimed to “democratically oppose” any changes that were “forced on the people of J&K”. Abdullah said they were punished for this.

The former chief minister said he was disappointed at the failure of the Supreme Court to prioritise the petitions challenging the Centre’s August 5 move. However, he said his remarks on the need to restore the region’s statehood were misinterpreted, as he had never suggested the move would open the door to a deal with the Centre.

“The only case I am making is that the fight to turn back what happened last year will have to be fought in the courts, because we have no other avenue of getting justice,” he said. Abdullah said the people of the region were not going to get justice from those who had taken it away, in a reference to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre.

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‘BJP’s intent is clear’

Abdullah referred to the new domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir and said the fears of the people of Kashmir that the BJP-led Union government is trying to bring about demographic changes in the culturally distinct region were genuine.

“It would take a long time to convert J&K from a Muslim majority to a Muslim minority state”, Abdullah said. “...the intent under which they are operating will be very clear to everybody… Otherwise, why would you tinker with our domicile law?”

According to the new rules, the term “permanent residents” of the former state was replaced with “domiciles” of the new Union Territory – to pave the way for non-local residents to apply for jobs and buy land in the Valley.

Abdullah also pointed out that there was no domicile law for Ladakh. He also claimed that the Centre had not done so due to fear of the reaction from the Buddhist population in the Union Territory, adding that the administration was “not bothered about how the population of J&K reacts”.

Questionable measures are becoming the norm

The former chief minister said that several repressive governance methods and “questionable precedents” that were implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, were now being used in the rest of the country.

He said the misuse of the Raj Bhavan, which was “perfected in J&K” and now used to drive political outcomes in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, was an example of that. Abdullah also claimed that force was being used to stop peaceful protests across India, especially over the Citizenship Amendment Act.

“You’ve seen it in the way people have been detained for legitimate peaceful protest in Bangalore and places like that, Section 144 is violated,” Abdullah added. “You have seen the way internet shutdowns have been made the norm rather than the exception, there are any number of experiments that were used in J&K post August 5 that have been regularised and used to great effect in other parts of the country when it suits the ruling dispensation at that time.”