A number of prominent opposition leaders on Monday demanded immediate release of all political detainees in Jammu and Kashmir, especially former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, and said there is nothing against the three to say that they pose a threat to public safety in J-K or endanger national interest.
In a joint statement, the leaders attacked the Narendra Modi government, alleging democratic dissent is being "muzzled" by "coercive" administrative action which has threatened the basic ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution
Nothing exemplifies this more starkly than the continuing detention on "flimsiest of grounds" of the three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers for over seven months, they said.
The statement was issued by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee,former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Kumar Jha, and former ministers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mufti were detained following the Centre's August 5, 2019 decision to abrogate special status of the erstwhile state, besides its bifurcation into two union territories. They were booked in February this year under the stringent Public Safety Act.
NC president Farooq Abdullah, who was under house arrest, was detained in September under PSA.
"There is nothing in the past records of these three leaders to lend credence to the Modi government's false and self-serving claim that they pose a threat to 'public safety' in J-K or that they have endangered national interests with their activities," the opposition leaders said.
"We demand the immediate release of all political detainees in Kashmir, especially the three former chief ministers of J-K," they said.
They said India and its Constitution have always stood for unity in diversity with everybody's views respected, honoured and heard.
"There are growing assaults on democratic norms, fundamental rights and civic liberties of citizens of the Indian Republic. As a result, dissent is not only being stifled, but the avenues of raising critical voices are also being systematically muted," the statement alleged.
The leaders said the indefinite detention of three former CMs of J-K and other political activists is a blatant violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
This must be seen in the larger context of the "prolonged lockdown" of the state since August 5, 2019, they said, adding it "exposes the oft-repeated lie of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah that the situation in J&K is 'completely normal'".
They said the government has recently organised "well-choreographed" visits of the foreign diplomats to Srinagar, but it has placed "all kinds of hurdles" in the attempts of representatives of India's own political and media establishment to move freely in the state and assess the situation on the ground.
Under these circumstances, political parties committed to safeguarding the fundamental rights of the citizens and securing the sanctity of the Constitution, cannot sit quiet, they said.
"It is our bounden duty to demand the immediate release of the three former chief ministers of J&K and all the other political detainees.
"We also demand complete and verifiable restoration of the rights and freedoms of our Kashmiri brethren, who, against all odds, have repeatedly shown their allegiance to the Indian Union, by being an integral part of our democratic process," the opposition leaders said.