The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is getting ready for a prolonged legal battle for the release of its president and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose detention the party leaders described as “illegal” and “questionable in a democracy”.
Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti, told the media today that she had filed an amendment application in the Supreme Court on September 18, challenging the invoking of the Public Safety Act (PSA) against the detained leader, and its extensions thereof. This follows a habeas corpus petition she filed in February in the Supreme Court.
On February 26 the court directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to explain the grounds of Mehbooba Mufti’s detention, but the administration has not filed its response so far. During a brief hearing at the time, Iltija Mufti’s counsel, Nitya Ramakrishnan, said the dossier supporting the invoking of the PSA against the former Chief Minister was “manifestly biased, slanderous, libellous”. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had scheduled a hearing in the matter on March 18, but the same could not be held on account of the COVID-19 situation.
In a conversation with Frontline, Iltija Mufti said that her mother was not only the PDP chief but also a two-time MP and a former Chief Minister, and that she could not be incarcerated simply because her politics were not in consonance with the ruling party’s wishes. “Just because one has a dissenting viewpoint against the government, one cannot be put in jail indefinitely. That undermines established democratic norms,” Iltija told this reporter.
She said that there was a design to break her mother’s will, which is evident in the harsh treatment meted out to her by those in power. “The government is denying her basic legal rights that are due to every prisoner. She has been cut off from her close family members, including her brother, and from her party workers. They want to break her emotionally as they know she is not the one who would bend,” Iltija contended. According to her, the authorities asked Mehbooba Mufti in October 2019 to sign a bond in exchange for her freedom, but the former Chief Minister “categorically refused” to do it.
Iltija said that the engineered defection in the PDP demonstrated that the government wanted to make every dissenting voice and political platform in Kashmir irrelevant as it rapidly pursued its Hindutva agenda. The mainstream politicians’ accusations had to be seen against the backdrop of the inexplicable withdrawal of their security and safe houses, even as the government defends the ban on high-speed Internet in Kashmir citing threat from militants. The targeted killing of a BJP district president, Sheikh Waseem Bari, in Bandipora on July 8 by militants, also suggests that the move to deny security and safe houses to politicians is aimed at adverse political messaging. On June 25, Naeem Akhtar, who was Finance Minister in the erstwhile PDP-BJP government, was asked to vacate his official residence in Srinagar in five hours or face “forcible eviction”.
Mehbooba Mufti was detained on the intervening night of August 4 and 5, hours before the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated and the State was downgraded into a Union Territory. On February 5, before her preventive detention was due to expire, she was booked under the PSA. Mehbooba Mufti is at present lodged at her official residence, Fair View, at Gupkar Road in Srinagar, which has been converted into a subsidiary jail.