Inside or out of jail, Masarat Alam has always been a free man
Even under detention, he is not exactly dysfunctional in fomenting chaos and strife.
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Yesterday, Masarat Alam was a free man yet again, even if for a short while. He was promptly rearrested for a crime in another case. The Srinagar bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had ordered his release the day before. He was detained under Public Safety Act (PSA) in June this year. Interestingly, he could be detained for two years, without any mandate for judicial intervention as per the district magistrate's order under this act.
An unrelated (or, perhaps not) but interesting fact is that he was represented by a lawyer, Mian Abdul Quyoom, who is also an elected head of the bar association. This lawyer is supposed to have, once, openly declared in the high court that he didn't "recognise" the Indian Constitution. He was promptly reminded by the judge that he practiced as a lawyer under the oath of the very same Constitution, and that his licence to practice could be revoked for such remarks. He dared the judge to go ahead and got away with it.
Masarat Alam is a known troublemaker. He is the chairman of the Muslim League and the general secretary of the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. His claim to infamy is that he has been in and out of jail over three dozen times. He was accused of being the key organiser and instigator of the anti-Amarnath agitation in 2008 and the 2010 stone-pelting stir.
Both the events caused considerable loss of life and limb, livelihood and property — both, private and public. In 2010, he went underground in the wake of arrest warrants against him. Subsequently, there was a reward of Rs 15 lakh declared on his head. After months of hard work by the security forces, he was nabbed.
His most audacious release was on March 8, 2015. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the then chief minister, was nothing if not a brave man. Just a week earlier, on March 1, at his oath ceremony for the CM's office, he publicly thanked Pakistan and Hurriyat, for letting him win the elections that they so graciously "allowed" to happen. He said so in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sitting barely a few feet away, even as the electorate, who defied the threats to their life by the Hurriyat to vote and elect him, watched him in horror, live, on their TV sets.
The wily Mufti ignored the resultant furore. Why wouldn't he! He had tamed the much feared super-patriot with a political lasso called the Agenda for Alliance. He had yoked his triumphant party into abject slavery in the name of coalition. He had turned, by 180 degrees, the course of the Pakistan policy of the government of India. Most importantly, he had, as he is supposed to have claimed in a private conversation later, called the bluff of an entire ideological movement and proved them to be no more than a hoax.
So, he went ahead and declared that he was going to resume his "healing touch" policy and free all "political prisoners". By March 8, the prized prisoner, Masarat Alam Bhat, was a free man. The prime minister, no less, fulminated in Parliament about this release. That too was water off a duck's back.Masarat Alam is a known troublemaker. [Photo: Indiatoday.in]
In less than five weeks, on April 10, Masarat Alam created a spectacle that was never seen in Kashmir valley. He mobilised thousands of Kashmiris at the Srinagar airport, to receive Geelani who was returning from his winter sojourn in Delhi. From the airport, a procession started that swelled as it reached the middle of the city, right in front of the police headquarters. There, it culminated into a rally waving Pakistani flags and chanting anti-India slogans. This sight was unprecedented.
Never, even at the worst of times in the history of Kashmir, such a daring show was even attempted, forget allowed. All those triumphant talks about the elections driving Hurriyat into irrelevance evaporated. Hurriyat, rumoured to be defeated and demoralised, was resurrected in the public eye with a roaring and raging resurgence. No "popularly elected" government, with almost two-thirds majority on the floor, was so completely disrobed of its legitimacy at a public square, within 40 days of assuming office.
But Mufti wasn't exactly running for cover. All this was, as if, working exactly as scripted. It took a nationwide outrage and a daily hue and cry in prime time news shows that the reluctant Mufti was dragged, screaming and kicking as it were, into detaining Masarat Alam. That was good five days later, on April 15. Within a month, a district magistrate was to release him again. If those tasked with prosecuting the criminals and keeping them locked up look at the "healing touch code" instead of the penal code, what can a poor magistrate do? A smart one that the magistrate was, he took that opportunity to flaunt his knowledge of Guantanamo and Abu Gharib to make gratuitous references in his order to release Masarat Alam.
Even under detention, Masarat Alam is not exactly dysfunctional in his enterprise of fomenting chaos and strife. While in Baramulla prison, he was supposed to have been met by four persons earlier this summer. In this meeting, he had gone about sharing plans and detailed instructions for the recent trouble that the Valley is painfully emerging from. But, the apologists for the present government (now, it does not matter the state government or central, because the coalition in Jammu and Kashmir demolishes the duality. Besides, the apologists too are common) are never short of an argument. To duck the howling posers, they maintain with a straight face that no matter how often he is released, he will be arrested again. This brings us to another frightening reality.
The state, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is in throes. Earlier, pandering to the Valley's Muslim majoritarianism, a regional divide was allowed that pitted the Valley against the rest. Three decades ago, that Muslim majoritarianism degenerated into a Jihadi enterprise which pitted Wahabised Sunnis of the state against the rest. Ever since, the so-called mainstream politicians, in their competitive zeal for courting this Jihadi constituency, are now busy pitching themselves against one another, in a shrill slanging match to look more radical. Even as they distance themselves from the grim task of fighting terror, they not just leave the security forces to fend for themselves, they even actively target them. Cordon and search teams nab prized insurgents only to be let off by a prosecution machinery that believes in healing instead.
The benches of the high court often pass such incredible orders that the Supreme Court is often constrained to set the record straight. Large parts of bureaucracy are either compromised or demoralised and entirely marginalised. Even the treasury benches comprising the present ruling coalition are pitted against each other ever so often, when they oppose the bills introduced by their own government. The state that should have been united and fighting hard against the jihadi onslaught, for its own survival, is instead busy fighting with itself, with some of its own organs conniving against it.
Under these circumstances, arresting Masarat Alam, on fresh grounds even as old cases keep collapsing, points at a grim situation. It proves that the state is fast reaching a point of helplessness that it may no longer matter if Masarat Alam and the likes of him are free or in prison.