The public sentiment against India in its controlled Kashmir has grown since the Narendra Modi-led government unilaterally abolished the special status over 17-months ago, a former chief minister of the disputed region has said.
Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference is part of a coalition fighting for restoration of semi-autonomous status, told journalist Karan Thapar during a video interview: “It will be fair to say that the section of population that does not identify with India has grown since the August of 2019.”
He said ‘there has always been a section of people’ in the Himalayan region ‘which does not identify with India’ and this is in-fact irrespective of Indian government’s Article 370 revocation. “There has never been a time when there hasn’t been a section of population in Kashmir that does not identify themselves with India and does not see themselves as India,” Omar, whose government’s actions against pro-freedom demonstrators in 2010 lead to killing of over 130 people including children and women, said.
Speaking to the senior Indian journalist, who was interviewing him for The Wire, Omar also talked about how there is a lot of ‘pent-up resentment, anger’ and ‘disappointment’ against the BJP government. “On a whole people are deeply dissatisfied, governance or the political changes or the way in which Kashmir has been handled,” Omar, who was India’s deputy foreign minister, when his party was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the beginning of this century, said.
According to the National Conference leader, the growing of sentiment against India is contrary to Modi government’s claims that ‘secessionist sentiment would disappear after August 5, 2019’.
The Modi-led govt has claimed that this lack of any public dissent or demonstrations against its August 2019 decision is a sign of acceptance.
As Thapar asked him why there is no public form of dissent against the decision to bifurcate the former state and strip it of its special status, he replied: “That is always a dangerous conclusion to draw. That is incentivising the protests”.
“You (Modi government) are telling people that unless you actively come out and participate in a violent protest your anger will not register and we will not recognise that you are unhappy with the decision. The fact that you haven’t seen protest cannot in shape, size or form can’t be linked to popular acceptance of what happened,” he told The Wire.
He further added that the Indian government cannot claim that people are happy based on lack of dissent as it has left any space for it. “If you don’t allow space for dissent, you can’t then turn around and say that there is no dissent and therefore people are happy.”
Omar, who was detained under the controversial Public Safety Act or PSA for months, referred to the several arrests and detentions of pro-India political leaders after the abrogation to further highlight his point about the unprecedented crackdown. Speaking about the treatment meted out to his family and the allegations levelled against them by the BJP govt, Omar said that he had reconciled himself to the reality and doesn’t aspire to prove anything to anyone anymore.
In the 1970s, the PSA, which allows for detention up to two years without trail, was introduced by Omar’s grandfather and founder of National Conference Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, who used it to act ‘against those sitting on the Opposition benches’.