‘Who’ll Delhi Talk To In J&K If Leaders Are Jailed’: Saifuddin Soz
VIDEO: J&K Congress leader Saifuddin Soz tells The Quint that the ‘govt is lying’ about him being free.
VIDEO EDITER: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
VIDEO PRODUCER: Shohini Bose
A high-octane drama unfolded in Srinagar on Thursday, 30 July 2020, when senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz tried to speak to a few journalists about his detention, outside his residence at Humhama, just outside the Srinagar airport.
Talking briefly to reporters from behind the walls of his residence, Soz said he would approach the court regarding the Jammu and Kashmir administration “lying” before the apex court.
However, a security officer in civvies dragged the veteran Congress leader away from the reporters, and asked other uniformed personnel to chase away the scribes.
“Chase them away from here,” the unidentified officer shouted, as he pulled Soz down from the wall.
Earlier, in a statement, Soz said he would ‘sue the government’ for his ‘unlawful house arrest’ since 5 August 2019 –– when the Centre revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir –– and termed the government’s response in the Supreme Court, that he was not under detention, as a ‘falsehood’.
On Wednesday, 29 July 2020, in the Supreme Court, the J&K administration assured that Mr Soz was ‘neither in detention nor under house arrest’. The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by his wife. The bench chose to dispose of the habeas petition on the basis of an affidavit filed by the J&K administration.
On 5 August 2019, most of the prominent mainstream politicians of J&K were either detained or kept under house arrest. Although many mainstream political leaders were released, like Soz, there are many who continue to remain under house arrest.
In an exclusive interview with The Quint, the senior Congress leader spoke about his detention, the recent episode at his residence, and on the year that’s gone by since the abrogation of Article 370.
‘The Govt Is Lying’
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Here are the excerpts:
Reporter: The government’s version is that you are a ‘free’ man. But you have maintained that you aren’t allowed to move out. Who is ‘lying’ and why?
Soz: See the video that was shot by a few journalists outside my home on Thursday, where I tried to speak and explain my detention – this is proof that I am not free and still under detention. Then you saw how the cops deployed there dragged me away from the reporters and asked other personnel in uniform to chase away the scribes.
So it is the government who is ‘lying’, and it also ‘lied’ to the honourable Supreme Court. If I am a ‘free’ man as they claim, let them allow me to go anywhere I want.
The fact is, I have been under continuous detention since 5 August 2019.
Reporter: But the government on Friday said ‘we have freed Prof Soz’ – claimed that you were allowed to visit your sister’s house?
Soz: Yes, I was allowed to see my ailing sister at Hyderpora, Srinagar today. But two Personal Security Officers (PSOs) accompanied me, and I was shocked to see, the police produced and released a video showing that I was a ‘free’ man. This version of the police is nothing more than a white lie.
When I went back and wanted to see my neighbours, I wasn’t allowed at all.
So far I haven’t been informed as to whether or not there is an official order that could verify my freedom.
‘The Reality Is That I’m Still Under House Arrest’
Reporter: What happened at your residence on Thursday and how did you feel?
Soz: See, I was just talking to some reporters regarding my detention, and the way the cop dragged me and didn’t allow me to speak is undemocratic.
I was told that I have been put under house detention, and they told the SC that I am a free man, but where are the orders? Everything is being done verbally here, particularly post-5 August.
The reality is that I am still under house detention, and the police are not allowing me to move out.
It’s really unfortunate that the government spokesperson in the evening claimed that “Soz is a free man and can go anywhere” –– which is not a fact.
Reporter: But many politicians were released; even Sajjad Lone was set free. Why weren’t you? Do they see you as a threat?
Soz: See, they don’t have any policy neither do they have any relation with civil society. They are causing a lot of damage to the constitutional relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India. So they do it because they don’t know what they are doing, but they act and react as it suits them.
‘The Government Has Impaired The Constitution’
Reporter: Okay! What will be the future course of action?
Soz: I am in touch with my lawyers and I will definitely go to the court to prove that I was put under house detention on 5 August till date. I have ample proof that I have remained under house detention since 5 August. Apart from that, I will let them know how this government in Kashmir has bypassed civilian liberties.
Reporter: But you as a mainstream leader, have represented India in Kashmir for so many years. Does it hurt?
Soz: Of course it does; you see almost all of the mainstream political leaders were put under detention on 5 August 2019. The government in New Delhi has impaired the Constitution, but this will be written in history, and people will get to know how this government impaired the Constitution since they came into power.
‘BJP Leadership in Jammu Is Also Feeling Hurt’
Reporter: With so many mainstream leaders being put under bars after the abrogation of the special status of J&K, have they made all of you ‘irrelevant’ now?
Soz: How can they do it? They are groping in the dark. The central government has no Kashmir policy. If they put mainstream leaders behind bars, with whom will they deal in Kashmir? They have enacted a tamasha (drama) in Kashmir.
Not only we, the BJP leadership in Jammu is also feeling hurt that the status was reduced to that of a union territory. They also want the restoration of that special status. Our internal autonomy was revoked.
People in J&K are angry with this decision; people were already fed up with the electoral process in Kashmir, and it will be difficult now to get them together again, and that is a dangerous thing for the Union of India.
Reporter: But where do you see the situation in Kashmir going now, one year since Article 370 was read down?
Soz: You see there is a short run before us, then there is a long run. In the short run, RSS/BJP has caused immense damage to our constitutional relationship with the Union of India, and the electoral process has received a great setback. Even if the elections are held, people will ignore that process. The central government has ‘misbehaved’ with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Then we shall see in the long term, that theKashmir issue is on the United Nations (UN) agenda. Whatever is happening in Kashmir has global repercussions.
‘I Don’t Think Congress Has Faced a Setback In Kashmir’
Reporter: But BJP has maintained that Article 370 was a hindrance in the development of the region. Your comments?
Soz: They (BJP) connected development to the revocation of J&K’s special status – it was foolish on their part. Article 370 happened to be the cornerstone of our constitutional relationship, and they weakened it.
Reporter: So, let’s talk about your party. The Congress has lost ground in J&K too. What do you have to say about its revival?
Soz: The Congress party didn’t have an upper hand in Kashmir, as compared to other parties like NC, PDP and BJP. But the Congress hasn’t weakened over a period of time, per se. The Congress will get its due share with the elections being held, and I don’t think it has faced a setback in Kashmir.
Reporter: With no special status for the state of J&K, will you contest elections in the near future?
Soz: See, we haven’t decided on that yet. But our party has made it clear that they are opposing the abrogation of Article 370. So, when the elections arrive, we shall see and decide.
Reporter: What is the way out for people? What will be your advice to them, especially to young ones?
Soz: There is no doubt that people here are angry with the Government of India. They don’t need anybody’s advice. People are angry, and it will be reflected in the elections.
(Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar based Journalist at tweets @AuqibJaveed. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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