After 232 days in detention, Omar walks free into ‘a different world’

TNN Bureau. Updated: 3/25/2020 11:04:04 AM Front Page

‘First task to fight coronavirus; restore 4G, release detainees’

SRINAGAR: Former chief minister Omar Abdullah was on Tuesday freed after nearly eight months in detention with the administration revoking the Public Safety Act against him, and said the first task was to fight COVID-19 and any discussion on political developments could come later.
Soon after his release, Omar called for the release of all detained people within and outside Jammu and Kashmir and appealed for the restoration of high-speed mobile internet services.
“The world is different today from the one that existed on August 5, 2019,” Abdullah said in his first tweet after being released, underscoring the threat of the pandemic.
The National Conference leader was among the host of political leaders taken into detention on August 5, when the Centre announced the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and its bifurcation into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
"The politics and situation of this state, what happened on August 5 (last year), I will talk about it in detail, but first, let us get rid of coronavirus, save ourselves and our families and friends. And then all those detained, be it within the state or outside it, I want the Centre to have mercy on them, bring them home and release them," Omar told reporters outside his residence.
He said all the detained leaders, including PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, should be released in view of the situation arising out of the coronavirus scare.
"Be it Mehbooba Mufti or my NC colleagues, or leaders from PDP or from any other party. Some do not belong to any party, but are in detention since August (last year). In these difficult times, they should be brought back to their families," he said.
He also asked the Centre to remove communication restrictions and ensure high speed internet so people are able to educate themselves on ways and means of protecting themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.
The order revoking the PSA against him was issued by Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra. Abdullah was booked under the stringent act on February 5, hours before his six-month custody under preventive detention was to end.
“The government has revoked his detention with immediate effect,” the order stated.
Abdullah's mother Molly was the first to arrive at the makeshift detention centre after news came in that her son was about to be released. He was kept at the state guesthouse Hari Niwas, just a few hundred metres from his official residence.
His father, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, was also charged under the PSA and released on March 13 after 221 days in detention.
Abdullah senior, who is also NC president, expressed happiness over the revocation of his son's PSA detention, but said total redemption would not be possible until all political detainees were released.
Dressed in T-shirt and jeans and sporting a long, grey beard, Omar Abdullah, who turned 50 on March 10, got behind the wheels of his car and drove to his parents' home from Hari Niwas. His mother and sister Safia were with him.
In his first tweet since August 5 last year, he said, "232 days after my detention today I finally left Hari Niwas. It's a very different world today to the one that existed on 5th August 2019."
"Had lunch with my mum and dad for the first time in almost 8 months. I can't remember a better meal even though I've been in a bit of a daze and don't remember what I ate," added the third generation politician.
Outside his residence, a swarm of reporters and supporters, many in masks, waited to speak to him.
"During my period of detention, I thought a lot about what I would say the moment I come out....but today, let's not be complacent towards the challenges being faced the world over. This is a fight between life and death. All of you have come here and it is definitely in violation of the government order.
"We should ensure social distancing and take adequate precautions. We should ensure that the coronavirus does not spread. I will talk about political developments and other aspects post August 5 but let us first fight this coronavirus," he said.
The education of children, the tourism industry, businesses and every other sector in the state had suffered, he said.
In another tweet later in the day, he said, "If anyone wants tips on surviving quarantine or a lock down I have months of experience at my disposal, perhaps a blog is in order."
On February 5, Omar Abdullah, who was junior foreign minister and commerce minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Cabinet in 2000, was served with a three-page dossier that was challenged in the Supreme Court by his sister Sara Abdullah Pilot.
The Supreme Court last week asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to inform by this week if it was releasing him.
He also thanked his legal team and added, “Thank you to my baby sister Sara for filing the petition to have me freed."
Political parties, including NC rival PDP, welcomed the revocation of the PSA against Abdullah.
Mehbooba Mufti's daughter Iltija, who uses her mother's Twitter handle, said she was glad at his release.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechurry said on Twitter that he welcomed the release of Abdullah after eight months of a "totally unjustifiable detention .
“Immediately, Mehbooba Mufti, Shah Faesal and thousands of others detained in and outside JK must be freed. Given the nation-wide clampdown over COVID19, this is an imperative," he said.
He also supported Abdullah's call for removing communication blockade saying, "Internet, the lifeline for support and information at a time like this, cannot be limited in Kashmir..."
"Welcome the release of Omar, which we have been calling for ever since his unjustified arrest. Maybe the COVID19 lockdown makes all detentions unnecessary now? Please release Mehbooba Mufti and all other political detainees without delay!" added Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference also welcomed Omar's release, and also demanded the release of its chairman Sajad Lone.


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