NEW DELHI: Masarat Alam, a man declared free by law, has emerged as the focal point of the fires being stoked in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir in the name of ‘nationalism.’ Hysterical anchors on around the clock news television have kept the pressure up with Parliament responding in kind, as the Opposition parties shout at the government for releasing Alam and the government responds with strong speeches maintaining that its commitment to ‘nationalism’ cannot be questioned by anyone.

In the midst of it no one even stops to ask how and why Alam was released by the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed? Is Alam indeed a terrorist or just a dissenter who in New Delhi would be one of many dissenters and protesters thronging Jantar Mantar on a daily basis? Did Mufti subvert the laws to get him released, or was actually his continuing detention a subversion of the law? Reports suggest that Alam was released over and over again by the courts, and kept back in jail by the police with fresh cases each and every time since 2010 when he was arrested. And hence what is illegal, keeping him in jail without reason or releasing him as per the law?

The perspective has been lost in the screaming and shouting with the ‘nationalist’ anchors not even stopping to ask the questions that any journalist should look into before acting as the jury and the executioner instead of just the communicator.

As Masarat says, jail is not new for him and he has been in and out of prison over the past 20 years. His last bout was from 2010 when he was taken in under the Public Safety Act for throwing stones and organising protests against the deaths of youths in police firing. The security forces had declared war against stone pelters, and at least 112 boys were killed across Kashmir Valley in different incidents. It was a bloody year, and the state government locked up hundreds of young men, of whom Masarat Alam was a key ‘catch’. He has made no secret of his anger with New Delhi, and even now despite the focus on him, has declared that he will organise protests against the oppression by the state. The state is free to arrest him if he violates the law, just as he should be free to walk if the law allows him to.

However, Alam as many others in Kashmir have public support that increases in direct proportion to the alienation with New Delhi. More so as he has been kept in jail with hundreds of others against whom the charges have not held, or no longer hold. The release of political prisoners is a major issue, and like Alam, they remain in prison even after the detention period is over. At least that is what even the state government believes with Mufti’s promise to review the cases and release those who have no charges against them bearing testimony to the fact that hundreds of Kashmiris have been detained without adequate legal cover.

Alam was one of the first to be released, and as documents released in the media now show, this was because his detention period was over and there were no fresh charges against him. In fact the clearances came during Governors rule, and were followed up by the new government giving teeth to its assurance that innocents would not be allowed to languish in jail.

Neither has Mufti, nor has Alam, violated any law in his release. He was free, under the law, to walk out of prison and perhaps if there is an enquiry it might find that actually the law was flouted by keeping him in jail for longer than mandated. And that until he violates a law again, he is as free as the next person. As for being alienated or speaking against New Delhi, the government and the opposition leaders in Delhi might find it difficult to find a single Kashmiri in the Valley who does not speak the same language. This should be reason for introspection and a change of attitude, rather than for declaring war on those who do not think in the same way as the ‘nationalists’, a term incidentally often used by some now to justify statements and behaviour that is not exactly in line with the Constitution of India and the law.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a passionate statement in Parliament when wagging his finger at the opposition told them not to teach desh bhakti to him and his party. And that he would look into the matter and ensure justice is done. The opposition before the PM’s reply had also made passionate speeches against the release of Masarat Alam, in a bid to score points against the BJP perhaps, but in a manner that has caused tremendous harm to Jammu and Kashmir at this point in time.

Alam is credited with coining the Go India Go Back slogan that is chanted by every child, is written on walls, and often even on the roads. This is the reality of Kashmir that needs to be recognised by Parliament, and factored into a holistic, mature response. The alienation is palpable, and will not go away by keeping Alam in jail. In fact this show of ‘nationalism’ on display in the media and amongst the government, and sections of the Opposition in particular the Congress party, is extremely damaging as it increases the alienation and the anger amongst the people in the state.

Alam himself was arrested in October, 2010 under the controversial PSA that was used by the National Conference-Congress government at the time to arrest hundreds of young people across Kashmir. The draconian provisions of PSA were invoked for a crime that was little more than pelting stones, with more and more protests breaking out with news of youth being killed in police firing, one by one. Alam lost his father at the age of ten years. He is fluent in English, and a strong orator.

Unfortunately, Alam is a casualty in the Mufti versus Modi face off, that was bound to happen sooner than later. The contradictions between the PDP and the BJP are so many, and so intense, that these will impact on Kashmir with the Alam incident being a case in point. Mufti has consolidated the Kashmiris behind him with this move to release Alam and the political prisoners, and there is no doubt that the BJP has lost support in its Jammu stronghold for not standing up to the “separatist” PDP. Both might---but again might not---emerge from this incident without breaking apart, but in the process the Jammu versus Kashmir confrontation has sharpened dramatically, with Mufti being reviled in the process outside the Valley.

This is certainly not healthy for Jammu and Kashmir. Recent reports suggest that the chief minister has decided to halt the release of political prisoners, again not a happy development as there are many innocents locked up in prisons whose cases need to be reviewed on an urgent footing, and release secured. The issues of law cannot be trampled on by ignorance in Delhi, and the Opposition should certainly study the facts before stirring the waters to create discord and disunity.