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The power to pardon

The release of the Kashmiri separatist leader Masarat Alam by the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed government is not so much a national security crisis as it is a crisis for the relations between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Peoples Democratic Party. The BJP-led government at the Centre tried to hide its embarrassment at the actions of its ally in Jammu and Kashmir by quickly clarifying that it does not agree with the freeing
of Mr. Alam who spearheaded the stone-throwing protests in 2010 that resulted in the death of more than a hundred persons. While the State government was within its rights to revoke the detention under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, the discharge of a Hurriyat hardliner who showed no remorse clearly sent the wrong political signals outside of the Valley. Evidently, in an attempt to stem the negative fallout of its alliance with the BJP, the PDP is seeking to cultivate the Muslim secessionist constituency in Kashmir by showing reluctance to concede to the political sensitivities of the Hindutva party. If the PDP is to retain its core base and political influence in the Valley, it would have to be seen as the dominant partner in the alliance, unyielding to the pulls and pressures of the BJP. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt compelled to say he did not need lessons in patriotism from the opposition is in itself an indication of the stresses and strains that the BJP has come under following Mr. Alam’s release from jail.
While Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed appears ready to test the limits of the BJP’s patience, Mr. Alam’s release is not going to make a solution to the problems in Jammu and Kashmir any easier. The power to pardon must be used as carefully as the power to punish. In terms of impact, the freeing of Mr. Alam could be of the same order as the hanging of Afzal Guru, which further polarised the political situation, making the search for peace and reconciliation that much more difficult. While a solution that would allow Kashmir to return to normality would have to involve discussions with all sections of the people, and necessarily take on board the secessionists and the hardliners, nothing is to be gained by political one-upmanship whether on the part of the PDP or the BJP. Instead of seeking to annul the release of Mr. Alam, the Central government would be better advised to keep him under close watch. New Delhi must also continue to push for a comprehensive dialogue on a solution to the Kashmir issue taking into account the historical context of the dispute and the continuing democratic aspirations of its people. A comprehensive political solution would in one stroke render gestures such as the release of Mr. Alam truly pointless.

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