NEW DELHI: India’s annexation of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug 5 last year aims to change its demography by reducing Muslims to a minority, according to former chief minister Omar Abdullah. The Wire news portal quoted him on Thursday as saying that two months into his detention in October, Abdullah was told by the Modi government that if he signed a bond pledging silence “for the foreseeable future” on all developments in the state, he would be released immediately.

In an interview to The Wire from Srinagar via video call on Wednesday, Mr Abdullah spoke about the fears people in the valley have about the BJP-led government at the Centre attempting to change the demographic balance in the state were not unfounded.

“There are genuine concerns, real concerns,” he said, adding that if one were “to take a straw poll of all the domicile certificates that have been issued since this new law came into being and see the religious breakup in those between Muslim and non-Muslim, I think that will prove to you that these concerns are not misplaced.”

Mr. Abdullah said it would “take a long time to convert J&K from a Muslim majority to a Muslim minority state”, but “the intent under which they are operating will be very clear to everybody… Otherwise, why would you tinker with our domicile law?” He said the comparison between the Centre’s approach to J&K and Ladakh on the issue of domicile law was revealing: “Please remember that on 31st October, two union territories (UT) came into existence – the UT of J&K and the UT of Ladakh. Why is it that you are in such a tearing hurry to give a domicile law to the UT of J&K and not one to the UT of Ladakh? You should have given the same domicile law to the UT of Ladakh — so that the children of officers, soldiers, paramilitaries and those who have done their 10th and 12th class exams in Ladakh can apply for domicile and buy land and stay there.

“But you haven’t done that because you fear the reaction from the Buddhist population of Ladakh, whereas you are not bothered about how the population of J&K reacts.”

Mr Abdullah said he was asked to keep quiet if he wanted to be freed. “The magistrate came with his rubber stamp and his pen, assuming that I would sign it quite happily and run away. And he gave me the bond and said you sign this and you can leave, and the bond says that I will remain silent on all developments in J&K subsequent to Aug 5, 2019, for the foreseeable future. Which is basically tantamount to saying I will no longer be a politician.

“I said no, I am not going to sign this bond because to sign it silences me for the future.” Formally rearrested under the draconian Public Safety Act in February after six months of preventive detention, Omar challenged his incarceration in the supreme court. He was finally released by the government on March 24 this year, without the court taking a decision on his petition.

With the first anniversary of the Modi government’s decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status approaching, Mr Abdullah, who is also a leader of the National Conference, said it was hard to imagine what space remained for mainstream parties in the Valley’s polity. For now, the NC has resolved to fight matters out in the supreme court, where it has challenged the scrapping of Article 370 and 35A of the constitution and the abolition of J&K’s statehood.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020