Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU: An unexpected camaraderie between the Valley-based mainstream political parties, with the stark exclusion of BJP and its friendly Apni Party, over restoration of Article 370 and 35-A has indeed baffled New Delhi ahead of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir. That the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, rushed all the way to Jammu on the Kashmiri leaders’ first arrival after August 2019 to counter their narrative is an indication of the anxiety in the BJP’s camp.
Obviously, the BJP, Apni Party and a motley group of the young pro-Indian activists would have been the natural beneficiaries of the Kashmir parties’ boycott to the DDC elections which could have further cascading effect on the Assembly elections as and when announced.
An amalgamation of seven parties, including the Congress and the CPI (M), with the National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti at the forefront, was formed on October 15-two days after the last mainstream politician’s release from 14-month-long detention.
The participants resolved to continue their struggle for complete restoration of whatever had been “snatched away” from J&K on August 5, 2019. Farooq asserted that there would be no compromise on restoration of Article 370 and reunification of the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh into the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He said that all the signatories to the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019, had unanimously decided to continue a united struggle and formed Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to achieve the goal.
In a meeting at Mehbooba’s residence, PADG assumed a structural format with Farooq as its chairman, Mehbooba as the vice-chairperson and the Peoples Conference (PC) leader Sajad Lone as the spokesperson. On their first visit to Jammu after August 2019, the Kashmiri leaders on November 7 declared to contest the forthcoming DDC elections jointly.
Days to come will decide how much of support the alliance would generate to its cause in the Buddhist-dominated Ladakh and the Hindu-dominated Jammu. It is like writing on the wall that no party, alliance or agenda of exclusiveness would succeed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even in the PAGD’s core constituency in Kashmir, there are tell-tale signs of scepticism. The key of the so-called Kashmir sentiment still lies with the separatists whom the PAGD calls as ‘stakeholders’. Their control further lies across the border in the west. Both the principal mainstream parties, the NC and the PDP, having surrendered much of their political space to the Hurriyat, none of their leaders has retained charisma or capacity to arrange a gathering of 10,000 people anywhere in the Valley. Thin attendance at Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s funeral was just a statement.
The prospects of New Delhi’s listening to the PAGD leaders and conceding their demands apart, there is a baggage of reminiscences and uncertainties. No political alliance in Kashmir has survived beyond a season of the marriage of conveniences.
Of the seven PAGD parties, Congress is virtually out. It had signed the Gupkar Declaration on August 4, 2019, but has not attended any of the alliance’s meetings after the leaders’ release in October-November 2020. Even before the PAGD announced to contest the DDC elections, the J&K Pradesh Congress Committee president Ghulam Ahmad Mir announced separately on the same day in Jammu that his party had decided to field its candidates. Clearly, the Congress nominees would be fighting not only the BJP but also the PAGD candidates.
CPI (M) leader Tarigami had his base limited to South Kashmir’s Kulgam constituency. Over the years, he has forfeited it substantially either to the outlawed Jamaat-e-Islami or to the NC and the PDP.
PC’s Sajad Lone has retained his influence but it has not transcended beyond the Assembly segments of Handwara and Kupwara. J&K Peoples Movement founder-president Shah Faesal has already resigned from politics and that constituent’s representative Javed Mustafa Mir is heading a one-man party. Awami National Conference, which has never polled 3,000 votes in any election since 1984, is just a filler in the PAGD.
While Lone has clearly directed his tangent of the “divisive forces” attempting to ‘invade and maraud the sacred spaces of democracy’ on the BJP, Farooq, Omar and Mehbooba have intensified their tirade on the same party. Both the principal constituents of PAGD, the NC and the PDP, as also the PC, have been bedfellows with the BJP for a long time.
NC has been stressing on the “difference” between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PDP has been justifying its infidelity while claiming credit for “protecting 370”. There are no takers to such excuses.
NC’s Omar functioned as Minister of State of Commerce and Industries and External Affairs in Vajpayee’s BJP government from October 13, 1999 to December 12, 2002. He did not resign even after the same government turned down J&K Assembly’s NC-sponsored resolution on greater autonomy or when the Gujarat riots occurred in February-March 2002.
If people like Prof. Bhim Singh are to be believed, Mufti Sayeed’s PDP was the creation of BJP’s Vajpayee and L.K. Advani in 1999. He enjoyed extraordinary support from BJP when he headed the PDP-Congress government in J&K in 2002-05.
Even after running a virulent campaign against BJP in the 2014 Assembly elections, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed offered the first foothold to the BJP-RSS combine in Kashmir by forming his government with Modi’s party. He would call him Messiah of the Kashmiris and “toofan kaa aadmi” (a terrific leader). After father’s death in January 2016, Mehbooba too formed her government with Modi’s BJP. She did not move out until she was unceremoniously sacked by the BJP.
Mehbooba and her father turned down unconditional support from Congress and NC when Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar implored the PDP against giving a foothold to BJP-RSS in J&K in 2015. When she said that it was NC’s ruse to “grab the power through backdoor”, Omar clarified publicly that NC would support the PDP from outside and none of his MLAs would join as a Minister. The PDP remained adamant on partnering with the BJP.
In Mufti Sayeed’s and Mehbooba Mufti’s coalition governments, Sajad Lone served as a Cabinet Minister from BJP’s quota. In 2014, PC was BJP’s only pre-poll ally in J&K. Even after Mehbooba’s dismissal, Lone maintained PC’s relationship with the BJP which helped him get the mayoral seat in Srinagar Municipal Corporation.