FOCUS JAMMU AND KASHMIR
KS Shankar IHN-NN
SRINAGAR / NEW DELHI: Here is a rare picture of “unity of sworn political enemies” in Jammu and Kashmir. For the first time, some 15 months after the historic abrogation of Article 370 in the region by the Narendra Modi government, three former chief ministers came together and formed an alliance against the Centre’s decision. Their main purpose: launch of a campaign to restore the Special Status that existed in the erstwhile state till August last year. Their unity, as of now, is only limited to a present cause.
Erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, which has now been bifurcated into two Union Territories namely ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ and ‘Ladakh’, was enjoying the Special Status since around the time of India’s Independence. Loss of special status meant loss of special financial and other support to the region from the Centre.
The government decision in August was prompted by the iterations of violence for long years, stone-pelting on security forces by gangs of youths and support to terrorist mayhem being indulged in by trained men sent in by terrorist outfits and the Pakistani military to the Indian side of Kashmir to unsettle life.
The two UTs are now under strict security watch and peaceful after initial few days of protests. Senior politicians who were rounded up and put under house arrest by the Centre in August to ensure peace have recently been released and they are trying to resume political activities in the disturbed region.
A cluster of mainstream political actors assembled at a single podium on October 15 at National Conference (NC) patron Farooq Abdullah’s residence in Srinagar and conveyed the unequivocal message that they were prepared to confront New Delhi head-on and bury their history of mutual fights. They floated the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to achieve their goals vis-à-vis Kashmir.
Former chief minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti met former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah hours after her release from confinement, for confabulations at her residence in Srinagar. Mehbooba and the two Abdullahs belong to politically antagonistic families that lead the public affairs in the region for long.
“This coalition is the brainchild of Farooq Abdullah, 83, and came barely 36 hours after thePDP leader walked free in the evening on October 13 after 14 months of preventive detention,” a senior PDP leader said, sounding optimism the new alliance will prevail.
As many of Mehbooba Mufti’s supporters and critics expected, she gave a fiery speech, accusing New Delhi of “robbery and humiliation” of the people of Kashmir.
The signatories to the People’s Alliance “declaration” were Farooq Abdullah, son Omar, Mehbooba Mufti, Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sajad Lone of the People’s Conference, Muzaffar Shah of the Awami National Conference and Javid Mustafa of the People’s Movement.
The declaration advocates a constitutional battle for the restoration of the rights that the people of Jammu and Kashmir held before August 5, 2019, though the signatories have hinted at broader goalposts, stressing the need for a dialogue with all stakeholders of the Kashmir conflict.
HISTORIC AUGUST 5
On August 5, 2019, the National Democratic Alliance government ended Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status as guaranteed under Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution. A spate of arrests and detentions followed.
The newly designated Union Territories are yet to elect a government so far, some two years after a split in the PDP-BJP combine led to imposition of President’s rule on the troubled region.
The massive crackdown by the Centre after abrogation of the controversial Article saw high speed internet being cut from the residents of the Valley, while mobile connectivity was allowed only on need basis. Mobile internet services were restored in Kashmir in January. Jammu region is Hindu-dominated and generally peaceful, while the Kashmir region is volatile mainly due to support to militancy from across the border. The Pakistani military intelligence, ISI, is seen to be working from behind to create trouble for India in Kashmir Valley, and the local inhabitants are caught between the push by the militants-terrorists on the side and the Indian security forces on the other side.
WHAT GUPKAR DECLARATION SAYS
A reiteration of the ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ says the alliance would fight for the restoration of full statehood and special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. It states that “any modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”. The same statement was reiterated on August 22 this year.
The original Gupkar Declaration by these parties, on August 4, 2019, had anticipated the Centre’s move to repeal J and K’s special status the next day and vowed to fight for its protection.
The NC, the PDP, the People’s Conference, the Awami National Conference, the J and K People’s Movement and CPI (M) have reiterated their earlier pledge, while the Awami Ittehad Party and the People’s Democratic Front too have declared their support for the common cause.
The coming together of the rival regional parties is strange and significant as this is no electoral alliance, but is limited to a political meeting point on the status of Kashmir. It is a result of the perception that politics in Jammu and Kashmir is a face-off with the Centre and a reflection of increased Kashmiri alienation from the national mainstream.
Several local journalists were skeptical about the People’s Alliance, describing it as a self-serving attempt by a discredited band of politicians who had outlived their utility to their political masters in New Delhi.
While it is true that the Abdullahs and the Muftis have spent their public lives focused fully on the cosmetics of electoral politics, which invariably legitimised New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir, and seldom or never articulated a morally forceful argument on behalf of the Kashmiri cause, these are extraordinary times in Kashmir.
CENTRE ACTS TOUGH
On October 27, the Centre notified a new land law that enables anyone living outside Jammu and Kashmir to purchase land in the Union Territory; something that was not allowed under the Special Status.
But how will the new alliance work? It brings together the two oldest political rivals in the Kashmir Valley — the Muftis and the Abdullahs. Mehbooba Mufti’s father, Mufti Mohd Saeed, was the Union home minister around the 1990 period when militancy started raising its lethality in Kashmir Valley. Mufti Saeed was the principal political rival to Farooq Abdullah. In later years, after Mufi’s demise, his daughter came upfront. Farooq shifted to New Delhi to occupy ministerial positions at the Centre in association with the Congress, while his son, Omar, took centre stage in National Conference politics in Jammu and Kashmir. The National Conference, founded by Farooq’s father Sheikh Abdullah, first chief minister of the state, and the PDP founded by Mufti Mohd Saeed are the principal political establishments in the state.
According to Naeem Akhtar, veteran People’s Democratic Party leader, the People’s Alliance is a “landmark” in Jammu and Kashmir’s political history. “Perhaps for the first time since 1947, a democratic constitutional resistance is shaping up in Kashmir,” he said. “This is not separatism. This is stressing for our rights within the Constitution. Ours is a constitutional battle and in that, it’s a resistance.”
He acknowledged that the alliance still had to win popular support in Jammu and Kashmir. “I think this is for the first time that the mainstream [the term used to describe political parties that have traditionally contested elections in Kashmir] is clearly siding with the people’s sentiment,” he said. “But it will depend on how we work and our conduct.”
Senior National Conference leader Nasir Aslam Wani felt the alliance was a natural response to the situation. “It’s not a personal or political agenda to fulfill, but just a collective response to what we have lost on August 5, 2019,” he explained. “It’s not the first time it has happened and it will not be the last time. When people in Ladakh can do it, when people in other places can do it. why can’t we get together? We have seen the worst of enemies get together for a common cause. I don’t know why some people are surprised with this.”
In Ladakh, a range of political parties and socio-religious organisations had united to form a “People’s Movement” to demand Sixth Schedule status for the snowy, mountainous region. The Constitutional provision ensures special protections and a degree of autonomy for tribal areas. The loose political grouping even threatened to boycott local autonomous district council polls until the Centre said it was willing to discuss Sixth Schedule status.
The younger leaders of the NC and the PDP express satisfaction that they have been able to create a space for the mainstream. Imran Nabi Dar of the NC said: “People are looking at the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration as a potent and effective political body, one whose core agenda is to restore the dignified life of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.”
Aijaz Mir, a former PDP MLA from Wachi, claimed that the Alliance was “working on the ground”. However, such an assertion has also raised skepticism about the Alliance’s objective: Is the attempt just to cobble up a platform to redeem its politics or is it to make well-planned and calibrated moves involving the large-scale mobilisation of people to highlight the autocratic and morally brittle face of the Narendra Modi government to an audience in India and abroad?
Will the constituent parties show the emotional resilience to sacrifice themselves politically and shun elections? Can they handle their grave disagreements? Why did it take the seasoned Farooq Abdullah so long to assemble this coalition? Did Mehbooba Mufti’s belligerence, voiced as soon as she was released, have something to do with the suddenness with which the NC acted? These are big questions being discussed in the public realm in the national capital. –IHN-NN
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