By Farooq Wani
Clouds of uncertainty have always been hovering over political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) right from the days of Dogra rule and the current situation is no exception. It’s been 14 months since the BJP led NDA government under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi abrogated Article 370, bifurcating the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of J&K and Ladakh.
Though Article 370 had been amended several times by New Delhi with consent of the state governments in the past, but completely scrapping it created a political void in J&K. After the release of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti who was detained along with several other political leaders in August last year, resumption of political processes which have remained largely in limbo since Article 370 was nullified and the region divested of statehood has gained momentum.
A day before the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state on August 5, 2019, leaders of political parties of J&K had met at the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and released a joint statement, called Gupkar Declaration, to safeguard and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of J&K.
Shortly after release of the PDP chief, political parties once again held a meeting at the residence of National Conference president and decided to forge a political alliance for seeking restoration of special status enjoyed by the people of the erstwhile J&K state prior to August 5 last year. Besides Dr Farooq and Omar Abdullah, others who attended this meeting included PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone, Peoples Movement leader Javaid Mir, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami and ANC leader Mohmmad Muzzfar Shah.
This development does not come as any surprise to the people of JK as they have been seeing how major political parties entered into agreements and formed alliances in the past for their own interests and their antics to justify their existence has caused these leaders to lose their political sheen. Sher-e-Kashmir (as Sheikh Mohmmad Abdullah was popularly known), who had created the Plebiscite Front (PF) in 1953, openly started advocating the right to self-determination in 1958 and stressed that until the future of Kashmir was decided, the state’s prospects would remain vulnerable to uncertainty.
After a tumultuous 22 years relationship with the centre, Sheikh Mohmmad Abdullah finally signed the infamous Indira-Sheikh accord in 1972, under which, inter alia, the Sher-e-Kashmir dropped his demand that the people of Kashmir be given the right to self- determination. This agreement was the result of his greed for power that left the people frustrated and confused. The idea of self-determination was theoretically a very good idea but practically implementable and Sheikh Mohmmad Abdullah knew this very well but he still played with public emotions in an effort to manipulate New Delhi.
The leaders who have today formed an alliance were at loggerheads with each other not so long ago and engaged in a turf war for power in J&K and so, this second coming together of political parties with conflicting political views since 1947 under one banner over restoration of Article 370 is clearly an attempt to gain popularity by showing greener pastures to the masses.
“How can political leaders ever sink their differences-especially the Abdullahs and Mufti, who have for long remained implacable political foes in the state,” said a political analyst speaking on conditions of anonymity.
In his recent interview to noted journalist Ashraf Wani of India Today Group, Dr Farooq said “Article 370 will be restored in J&K with China’s help.” On September 24, Dr Farooq Abdullah in another statement said that if you go to J&K and ask people if they are Indians, then people will say that we are not Indians.” Such statements of Dr Farooq reflect an opportunist mind that changes colours just like a chameleon and which seems to be in the DNA of some J&K leaders. By making such statements, Abdullah senior has clearly indicated that since he has nothing to give to the people, he is indulging in rabble rousing to mobilize public sympathy for electoral gains.
Just a few weeks ago, former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed his stand regarding the scrapping of Article 370 by maintaining that he would not contest elections as long as J&K was a Union Territory. His statement drew criticism from several quarters as many visualised that he wanted political parties to reconcile to the loss of constitutional status and focus on the goal of converting the UT back into a state. From this it’s apparent that politicians in J&K are looking for every opportunity to tighten their grip on power and take advantage of the current political crisis, such dynastic leaders are confusing the public with a misplaced sense of nationalism.
But the Abdullahs aren’t the only ones who are power-hungry. Ms Mehbooba, who often made sarcastic remarks about the people like ‘was the youngster going to army camp for taking sweets?’ is in the same category. When her party won only 28 seats in the 2014 J&K assembly elections, she formed an alliance with BJP so that she could become the Chief Minister. Her term was marked by humungous irregularities- the massive J&K bank scam and numerous back door entries in government jobs are glaring examples of her administration. With all these wrongdoings, how can she expect the people to impose trust on her?
Killing of Abdul Gani Lone, a veteran and dynamic politician held in esteem by the people for his honest dealings, paved the way for an opportunist like Sajad Lone to jump into politics and take charge of one faction People’s Conference. With no achievements to his credit and lacking political acumen, Sajad is just keeping afloat due to his late father’s legacy. His attitudinal problem has proved to be a serious handicap due to which he has not been able to spread his influence to other parts of Kashmir.
Lesser known politicians like Muzffar Shah of ANC, Tarigami of CPI(M), Jaivd Mustafa Mir of People’s Movement founded by former IAS officer Shah Faesal (who himself has faded into political oblivion) also joined the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration but since they have not revealed their specific political agenda, it appears that this move is merely to extract political mileage.
Thus, the only aim behind the formation of this alliance seems to be the greed for power and everyone is closing watching the situation to see how these politicians will deliver on their promises and help in making life in Kashmir safer and more prosperous. It would not be out of place to mention that the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ is clearly an alliance of compromise between political foes and with each constituent member secretly trying to outdo the other in wooing voters, this arrangement may not last long.
However, it will be interesting to see how the centre reacts to this development and should this alliance gather momentum, then it will be testing times for NDA leadership.