Setting aside their ideological differences, the mainstream camp in Kashmir has joined hands to form an alliance for protecting the “unique identity, autonomy and special status” of Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing a press conference after a key meeting of the Valley’s political stalwarts at his Srinagar residence on 15 October, Thursday, Dr Farooq Abdullah, National Conference president and former union minister, said New Delhi must resolve the issue of J&K politically.
“We will reach out to people in all the regions. The issue of J&K can be resolved only through dialogue with all the stakeholders,” said Dr Abdullah, while demanding immediate release of all political prisoners held in the aftermath of the abrogation of the Article 370 last year.
He said the contours of the alliance will be formalised in coming days.
Political Climate Warms
Two days earlier, the revocation of the Public Safety Act against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, and her subsequent release from house detention, had set the ball rolling for the resumption of political process in Kashmir around the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ whose signatories include two national and four regional parties termed ‘Kashmir’s G6’.
After her arrest on 4 August 2019, Mehbooba was booked under section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Six months later, she was slapped with Public Safety Act which was extended by three more months recently.
Mehbooba, who was the last chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir before the state was downgraded and bifurcated into two Union Territories by the central government last year, spent one year, two months and ten days in three different jails of Srinagar.
Senior PDP leaders had petitioned the UT government to give them permission for meeting her. In the last leg of her detention, she was confined to her Fairview residence in Srinagar’s upscale Gupkar locality where only her immediate family members were allowed.
Immediately after her release, Mehbooba released an audio message on Twitter, vowing to “take back” from New Delhi what was “unconstitutionally and undemocratically” snatched from Kashmir, in a reference to the abrogation of the Article 370 which she termed as a “black day”.
Sticking to her party’s soft-separatist politics, Mehbooba said: “Not only the restoration of the Article 370, we will strive for the resolution of Kashmir issue. We can’t forget the dacoity and humiliation of that day (5 August 2019).... Now that I have been freed, I wish the people of Jammu and Kashmir languishing in different jails of the country are also released.”
On Thursday, Mehbooba visited the graveyard of her father and former chief minister of J&K Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in Anantnag’s Bijbehara locality. She was accompanied by senior party leaders. A senior police officer said adequate security arrangements were made to facilitate the visit.
Changing Winds of Politics
A day after Mehbooba’s release on 13 October, Tuesday, dozens of party leaders, activists and workers visited her Gupkar residence to felicitate their leader. But the most important guests to drop by were Dr Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah.
According to Omar, the father-son duo enquired about the well-being of the PDP chief. PDP sources said the senior Abdullah also invited her to his residence where the meeting took place among the signatories of the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ including CPI(M) General Secretary Yusuf Tarigami, JKPM leader Javed Mustafa Mir and JK Awami National Conference leaders.
The two key faces who were missing from Thursday’s meeting called by Dr Farooq are Shah Faesal, who had quit politics, and Engineer Rashid, who is languishing in Tihar Jail on terror funding charges. GA Mir, J&K Congress chief, also didn’t attend the meeting due to medical reasons.
All six major political parties including Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference are signatories of the Gupkar Declaration which binds them “to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status against all attacks and onslaughts.”
Although senior Abdullah, Mehbooba and others seem determined to put up a “joint fight” for restoration of the Article 370, well-placed sources said there is a growing difference of opinion in the National Conference about the future course the party might adopt in view of New Delhi’s 5 August decision.
“One camp (in NC) believes that the party must not wed itself to the cause where it might end up ceding its unique political identity and space to other parties while as the other camp is calling for putting up a united front against New Delhi’s Machiavellian moves on J&K,” sources said.
However, senior PDP leader and former J&K minister Naeem Akhtar said all the parties must put up a united front to undo the constitutional changes post Article 370 revocation.
“Future is a struggle beyond power goals in traditional sense. PDP will be part of all joint measures. Our ultimate objective is resolution of the problems ensuring rights of the people of J&K,” Akhtar said.
During her detention period, PDP sources said Mehbooba was approached by at least half dozen “high level functionaries” of the UT as well as central government to convince her to accept the constitutional changes of J&K post 5 August 2019.
“She however refused and paid a price for it. Her detention was prolonged and even her family members were not allowed to meet her on many occasions. But she has stood her ground,” a senior PDP leader said, wishing anonymity.
The drubbing suffered by the mainstream political parties, particularly by the PDP for allying with the BJP post 2014 assembly elections of J&K, and generally by everyone else in Kashmir after the Article 370 revocation, has eroded the political base of Mehbooba.
In coming days, political observers see Mehbooba becoming a “more radical” version of herself to resuscitate her party which has also faced over dozen defections of senior leaders after her government was unceremoniously toppled by the BJP in 2018.
“The PDP had aligned itself with the vision of the BJP for J&K after their alliance in 2014 but after the 5 August move, we are going to see a more radical Mehbooba in coming days and her politics will be centred around soft-separatism and political resolution of Kashmir issue,” a senior analyst, who didn’t want to be named, said.
Such a strategy, said the analyst, may revive her party’s political fortunes and also put more pressure on the other mainstream parties in Kashmir like National Conference to adopt a more confrontational rather than reconciliatory strategy with New Delhi.
“When she would bash New Delhi, there will be fewer options for other parties who are also struggling to strike a chord with their constituents. This is only going to increase the headache for the central government in coming days,” the analyst said.
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