NC vs NC? J&K Domicile Rules Expose Cracks in State’s Oldest Party

The notification of domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir has, for the first time, brought to the fore the simmering disquiet within the recently created Union Territory’s oldest political party, the National Conference (NC), headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah.

An oped authored by Tanvir Sadiq, former chief minister and de-facto party head Omar Abdullah’s political advisor, which talked about ‘reconciliation’ with the idea of Jammu and Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370, visibly riled up Ruhullah Mehdi, senior leader and the party’s chief spokesperson.

In his defence, Ruhullah said the oped has hurt the party’s image. “Being the advisor, his view is being taken as the view of Omar Abdullah. It has hurt the party’s image and now questions are being raised,” he said.

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In his piece, Sadiq had urged the central government to restore high-speed internet and “let” the political processes resume in Jammu and Kashmir, without mentioning the abrogation of Article 370, that forms the bedrock of the National Conference’s autonomy plank.

Adding to the rumour-filled air in the Valley is the mysterious departure of Omar from his relatively safer Gupkar environs in Srinagar to the Red Zones of the National Capital amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

A “movement pass” issued to Omar by the Jammu and Kashmir government stated that he is visiting New Delhi for “health purposes”. But the NC working president, who underwent detention for months post Article 370 abrogation, is not publicly known to suffer from any health ailment.

Both Ruhullah and Sadiq belong to the influential Shia sect. Ruhullah’s father, Aga Syed Mehdi, a respected Shia cleric who fought the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, was assassinated in a powerful IED blast on 3 November 2000.

Churn in Mainstream

The churn in the National Conference is a reflection of the building crisis in the mainstream camp of Jammu and Kashmir, even as the BJP-led central government keeps pushing its ‘Naya Kashmir’ policy.

Post the Article 370 abrogation, the mainstream camp is being slowly recast with several leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress quitting their camps to join Apni Party, recently floated by the former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Altaf Bukhari.

Among those who joined Bukhari are NC’s Vijay Bakaya and Syed Asgar Ali, PDP’s Dilawar Mir and Zaffar Iqbal Manhas and Congress’ Usman Majid and Shoaib Lone among others.

As per rumours, Bukhari is camping in the National Capital since two months and the latest buzz in various circles, including media, is that the central government is planning to set up an advisory council for Jammu and Kashmir LG, GC Murmu, headed by Bukhari, to fill the political vacuum in the Union Territory.

The contours of the ‘advisory council’ have not been spelled out. Political observers see it as an attempt by the central government to “build pressure” on the NC, PDP and other parties to “accept the new reality” and “move on”.

Also Read: Promise of Jobs to J&K Youth Post-370: Why Has Centre ‘Defaulted’?

‘False Rumours’

Bukhari, one of the most visible faces of the previous PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir, however, dismisses the rumours of advisory council formation.

“It is a joke. It is not even worth writing about,” Bukhari, the former minister, told The Quint. Asked why his name was being linked to the ‘advisory council’, he responded: “Those spreading these false rumours will know. How would I?”

Dr Ajaz Ashraf Wani, a political scientist who teaches at the University of Kashmir, said New Delhi has been propping up leaders or political parties in Jammu and Kashmir when the existing leaders grow ‘too big for their shoes’.

“Dr Farooq once remarked that if you want to be in power, you have to be on the right of the centre, so his silence at this crucial juncture in Jammu and Kashmir’s history is very meaningful,” Dr Ajaz said.

The Legal Battle

The National Conference leaders, who spoke with The Quint, said the “outburst” of Ruhullah who, after criticising Sadiq changed his Twitter bio from NC’s chief spokesperson to three time Jammu and Kashmir legislator, is an “outcome of his personal anguish” over the state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir.

“You should not read too much into it,” a senior NC leader, who did not want to be named, said.

“Both (Ruhullah and Sadiq) are well regarded leaders of the party and they can have their opinion on important matters. However, as has been clarified by the working president (Omar), these are personal opinions and have nothing to do with the party.”

However, others, like Ruhullah, feel that the party is losing ground with its “conspicuous silence.”

“Can we afford to remain silent when New Delhi has launched an onslaught on Jammu and Kashmir? Is it the fear of aggressive posturing by the BJP or an excuse to avoid confronting New Delhi, or both? If a politician doesn’t speak politics, what is his job then?” said a senior NC leader, who wished to remain anonymous.

Meaningful Silence

Despite repeated attempts, the NC president Dr Farooq and son Omar, who both have taken an oath of silence in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani, could not be reached for comments.

“We are not silent,” the party spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar told The Quint.

“We have vigorously opposed the implementation of the new domicile laws and will continue to do so. We are fighting a legal battle in the Supreme Court, so there is no question of remaining silent,” he added.

“We are bound by the Gupkar declaration. Once our party president is released, we will decide on the future course of action,” PDP leader Waheed Parra, who is under house-arrest, said.

Asked about the advisory council formation, Parra said, “Anything is possible in Kashmir today because the will of the people has ceased to exist.”

Another NC leader said, “The prevailing crisis demands that the parties should look beyond parochial differences and come together. We still have time but we are allowing the fear of New Delhi to get the better of us.”

Dr Ajaz believes the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir can fight it out and “mould their politics” according to the prevailing situation.

“Either they (political parties) must speak out when monumental changes are being affected in Jammu and Kashmir with great earnestness, or what is happening will become a permanent reality. New Delhi is consistent in its position, that the hands of the ‘clock can’t be turned back’.”

“If Delhi hasn’t announced any truce, why should the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir? Not speaking about this issue will be seen as surrender,” Dr Ajaz said.

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