Jammu and Kashmir: New political alliance in Kashmir can help in starting democratic process
Signifying the beginning of the political process, six non-BJP parties have come together to demand the “return to the people of the state the rights they held before August 5, 2019”
It was unusual for the arch- rivals former chief ministers Abdullahs (Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah) of the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP posing for a photo last week in Srinagar. It was Mehbhooba’s father and former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who said it was the coming together of the North Pole and the South Pole when his party the PDP had an alliance with the BJP to form the government in 2017. Now the Abdullahs and Muftis, the two influential families have come together on account of their political compulsion.
Signifying the beginning of the political process, six non- BJP parties had come together to demand the “return to the people of the state the rights they held before August 5, 2019.” Dr. Farooq Abdullah claimed that “Our battle is a constitutional battle,” He also clarified “At the same time, we feel the political issue of the state has to be resolved as quickly as possible” and “that can be resolved only through dialogue with all the stakeholders who are involved in the problem of J&K.”
Analysts say that this new alliance could be a formidable political combination if it works. It is a very big “IF” as Kashmiris had never stuck together.
On August 4, 2019, the new alliance, named after Gupkar, vowed to protect Kashmir’s special status. One year later, on August 22 this year, they met again to renew the pledge. The formal alliance was announced after Mehbooba Mufti was released after 14 months of detention last week. Besides the National Conference leaders, PDP chief Mehboobha Mufti, Peoples Conference chief Sajad Lone as well as leaders of the Awami National Conference and People’s Movement were present.
The new alliance is still evolving. The parties have come together for a broader cause as it gives them a platform. They are not like-minded politically but they have no option but to unite. Its organizational structure will be discussed in the next meeting. The first major step is unity and the rest will be decided as it evolves according to insiders who hope that this combination would win in the next elections if they put up joint candidates.
There were no political activities in the state for the past one-year after on August 5, 2019, the Parliament enacted a law revoking the special status for Jammu and Kashmir and also bifurcated the state. It also replaced Article 35 A to define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi had claimed that these measures would help bring peace and development to the region after three decades of conflict.
Post abrogation of Article 370 Jammu and Kashmir has been in a state of siege and lockdown. The political leaders were detained and the lockdown has directly impacted all facets of life. Schools and colleges are closed. The health sector has taken a massive hit and overburdened with the Covid cases. It was indeed a double whammy for them.
Will the alliance find acceptance among the people of the state?
They have lost faith in political parties and also with the State and Central governments. Many are convinced that the demand for restoration of special status would only become an electoral plank for the People’s Alliance as they have gradually reconciled to the new situation.
The test before the Abdullahs and Mehbooba will be to gain back the trust of the people and also strengthen parties. The next Assembly polls and the delimitation are linked and no one knows when the polls will be held.
The Centre’s initiative to create and hold direct elections to the district councils is a new experiment. The plan is to divide each district into 14 territorial constituencies and hold direct elections for the councils, which will replace the District Development Boards. The MLAs will be members of this council but their powers will be diluted. If it works it will be gross root level governance.
No doubt there is urgent need to address the Kashmir problem at the domestic and international level. It is a welcome step to start the political process and probably both these initiatives could help achieve that. However, the political parties and the government need to bridge the trust deficit. Holding Assembly elections and processes for the restoration of statehood might also help the process. Delhi has to think it wants to revive democratic process. Some experts feel that unless we go back to the 1996 model the problem will continue. Above all the government should also resume the dialogue process with Pakistan. The Pakistan issue needs to be addressed urgently as it is linked with bringing back normalcy in Kashmir.