End of soft separatism

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Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s long speech in Assembly put up a strong defence of the PDP-BJP coalition. But more importantly the speech was intended to yet again clear doubts about PDP’s ideological leanings and show the party more closer to New Delhi than National Conference. One would have never thought that flaunting Indianness could be a politically correct move for a mainstream political party in Kashmir. But Mehbooba seemed to prove otherwise. After years of disingenuous rhetoric geared to project themselves as disguised separatist outfits, mainstream political parties in Valley are becoming less shy about parading their pro-India credentials. Forget the once shrill rhetoric about self-rule, the soft separatist narrative plied by the ruling PDP to mobilize people in the run up to every election or between them when in opposition. Now the competition between the two major regional parties of the state, PDP and NC seems to be about which party is more Indian by conviction.  In its five years in power in coalition with Congress, NC had all but shelved its vaunted autonomy agenda. And PDP which once privileged self-rule for Kashmir over and above its other party planks has now steadily moved to an embrace of India to curry favour with BJP, so vital to the success of its coalition government with the party.

 In the eighteen years of its existence, PDP has grown into a viable state-level political entity which has gradually dislodged National Conference from its monopolistic position in the state.  And it has done this by spinning a quasi-separatist political narrative about itself and backing it by an aggressive street mobilization. 

 PDP’s  momentous journey began in 2002 – just four years after its creation in 1998  – when against all expectations, it won 16 seats in valley and formed government in alliance with the Congress.  This was the first time that National Conference lost the power in Kashmir through a democratic vote. Thereafter, the party went from strength to strength in six years in power, finetuning along the way a robust political agenda and the identity.

 The 2008 Assembly elections saw the party advancing its tally from 16 to 21 seats, thereby cementing its standing as an established political party. Its probable second shy at power fell through after the Congress switched loyalty to NC. This, however, hardly dented the party’s enhanced political standing in the state.

 But if anything set the party apart and gave it a distinct identity was its self rule agenda. It advocated a drastic redefining of the Kashmir ’s relations with New Delhi in a broader politico-economic framework involving Pakistan. The party sought a constitutional restructuring, dual currency, roll-back of central laws applicable to the state, an elected governor, even the renaming of the titles of governor and chief minister as sadar-i-riyasat (president) and the prime minister respectively.  

Mehbooba speech in Assembly, however, was an effort to redefine the PDP’s identity as a party that has always stood for   India in Kashmir.  “Mufti Sahab always used to say that Sheikh sahib despite being a popular leader of Muslim majority J&K decided to join hands with India in 1947 at a time when religious affiliations mattered. But Sheikh Sahab took the difficult step which was right and is evident from the fact that other Muslim majority places are facing plethora of problems. This proves that this decision was right for J&K”.  This almost implies as if no problem has confronted Kashmir over the past 70 years. Or more particularly for the past 26 years.

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