On Sunday, more than two months after the Government detained Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah in the wake of the revocation of the Article 370, a 15-member delegation of National Conference leaders was finally allowed to meet them. Similarly, a PDP delegation will soon be meeting the similarly detained Mehbooba Mufti on Monday. The visuals showed senior Abdullah in good spirits. Flanked by wife and the other party leaders, Abdullah displayed a victory sign to the cameras. Similarly, Omar too was seen mingling with the party leaders. However, the NC has decided not to participate in the upcoming Block Development Council elections citing detention of the senior leaders. The NC leader Devendra Rana who was part of the delegation has, however, preconditioned any decision on the participation in polls on the release of the leaders.
Similarly, the PDP will be taking a call on the polls. Both parties have demanded the release of leaders and the political activists for the political activities to restart in the state. Some senior BJP leaders have too hinted at the release of the leaders. But there has been an implicit condition to this freedom: The leaders can engage in only normal political activity. And this means they may not be allowed to launch a full-fledged political resistance against the centre’s move to withdraw J&K autonomy. Would the NC and PDP and for that matter smaller parties like People’s Conference and J&K People’s Movement fall in line remains to be seen. Once and when the leaders are released, they will be acutely conscious of the public mood in Kashmir, their core constituency. And they may find it exceedingly difficult to go against it. Doing so may or may not run up against the sentiment on the ground. More so for the NC which was once a product of the political awakening of Kashmiris and once reflected their hopes and aspirations.
And as for polls, the decision to boycott them isn’t difficult to understand. The problem is that polls are not a simple democratic exercise in the Valley. They have a meaning and a dimension that goes beyond the government formation or in case of grassroots exercise like the BDC polls beyond serving the purpose of empowering people. They momentarily challenge the most basic premise of the political conflict in the state: that Kashmiris want out of the system and secede. So participation in polls, all varieties of them, take on several interpretations. While New Delhi sells it as a vote for India, mainstream parties in Kashmir generally a vote for governance, separatists see the voting as a betrayal to their cause if not a support for New Delhi. Now, this time the polls will take yet another interpretation. The participation in them will be seen as an endorsement of the withdrawal of the Article 370. So political parties face a difficult dilemma. But one can hope they will resolve it once all the senior leaders are freed.