By slapping Public Safety Act against also former against chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and the other senior leaders of their parties, central and state governments have ensured there is limited political activity in Kashmir in the months to come. This has also made the release of these leaders uncertain in near future and left the field open for a few political players. But even they have not been active on the ground as frequently as would have been enough to generate a perception of political activity.
There are so far two main actors of this politics: Altaf Bukhari and Muzaffar Hussain Beigh. Bukhari, a prominent industrialist of the Valley, was a finance minister in the PDP-BJP coalition that ruled J&K until June 2018 when the BJP withdrew its support.
Beigh, on the other hand, is the PDP patron and its founding member. Though still a member of the PDP, Beigh in recent past has moved his political outlook closer to New Delhi. He has even gone against the president of his party, the former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, criticising her for her old statement that nobody would raise Indian flag in Kashmir if Article 370 were to be withdrawn.
So far as the politics of these leaders is concerned, it is apparent that the statehood and the domicile status are emerging as the main demands for a small group of politicians willing to do business with New Delhi following the revocation of Article 370.
However, they are certain to face resistance from the main regional political forces like National Conference and the PDP who are still holding their ground on the issue of J&K’s autonomy. It is still unclear what form the politics of the two parties takes once their leaders are released. Once released, these politicians could decide to unite and launch a mass movement for the reversal of the revocation of Article 370. Considering the mood in the Valley, such a movement is likely to witness an overwhelming public participation.
This is why seized of the potential implications of the release of the mainstream politicians, New Delhi seems unwilling to take any such step anytime soon. Other than three former chief ministers –Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – centre’s sweep in Kashmir encompasses many major politicians and civil society actors. In all this, Dr Abdullah’s arrest is seen as an act of overreach. He is not only the tallest mainstream leader in J&K but also one of the senior most leaders in the country. He has always stood for the country’s cause in Kashmir and for which he has always been abhorred by separatist groups.
Meanwhile, first signs of some political activity are in evidence with Bukhari and Beigh indicating their willingness to reconcile to J&K’s post-August 5 status. But it will formally restart only when the top leaders like Dr Abdullah, Omar and Mehbooba are released and allowed to hold political meetings and talk to people. And as long as that doesn’t happen anything that centre does in Kashmir may turn out to be a house of cards.