IN a joint declaration on Saturday, six J&K parties including Congress expressed their resolve to fight for restoration of Article 370 that granted J&K its autonomous status within Indian Union. Contrary to a subdued political stance adopted by these parties over the loss of special constitutional status during last several months, the language of the joint statement was aggressive and evocative. The use of words like, ‘spiteful,’ ‘pain,’ ’short-sighted,’ etc was a clear attempt to appeal to a deep sense of hurt and humiliation among people in the Valley over the erasure of a cherished autonomy. And to that end, the statement may have satisfied a large section of population.
But the real challenge for these parties lies ahead. By coming out with a hardline statement, they have set the bar high. And a credible follow-up activity is what will be needed in weeks and months to come for the people to take these parties on their word.
Is this activity possible? Not necessarily. By now the New Delhi has made its redlines in Kashmir amply known. Going by the situation over the past year, the centre is unlikely to countenance any public expression of dissent that seeks to involve people. And as a probable consequence of this policy, the J&K parties like National Conference, the PDP and the People’s Conference that have been at the receiving end of the administration’s unsparing assault over the last year have stayed short of calling for a public resistance against Article 370 move. There has been no call for a hartal, a peaceful protest a political rally or at least an attempt to hold a press conference.
The BJP has already trashed the joint statement terming it as day-dreaming. Its state president Ravinder Raina said the reversal of the move was impossible.
“The restoration of Articles 370 & 35(A) is next to impossible. Due to these Articles, J&K has suffered for decades and they gave rise to terrorism, separatism and strengthened the Pakistani agenda and as such, they won”t be restored at any cost,” Raina said, addressing party workers at Sialsui village of Kalakote in Rajouri district. “Kashmir-based leaders are doing nothing except daydreaming as they are feeling restless to return to the corridors of power to enjoy all luxuries for themselves and their near and dear ones”.
Ironically enough the six parties that were a part of the joint statement represent almost the entire mainstream politics of J&K. And so what these parties are saying, in effect, articulates the predominant majority of the public opinion in the union territory. Significantly, the statement also includes Congress, the national party.
So, the statement deserved to be taken seriously. But it won’t. And the problem is not the BJP alone but the new political consensus on Kashmir across the country that treats the withdrawal of Article 370 as a fait accompli. For example, even Congress at the national level is not against reading down of Kashmir’s special status, its opposition is just to the manner of doing it.
Do Kashmiri parties have thus any chance of mounting an effective resistance against the loss of J&K’s autonomy, one that would force any rethink on the move by the centre. There is no realistic chance of this happening until there is a fundamental shift in the political realities of the country – a part of it driven by the changing geopolitics of the region. And this shift appears a long shot under the circumstances.
This makes the joint statement little more than symbolic in its significance, a political gesture to keep the people in good humour. The demand for restoration of autonomy could stay as part of the agenda of the parties as they go about their normal political activities just like autonomy and self rule agenda of the National Conference and the PDP.
How will New Delhi deal with the joint statement? It has so far deigned it not even worthy of acknowledgement let alone react to it. And going by the amount of thought that has gone into the centre’s Article 370 move and the subsequent far-reaching measures, it has already prepared itself for all the contingencies including an antagonistic response from the establishment parties: by downgrading J&K into a union territory that lets the centre directly control the minutest affairs of the former state.
The only way the mainstream parties could have undone some of the damage being inflicted by the various administrative and legislative changes over the last year was if J&K were a state and they could form a majority government. But in a union territory even if they secure a landslide majority in any future election, they will be subservient to the Lieutenant Governor. And this is also why it is highly unlikely that New Delhi will restore the statehood to J&K anytime soon – at least not until the centre is certain that no Kashmiri party or parties either individually or collectively are in position to undo any law or order passed during Lieutenant Governor’s rule. This will be possible once Jammu is given a parity and subsequently a majority role in a future state Assembly.
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