Shifting Sands Of J&K Politics

The joint statement issued by the signatories of Gupkar Declaration has ushered a political scenario that finds parallels in the political history of J&K

Basit Amin Makhdoomi

FINALLY, the signatories of the now famous Gupkar Declaration have spoken and seem to have spoken in one voice. In a statement titled “Gupkar Declaration II” issued to the press, they have vowed to fight collectively against the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The parties, in a joint statement, described the Centre’s decision to alter the region’s status under Article 370 of the Constitution as “grossly unconstitutional” and a “measure to disempower” people of the former state. The parties have unequivocally and unanimously reiterated that there can be ‘nothing about us without us’.

It was only a few weeks back that Mr Omar Abdullah had opened up about the thought process he seems to have evolved with regard to the developments that happened on 5th August 2019. His statement that he won’t contest elections till J&K continues to remain a UT earned him a lot of brickbats. Many criticised this statement of his claiming it to be a fait accompli to the developments that were unilaterally forced by the centre on the hapless citizens of J&K. Though Omar Abdullah in his subsequent interview tried clarifying his position, but damage seems to have been done, with his party’s Chief Spokesperson Aga Ruhullah Mehdi resigning, citing his difference of opinion. The opinion aired by Mr Abdullah was not the only disappointment people have had to witness. The exit of Mr Shah Faesal and the quietus that the released mainstream leaders had adopted, all failed to meet the expectations of the common masses. But the issuance of this joint statement by the political parties seem to spell a fresh showdown between political dynamics of J&K and New Delhi.

Insights into our past

The times we are made to live in since August 2019 remind us of the times Kashmir and its political pilots already seem to have tasted way back in 1953. Back then, the central government in Delhi defenestrated a popular government of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah under the garb of Kashmir Conspiracy Case. The Kashmir Conspiracy case was the legal case filed by Government of Kashmir under which Sheikh Abdullah and others were arrested and jailed. Sheikh Abdullah along with twenty two other leaders were accused of conspiracy against the state for allegedly espousing the cause of an independent Kashmir. The case was framed in 1958 only to be withdrawn in 1964 as a diplomatic decision.

This event severely dented his camaraderie and trust for New Delhi and Pandit Nehru. So infuriated was he with the centre that he started regretting and rethinking his decision of his providing the requisite popular backing of the accession of J&K with India. In 1958, in a lengthy statement, Abdullah openly started advocating right of self-determination and emphasized that until the future of Kashmir is decided, the future of the state would be protected against uncertainty and economic degradation. Following this humiliation from Delhi, Abdullah was only left with the option to either compromise his ego or to fight for the stature of his political future which had been promised to him. Not surprisingly, when he decided to take New Delhi head on, he had to face a long and incessant period of incarceration.

After dismissing Sheikh and imprisoning him, New Delhi propped up several of its proxies to legitimise its indirect rule on J&K. These proxies enjoyed minimal autonomy, were largely unpopular and were rarely consulted of larger issues confronting the state. These proxies were also tasked to project Delhi’s case among the masses in Kashmir and creating an environment which would lead to the rejection of Sheikh Abdullah’s idea of Kashmir Politics. It was in this context that on July 29, 1953 in a public meeting at Kulgam, the then PM Ghulam Mohammad

Bakshi declared:

“Since Kashmir voluntarily decided to become part of India, nothing has happened to alter our faith in the correctness of our decision. Large majority of our people continue to stand by that decision and I have no doubt that they will defend the decision against any attacks that emanate from any quarter within or without the State.”

These times witnessed frequent onslaughts on the constitutional status of J&K. This period also stands a testimony to the unilateral dilutions made by the centre on the promises and assurances it had furnished at the time of signing the holy document of instrument of accession. The state’s autonomy faced severe erosion and there was an extensive use of force to crush dissidence of any form.

All this while, Sher-e-Kashmir, as Sheikh Abdullah was popularly known, evolved Plebiscite front in 1955 with an objective for conducting political activities and mobilising people for struggle. While Abdullah commanded the loyalty of its members and guided its politics, Mirza Afzal Beg remained the titular president. With Sheikh’s bitterness for Delhi at its nadir, this front headed by his most trusted lieutenant Mirza Mohd Afzal Beg, principally sought a plebiscite in Kashmir as had been promised in consonance with the resolutions passed by the UNSC. The common slogans of the Front were ye mulk hamara hai, is ka faisla ham karein gay (This country is ours, its future will be decided by us); Rai shumari forun karoa (Hold Plebiscite immediately). Apart from taking a firm stand of boycotting elections till its demands were met, Plebiscite Front also served as a principal opposition to all the Governments installed by Delhi. However, this stand enabled easy election for dummy National Conference candidates, patronised by the Government of India. Thus in the elections of  1957 and 1962 which were held under State Government, the official machinery was unaccountably used to favour candidates of ruling party.

Sheikh Abdullah continued to tread this strenuous path for a very long duration only to take a pragmatic view of things much later in 1972. In 1972, after 22 years of tussle, Sheikh Abdullah signed the infamous Indira-Sheikh accord, under which inter-alia Sheikh Abdullah dropped his demand that the people of Kashmir be given the right to self-determination. Reality seemed to have dawned upon him that he had little choice to opt from following the consolidation of India’s Global might post 1971 Indo-Pak war.

His change of mind on his rigid stand on Kashmir’s Right to self-determination, autonomy and restoration of pre-1953 status became known by his interview to London Times in 1972 when he stated:

Our dispute with the Indian Government was not on accession but with regard to the quantum of internal autonomy. Nobody should forget that we were the people who brought Kashmir to India who otherwise could have never become part of India.

Even though the terms of this accord were deeply unpopular, Sheikh Abdullah had to swallow the bitter pill. He acknowledged the fact of his diminished bargaining power against Delhi’s might and that treading this path might keep him out of power till kingdom come.

Therefore, the Plebiscite Front that had once envisioned and promised a plebiscite to the masses of J&K was merged with National Conference and Sheikh was installed as the CM of J&K with the then incumbent immediately resigning on the diktat from New Delhi.

A Possible Rerun of History

Looking at the options that had been left on the table for our mainstream in J&K, the most convenient among the few is the embracement of the centre backed clarion calls of “Restore statehood & conduct elections”. This might save them from the long and arduous battle that people and propriety expects from them. Moreover, this option also offers the comforts of clinching the power throne supplanted by the probable backdoor benevolence of the centre.

The other rigorous option is to espouse the popular sentiment and fight for a diluted version of the special status for the state of J&K. This option, though a tough one, is not a hypothetical and unreal one; keeping in view the Sons of the Soil theory reignited by the CM of Madhya Pardesh, Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The recent developments in the state of Nagaland and the stand taken during the ongoing Naga talks may further be used to buttress the cause.

The last and gruelling option on the table is to seek a watertight restoration of Pre 5 Aug 2019 status or a clean status quo ante. Espousing this option needs a lot of courage, patience and perseverance. This option might delay, for years, one’s ambitions to seek power and might also accompany draconian consequences. There is also a possibility of Delhi trying to write down your political obituary by tying you up in tangles through which you might never see light and our history is a testimony to this fact. This option also prescribes to rigorously pursue the matters pending before the Apex Court and hope for a favourable adjudication. This is because, politically, it seems improbable that the things done by the parliament will be undone or revoked even if power changes hands at Delhi.

Since the adherents of the Gupkar Declaration by their fresh statement seemed to have opted to up their ante and fight for a Pre 5 Aug 2019 status, only time will tell how many adherents will remain steadfast in their resolve and pursue this cause. With even a little laxity in their zest and zeal, J&K might be forced to witness a rerun of its painful historical past of making compromises.

Lastly, it will be unfair to blame history for all your failures and future machinations you tend to adopt. As Margret Macmillain has famously remarked, “We can learn from history, but we can also deceive ourselves when we selectively take evidence from the past to justify what we have already made up our minds to do.”

  • Basit Amin Makhdoomi is a lawyer at J&K High Court. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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