Future of Kashmir Politics

The significance of Gupkar declaration is limited to giving the establishment parties in the Valley an agenda point that makes their politics relevant to the post-Article 370 Kashmir. Nothing more, nothing less

IT took just fifteen days for New Delhi to take steps to address the demand in Buddhist majority Leh for constitutional safeguards to protect region’s demography. According to 2011 census, the population of Leh is just  1,33,487. But this fact didn’t come in the way of the centre not considering Leh’s demand on an urgent basis. Contrary to this, population of Muslim majority Kashmir Valley in J&K is over 7 million but a similar demand for protection to local demography has no takers in New Delhi. This, despite the fact, that the six political parties that comprise the three-fourth of the entire mainstream politics of J&K passed a resolution – also called Gupkar declaration –  to this effect.

In Ladakh again, Muslim majority Kargil with a population of 1,40,802 wants to stay as a part of Kashmir Valley and also agrees with Gupkar declaration but New Delhi doesn’t give a damn about it.  Kargil leadership has also challenged Leh’s remit to speak for whole of Ladakh but to no avail.

In J&K, centre has similarly shown it is sensitive to the public sentiment in the Hindu majority Jammu. This is why, it was only after Jammu protested against jobs in J&K being made available to outsiders, that centre reserved all of them for the domiciles of J&K.

Jammu thus holds key to how New Delhi deals with J&K. And so far the region has given little indication that it is unhappy with the existing state of affairs beyond a point. At one level, the situation in Jammu is not greatly different from that of Ladakh. The region is also witnessing a degree of anxiety about the post-Article 370 state of affairs and for more or less similar reasons: loss of jobs, land and identity. People apprehend that their region will be the first destination for the eligible outsiders choosing to settle in J&K.

But as things stand, these apprehensions are not deep enough to cause people to protest publicly. Besides, in case of Jammu, the fears of a demographic change are being trumped by the expectation of development of the region and more importantly the anticipated shift of political power away from Kashmir Valley. In fact, under the current dispensation this shift has already happened. And with delimitation that is supposed to give more Assembly seats to Jammu, this power-shift will also be inherited by a future democratic government. So, unlike Leh, Jammu is least likely to hit the road against the prospect of a demographic change and the potential loss of land to outsiders.

Where does this leave Kashmir Valley? Nowhere. The Valley could have hoped for some restraint by centre in the execution of its J&K project only if some of its elements say demographic change had been resolutely opposed in Jammu. There is, no doubt, an undercurrent of unease in Jammu over these issues but the people are willing to overlook it as the new dispensation gives the majority community in the region a political weight that is disproportionately bigger than its demographic strength.

Jammu would certainly have fought any attempt at a demographic change and loss of land and jobs, had the region been carved into either a separate state or a union territory just like Ladakh. And it is probably for the same probable reason that New Delhi didn’t trifurcate J&K despite the longstanding demand for statehood in Jammu.

This has created a structural reality that is inherently aligned against Kashmir Valley. And the people in the Valley are deeply conscious of this fact. The new situation has created a massive sense of disempowerment, something that Farooq Abdullah in an interview to Karan Thapar described as “a feeling of slavery”.

Does this reality leave any scope or space for a peaceful struggle for rights and empowerment in the Valley? On its face, it doesn’t, Gupkar declaration, notwithstanding. Truth is it would hardly bother New Delhi, should demand for restoration of autonomy become a part of the political agenda of the Kashmiri parties either individually or collectively. In the existing situation, these parties will hardly be in a position to take this demand to the streets. And even if they did and held a peaceful rally or a protest, so what?  The Valley has little political clout at the national level to force any ruling party at New Delhi to change its mind, let alone the BJP.

Also, as for the revocation of Article 370, there is now a broad consensus across the political spectrum in the country, Congress included. Congress may have been a party to Gupkar declaration, but at the national level, the party is only against the manner in which Article 370 was read down, not the act of doing so. For the BJP, on the other hand, acting tough with Kashmir wins it more popular support. And in the remaining four years of its power the party thus seems set to take its project to remake Kashmir in its own image to its logical conclusion.

This reality neither affords space to local politics nor lends it any power to force centre to modify its existing approach to Kashmir. As of now, the importance of Gupkar declaration is only in giving the establishment parties an agenda point that makes their politics relevant to the transformed situation. They have something to go to people with, something to fight for. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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