No One in Kashmir Will Massage Fragile Egos of J&K Unionists

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MEHBOOBA MUFTI, another former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has been released from her 14-month-long detention. Along with many top unionist leaders active in the restive region, including the two former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, she too was detained and later held under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).

Soon after her release, Ms. Mehbooba talked about the Kashmir resolution in her audio message of one-minute-and-24-second duration. She called August 4, 2019, as a “black day” and the decision taken by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to revoke semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir as a “black decision”. She emphasised on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, saying that “tens of thousands of people have laid down their lives for a just resolution.” Moreover, she said that what New Delhi did on August 4 last year was “robbery committed during broad daylight” and an “insult” was served, and that both were impossible to forget.

What does her release mean for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the political outfit that she heads as President? Can she revive the lost pride of her party and restore the PDP’s battered credibility in the eyes of her former supporters, and the people of Kashmir and the valleys of Chenab and Pir Panchal in general? Can she play a decisive role in the newly-formed political alliance named “People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration”? Can she bring the political sentiment expressed by six unionist parties in the backyard meetings on to the streets of Kashmir? Can she turn the political battle into a street battle?

After a two-hour-long meeting at the residence of Farooq Abdullah, the representatives of six unionist parties once again resolved to, “fight for the restoration of Article 370”, besides insisting on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The parties that took part in the marathon meeting included the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, PDP, Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Sajad Lone-led People’s Conference and the Awami National Conference etc.

The leaders have, indeed, given a formal name to their grouping, but haven’t moved beyond the rhetorical utterances thus far. What is their plan of action? True, they can’t make all of their strategic moves public at this point in time. But they are not also offering a lot of hope. Instead, they want people to trust them blindly while ignoring the historicity and context and their seasons of betrayals right from 1947.

At the outset, the unionists who have chosen to fight for turning the clock backwards in Jammu and Kashmir must get real and not go on fragile ego trips. The dispossessed people of J&K do not have time and energy to massage their egos. Not at all. Two, the unionists also need to be humble and realise that their past blunders cannot be easily forgotten. To instil some confidence in the people of the region they need to make the right noises and take appropriate steps to help the people place some level of trust in their new endeavour.

How can that be done? Well, to begin with, the J&KNC’s three parliamentarians must resign as Members of Indian Parliament in protest against what the party believes as “daylight robbery” committed on the 4th of August, 2019. Similarly, the PDP’s representative in the Parliament also needs to put in his papers. This will be a small step in convincing a section of population that they are indeed serious about walking the talk.

In case the NC and the PDP representatives continue to remain in the house which they accuse of committing an “immoral, illegal, unconstitutional and unilateral” act, it would only mean they are not serious and that their words are hollow.

The pro-India unionists in the Kashmir Valley on October 15 met again, this time also with Mehbooba Mufti, to announce the formation of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. The stated aim of the new grouping is to “return to the people of the state the rights they held before August 5, 2019”.

Farooq Abdullah called their joint struggle a “constitutional battle.” Like Ms. Mehbooba, the senior Abdullah also linked the larger conflict resolution to their joint fight. “At the same time, we feel the political issue of the state has to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Abdullah said, adding that “And that can be resolved only through dialogue with all the stakeholders who are involved in the problem of J&K.”

Unionists are very careful in their approach. They insist that their battle is “constitutional” and not “separatism”, which means they want to keep the doors of temptation from New Delhi open all the time. To play to the gallery on the home turf they also call their new grouping as “political resistance.”

Again, there are two ways of looking at this scenario. Criticising them for the sake of criticising won’t be helpful. Those criticising the new alliance purely because of ideological reasons or past record must also talk about the alternative and give a detailed point by point critique of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. At the same time, the unionists must keep their feet on the ground and stop expecting that the people of the region will give them a clean chit without expressing genuine regret for their past deeds and without a robust road map for the path ahead.

Three steps that the unionists must immediately take are as follows:

  1. a)     Offer an unconditional and unqualified apology for the civilian killings, human rights abuses and other excesses during their respective stints as Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir,
  2. b)    Resign as MPs to register formal protest against the August 4 decisions,
  3. c)     Clarity on the path ahead and state whether they will participate in any election process if the autonomy and statehood are not restored.

This is the least the unionists can do to restore some confidence among the sections of the population. Their politics has to see 360 degree transformation. The old deceptive politics won’t fetch them different results. And any future deception on their part will definitely make them irrelevant on Kashmir’s changing political landscape. They are already on the precipice of irrelevance.

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Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason

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