PAGD’s Poll Partaking Amid 370 Din Renews Old Debate In Kashmir

Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)

After a political merchant drew parallels between the new political alliance and plebiscite front leader’s accord asylum, many wonder about the roadmap of the local unionists turned allies amid the relentless landscape alteration in the erstwhile state.

BEFORE the former Khanyar lawmaker would outrightly dismiss the ex-Amira Kadal legislator’s take on the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), the new league’s elusive roadmap for restoring the pre-August 4, 2019 status quo in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had baffled commoners and commentators alike.

Amid the raging rhetoric over the binned Article 370 and growing political mist in the valley, the old—dramatic—debate arose after former chief minister Omar Abdullah’s “no time for election” pledge was opposed by the PAGD’s decision to fight the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections collectively.

It’s for the first time that political parties with different ideologies have come together to contest any election under a single banner.

As an amalgam of Kashmir-based political parties that pledged to restore scrapped special status of JK, PAGD lately emerged from the shadows of the “Naya Kashmir” narrative.

The alliance took a formal shape on October 24, when seven unionist parties—National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party (Marxist), Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement, Peoples Conference and Awami National Conference—met at PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti’s Fairview residence in Srinagar.

PAGD, the local unionists turned allies asserted, was floated for the restoration of Article 370.

Polls Not Priority

After forming the alliance, its leaders had stated that contesting any election is not a priority for them and that they’ve come together to fight for the restoration of J&K’s special status.

However, the alliance eventually decided to contest elections jointly but didn’t mention any specific reason for the same.

Earlier, on July 27, former chief minister Omar Abdullah had made it clear that he won’t contest assembly elections till full statehood is restored.

“I’ve been the leader of the assembly of the state. In its time the most empowered assembly. I cannot and will not be a member of what is now one of the most disempowered assemblies in the country. It’s as simple as that,” Omar, 50, had said.

Endorsing his views, senior NC leader and party MP from North Kashmir Mohammad Akbar Lone said the party will not take part in any electoral politics until the Government of India restores Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood and special status.

PAGD campaigning in Dras

Dissent in Unionist Ranks

However, on November 7, PAGD’s election decision faced first opposition when Ruhullah Mehdi—the NC’s Budgam face who earlier made no bones about his growing disgruntlement and disillusionment with the party’s ‘out of detention’ decisions—questioned the alliance for poll participation.

In a series of tweets, Mehdi said the regional parties including National Conference had fallen in New Delhi’s trap by deciding to contest elections.

“To win a war, battles are sometimes deliberately lost,” Mehdi, who resigned from NC’s chief spokesman post in July, tweeted.

“But, when your aim is squeezed to that battle instead of the larger objective, efforts will also come down to that. For now, they are setting rules and you are playing by that. This is a deep trap you will only keep falling into.”

Mehdi argued that past events haven’t taught any lesson to PAGD and that he is afraid the “gravity of the situation” has not shaken them enough.

Commoners’ Refrain

Apart from the prominent ‘dissenter’ in unionist ranks, commoners in Kashmir also argue that by participating in elections, PAGD has in a way accepted the abrogation of Article 370.

There’s a general feeling in Kashmir that political parties on poll-mode are once again “hoodwinking people” in the name of “keeping BJP away in Kashmir”.

“Unionist parties in Kashmir have always used elections as a tool to hoodwink people,” said Mohammad Arshad, a scholar in Kashmir University.

“Their lust for power makes it just another political gimmick. And since their Self Rule and Autonomy slogans have been done and dusted with, they’re making Article 370 as their new political plank to stay relevant in business.”

In fact, by participating in upcoming elections, regional parties are only normalising the August 5, 2019 decision, when they earlier made it clear that they won’t participate in any political process until special status is restored, said journalist Gowhar Geelani.

“New Delhi threw a bait before the political parties and they pounced on it,” Geelani said. “It gave the BJP government the message that if they throw a bone, these local unionists are ready to swoop in it.”

Polls Not Endorsement

However, the regional political parties maintain that their DDC poll partaking isn’t their approval of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy.

“Participating in DDC elections is seizing an opportunity where you can express your concerns,” said CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami.

“By doing so, PAGD hasn’t accepted the abrogation of Article 370 in any way. Such narratives have emerged from vested interests and supported by government circles.”

The card-carrying Marxist believes PAGD should be part of every election.

“During Maharaja Hari Singh’s time, even Muslim Conference participated in elections. Does that mean they had accepted the aristocratic system? Thing is, my party at national level has already described the abrogation of Article 370 as an ‘assault on the basic structure of Indian constitution’. So, in no way, PAGD participation is an endorsement of government policies and amendments in J&K.”

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah wasn’t in favour of polls earlier

But Where’s The Roadmap

Weighing his words carefully, Naeem Akhtar, a senior PDP leader, said that boycotting elections haven’t benefitted Kashmir.

“Since we haven’t achieved anything with boycott politics, Kashmir leadership has taken the decision of contesting elections by mind and not heart,” the former minister said.

It’s for the first time Kashmir leadership is taking such a decision, he said.

“And imagine if BJP is whitewashed in its first outing which we hope to achieve,” Akhtar said.

“They’ve been telling the world Kashmiris have accepted 5 August decision. A resounding message can be sent only through a democratic tool. That’s what we aim to achieve. And that’s the method acceptable in today’s world. It’ll be a disapproval of what they’ve done, not its endorsement.”

Akhtar argued that there’ve been innumerable elections in the past 70 years and none has been able to eclipse the Kashmir issue.

“This too won’t,” the former minister said, “but if we get a vote that in itself will be highlighting the issue. With time, we’ve to evolve not repeat past mistakes.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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