INDIAN Home Minister Amit Shah’s jibe in a series of tweets at the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a Kashmir-based political amalgam formed for restoration of Article 370 and statehood for the restive region, is being interpreted in multiple ways. What exactly made Mr. Shah refer to the PAGD as “The Gupkar Gang” at least thrice in a single tweet?
One view is that Mr. Shah is upping the ante with an eye on the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state of West Bengal. By raising the issue of Kashmir, mocking the Kashmiri Muslim leadership across the ideological divide and using flowery rhetoric to boast about the removal of Articles 370 and 35(A), Mr. Shah perhaps wants to reap the Bihar-like electoral dividends for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal as well. And he conveniently forgets the irrefutable fact that his party was in alliance with the J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from February 2015 till June 2018. Also, the J&K People’s Conference (JKPC) leader Sajad Lone was Mr. Shah’s ally not that long ago. At the time Mr. Shah was content being part of “The Gupkar Gang”.
Another reading is that Mr. Shah is indeed unnerved by the sudden decision of the PAGD to contest the upcoming District Development Councils (DDCs) elections, contrary to the BJP’s expectations. It is assumed that Mr. Shah was briefed by his battery of advisors on Kashmir that all the major regional parties, most notably the J&K National Conference (JKNC), the JKPDP and the JKPC , would boycott the DDC polls.
Therefore, the BJP’s understanding was that the political vacuum and the expected unprecedented boycott, especially in the Kashmir Valley, would easily pave the way for the saffron party to create new political elite in Jammu and Kashmir and further disempower the people of Kashmir by using ‘democracy’ as a tool.
There is another way of looking at the entire picture.
By sending out tweets on the situation of J&K, Mr. Shah was perhaps also telegraphing to the world that a democratic process is going on in Kashmir, all the political parties across the ideological spectrum are enjoying a level playing field, there is competitive politics going on and the abrogation of Article 370 has been largely accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In short, Mr. Shah wanted to normalize the abnormal. Were his tweets then aimed at the global audience, especially with Joe Biden winning the Presidential elections in the United States? For now, we do not have concrete evidence to this effect.
In the light of the above, the unionists would like to draw this favourable conclusion that the BJP has been caught on the wrong foot. They would also not mind making a claim that by participating in the DDC polls, they have spoiled the BJP’s plan for now.
Indeed, this is a superficial and simplistic reading of a very complex situation in Jammu and Kashmir at a time when the marginalized nomadic Muslim tribes of the Gujjars and Bakerwals are losing their temporary shelters in Kashmir forests.
On the regional front, meanwhile, the key Kashmir watchers have been shouting on top of their lungs that by participating in the DDC polls the unionists have already normalized the August 5, 2019 event. They are not willing to buy this argument that, in the case of a poll boycott, the BJP would have occupied more political space and taken control of every single institution in Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJP has already occupied all spaces and major institutions in Jammu and Kashmir. There is complete control over the bureaucracy, administration, police and other institutions. So, what importance does a disempowered DDC have in a situation when an elected government can be dismissed, three former Chief Ministers jailed and detained under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA), all communication lines cut and Internet shut for prolonged periods, media houses gagged at the drop of a hat and all dissenters silenced?
To Mr. Shah’s credit though, he has succeeded in forcing the weakened and indecisive Congress party to distance itself from the PAGD. The JKNC has conceded two DDC seats in Dooru and Shangas in south Kashmir to the Congress party soon after the latter party broke its pre-poll alliance with the PAGD.
Moreover, the DDC exercise has taken focus away from the pressing issues about domicile, demography and dignity. At an impressionable age the vulnerable group is falling prey to this exercise, wrongly thinking that this process is about their empowerment when it is totally the opposite.
Finding themselves at the precipice of complete irrelevance on Kashmir’s slippery political landscape, the unionists are desperate to use both rhetoric and sentiment to reclaim some of the political space. They are desperate. Their desperation has made them fall for small bait. They will dance to the tunes once the bigger bone is thrown at them and they won’t hesitate for a moment to pounce on that. New Delhi understands that.
An insignificant DDC process has led to the fissures in the PAGD as candidates are filing individual nominations against the joint list prepared by the amalgam. A senior JKPDP leader has parted ways over small disagreement over the seat-sharing exercise. This vulnerability of the unionists has conveyed a message to New Delhi that the PAGD ship has many cracks and it is willing to sink even by the artificial waves.
For the purpose of political posturing, the two former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have hit out at Amit Shah by employing aggressive language and seemingly unapologetic tone. What is needed, however, is to move beyond the rhetoric, be ready to offer sacrifices and walk on the path of struggle in tune with the political sentiment on the ground. The very nature of the unionist politics in a place like Kashmir is that it is primarily more about power, perks and privilege and less about sincerity, sacrifice and struggle.
What the unionist must understand that no matter how many times large sections of India’s corporate media or Mr. Shah describes them as “The Gupkar Gang”, they continue to be seen as “The Delhi’s Daily wagers”, “Collaborators” and “Enablers” on their home turf.
Their politics needs 360 degree transformation. And the true test of character comes in adversity. Can the JK unionists, for once, be on the side of their people and not hanker after power?
Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent that of Kashmir Observer
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