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In my last column for Kashmir Observer, I traced the history of the J&K National Conference (NC) since the 1930s. I argued why the region’s oldest political formation needs to revamp and reinvent itself. In this latest piece, I will talk about the J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP), another major regional unionist force in Jammu and Kashmir. The PDP should stop taking refuge in ambiguity and doublespeak and summon courage to walk and talk Kashmir.
Does a weakened PDP have the political will to side with Kashmir?
Many theories have been floated with regards to the formation of the PDP in the late 1990s. One of the most talked about is that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was allegedly behind the PDP’s creation. The aim, according to this theory, was to thwart any future attempts by any single regional political force to blackmail New Delhi through the J&K Legislative Assembly.
Another interesting theory is that the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, a socio-political and religious party which stands proscribed for now, also allegedly lent its support to the PDP in the Assembly elections. One of the many allegations is that the PDP leaders in the past have also sought help from a banned militant outfit. No concrete evidence is produced to corroborate this premise, though.
Be that as it may, the two decade-long political journey of the PDP has caught people’s attention.
The Caravan in its January 2016 cover story reported on the view that the PDP, “was a creation of the National Democratic Alliance government, launched to fill the need of a ‘pro-India party’” in Jammu and Kashmir. The Caravan story also quoted Liaqat Ali Khan, a former commander of the Ikhwan, a government-sponsored counter-insurgency group, that “all the Indian agencies were directed to support the PDP.”
About the genesis of the PDP, the Caravan story argued that, “the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government funded and supported the PDP to prop up opposition to the National Conference.” The “purported reason for this move” was that the NC under the leadership of Farooq Abdullah had passed the autonomy resolution in the J&K Legislative Assembly with two-thirds majority.
This, according to the memoir of India’s former deputy prime minister L K Advani, had “shocked” India and the A B Vajpayee-led government in New Delhi. Advani in his autobiography My Country My Life while talking about the NC's autonomy resolution in a chapter entitled Dealing With The Kashmir Issue writes: “The nation was shocked on June 26, 2000, during the Vajpayee government's rule in New Delhi, when the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly adopted a report of the State Autonomy Committee (SAC) and asked the Centre to immediately implement it. The SAC recommended return of the constitutional situation in Jammu and Kashmir to its pre-1953 status by restoring to the state all subjects of governance except defence, foreign affairs, currency and communication."
In the J&K Legislative Assembly the autonomy resolution was adopted by voice vote. The view is that New Delhi wanted to avoid any similar embarrassment in future. A strong regional party could have passed any resolution in the assembly to cause further discomfort to New Delhi. According to this view, the PDP was formed to divide the Muslim vote bank in J&K and consolidate the Hindu vote in the plains of Jammu.
Farooq Abdullah too has made such claim in the past. When the NC started asking for greater regional autonomy in the late 1990s and recommended the restoration of a 1952 agreement with New Delhi, the PDP came up with a new slogan — Self-Rule.
On its part, the PDP has officially denied both charges.
In early 2000, the patron of the PDP late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had famously and also controversially said that, “Kashmiri militants don’t need guns anymore because their representatives are now in the Assembly”. The Sayeed-led PDP in 2002 forged a partnership with the Congress to form a coalition government on a three-year rotation basis. From 2002 until 2005, Sayeed acted as the Chief Minister, while from 2005 to 2008, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier, the PDP’s slogan was “healing touch” and it also talked about the resolution of J&K and advocated “Self-Rule” and “Joint Mechanism” as a viable solution. This was obviously a step ahead of the NC which always favoured regional autonomy, turning the clock backwards to 1953.
Interestingly, late Sayeed chose a party symbol that was telling in many ways. The pen and the inkpot. And the green flag. Everything was reminiscent of the erstwhile Muslim United Front or Muslim Muttahida Mahaz. In miming the MUF symbol was political messaging. It has been alleged that the PDP intentionally chose the party symbol for it had already been popularised among the Kashmiri masses by the MUF in the late 1980s.
Meanwhile, a fractured mandate in the Assembly elections of 2014 resulted in the formation of a coalition government that had the PDP and the BJP as partners. This alliance was described as “ideologically antithetical” and an “unholy alliance”. Key Kashmir watchers also predicted this partnership as “political suicide” for the PDP. However, the PDP defended its alliance arguing that the electoral arithmetic dictated terms.
Late Sayeed’s decision to ally with the BJP came as a shock to his own supporters. They could not comprehend why he would join hands with the Narendra Modi-led BJP.
Sayeed, on his part, described the PDP-BJP joint venture as a “paradigm shift” in the political history of Jammu and Kashmir. In Spy Chronicles RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, a book based on conversations between Amarjit Singh Dulat and Asad Durrani and written by journalist Aditya Sinha, India’s former spymaster Dulat argues that, “Mufti underestimated Modi, overestimated himself, and found himself in a fix.”
Nonetheless, both sides appeared to have made compromises on their respective positions to form the coalition government in 2014, which lasted till June 2018. While the BJP did not press for abrogation of Article 370 and agreed to maintain the erstwhile state’s constitutional position, the PDP did not include its vision of self-rule and joint mechanism for Jammu and Kashmir in the alliance document (Agenda of Alliance).
It was for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir’s electoral politics that BJP, in March 2015, became part of any coalition government. This was unacceptable to a majority of people of the restive region because of the BJP’s anti-Muslim track record.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2020, the PDP as a political force is finding itself on a sticky wicket. It is weaker as many of its senior leaders have deserted the party. Big names which have bid adieu to the party include co-founder Muzaffar Hussain Beig, Altaf Bukhari and Mohammad Rafi Mir. The party’s youth leader Waheed Ur Rehman Parra has been arrested and is accused of allegedly seeking help for the party from the banned militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen. The party summarily denies the charge and terms Parra’s arrest as “politically motivated”.
Former Chief Minister and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti’s movement, her party claims, has been restricted by the J&K administration on the orders of the BJP. The party members allege that New Delhi wants to break the PDP by lending support to the Apni Party led by a PDP deserter, Altaf Bukhari.
Sometimes, the PDP is in jest referred to as the Papa Daughter Party. The joke is a reference to late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. It is a challenge for the party to walk the talk. It has thus far failed to practice what it preaches. In an interview with The Indian Express, Tassaduq Mufti conceded that the PDP had become a “partner in crime” when it joined hands with the BJP. One of the main reasons behind the PDP’s current state of affairs is its ambiguity and lack of political will to side with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Its loyalty keeps swinging like a pendulum from Delhi to Kashmir, raising doubts about its very intent and purpose.
Views expressed are author's own and do not necessarily represent that of Kashmir Observer
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