Amid ‘Lone’ Exit and ‘Group’ Entry, Will PAGD Survive?

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Days before Sajjad Lone’s departure from the Article 370 campaigner camp, a group of leaders reportedly surfaced in Delhi for a ‘new political engagement’. Amid a perceived balkanization in the ‘restoration’ band, Kashmir is possibly looking at another political obscurity.

WHEN reports came from Delhi that Omar Abdullah has sent his emissaries to North Block for “doing business together”, National Conference distanced itself from their vice president’s week-long capital engagement.

The denial, however, is being termed as an attempt to cover up some covert parleys by some miffed members of Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of Jammu and Kashmir’s unionist parties demanding restoration of Article 370.

“Alliance partners are suspicious of some activities of former chief minister Omar Abdullah, who seems to be only working on strengthening the party at ground level,” a PAGD leader said.

Even Omar left nothing unsaid about his motives when he addressed party workers at Nawa-e-Subha soon after the District Development Council (DDC) results. (The six parties in the PAGD had recently fought DDC polls together—“to keep the BJP away”—and swept ballot even in the BJP constituencies of Jammu.)

“These elections are not the success of Dr Farooq, Omar, Sagar or any other NC leader, but it’s the victory of our ground level worker,” Omar addressed his party convention.

Some reports even suggest that Omar has asked his father Dr. Farooq Abdullah to concentrate more on the party at the ground level.

“Since the day the property of Dr Farooq Abdullah was attached, he has been conspicuous for his silence,” said Majid Hyderi, a scribe-panelist.

“Even Abdullah’s son has gone so soft towards the rightwing government that he now openly defends Modi Govt.”

While Omar is reportedly trying to break ice with Delhi, Sajjad Lone has deserted the PAGD.

Lone wrote to the alliance chairperson, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, saying that his outfit decided to part ways over the issue of fielding proxy candidates by constituent parties against the officially mandated candidates of the alliance during DDC elections.

“There is no substance in the claims of Sajad Lone and others,” Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi, the alliance coordinator, told Kashmir Observer.

“Our party only contested in less than 50 per cent seats in Kashmir because everyone was accommodated.”

The NC’s parliamentarian from south Kashmir added that Lone’s party has 80 per cent strike rate in the DDC elections and this was only possible as PAGD workers voted him to victory.

“Truth is,” Masoodi said, “the performance of PAGD in DDC elections surprised New Delhi and that is why they started to go slow in formations of DDC.”

But one among the two PC leaders being named behind Lone’s PAGD exit, Imran Ansari lately questioned the recent meeting of the official delegation of NC and CPI (M) leader Yusuf Tarigami with LG Manoj Sinha without informing the alliance partners.

Amid these coalition cracks, PC chief’s allies say he might soon make a comeback as chieftain of a North Kashmir-based alliance.

“BJP has realised that they don’t have any chance to form a government in J&K in a face to face confrontation with PAGD,” said Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst. “So they needed a regional alliance.”

Earlier, Dr. Hussain added, BJP were exclusively betting on Altaf Bukhari “but he proved too little because he can’t influence masses. So I think they have seen Lone as the fit case for the new grouping.”

But whatever the case, Lone’s PAGD exit didn’t surprise many due to his history. In not-so-distant past, Lone was seen as BJP’s man in Kashmir.

After the 2014 general elections, Lone had met PM Narendra Modi and referred him as his “elder brother”. However, after the 2018 Faxgate, the relations apparently soured, ending up in his captivity at Centaur Hotel after Delhi abrogated Article 370 in August 2019.

However, Lone’s exit from PAGD was only a matter of time, believes Gowher Geelani.

“Unionists who are used to politics of privilege, power and perks, cannot suddenly tread on the path of sacrifice and resilience,” the scribe-analyst said. “It is not their cup of tea.”

Lone’s leaving aside, some political pundits believe that the alliance is unlikely to collapse for now, as the “strange bedfellows” have their own problems.

“Since, individually, the alliance partners stand marginalized, the PAGD has reasons to be united,” said Prof. Noor Baba, a political analyst.

“But as far Lone is concerned,” the professor added, “he didn’t share conviction, possibly with the other parties, so it’s quite clear why he left the PAGD.”

Besides Lone’s exit, Omar’s Delhi entry has only put the alliance in a tight-spot.

Bereft of a clear political roadmap for the restoration of Article 370, the PAGD is already being called out for not living up to the people’s expectations.

“We are challenging every confrontation and sticking on our stand that nothing short of restoration of Article 370 will be accepted,” Masoodi, the PAGD coordinator, said.

However, a People Democratic Party (PDP) leader said, “We had requested for a meeting of alliance partners many times to PAGD president, but there was no response.”

Amid all this, the question is, will PAGD survive?

“Well,” Dr. Hussain argued, “it depends on the alliance’s sincerity and Delhi’s response towards Kashmir.”

But Majid Hyderi sees no future of PAGD in “Naya Kashmir”.

“Around 50 independents won the DDC elections. It was a simple message that people are fed up of traditional politics and look for new faces and issues,” he said.

Beyond statements, added Gowher Geelani, the PAGD hasn’t achieved much.

“So, it’s unlikely that this alliance will achieve anything at all,” he said.

“While the oldest political formation in the conglomerate has gone silent, the other one is already scattered. So, what’s left in PAGD except an occasional noise.”

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