PAGD at a Dead-End

The grouping was destined to fall apart or at least become deactivated as it has now

IT has now been months since the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) – now reduced to five parties following Sajad Lone’s exit –  has met. It didn’t even meet to celebrate the winning of a predominant majority of seats in the Valley in recent District Development Council polls. Nor does it look likely that the alliance will meet in near future. What is more,  the PAGD hasn’t even issued a public statement on the evolving situation. Instead, each party has acted and spoken only as an individual entity. And the divergence among the constituents, particularly between the National Conference and the PDP, the largest parties in the grouping, has only grown by the day.

In hindsight, the grouping seems to have been destined to fall apart or at least become deactivated as it has now. The reasons for it are many but primarily it is about the centre’s  move to disproportionately raise the cost for the constituents for pursuing a united struggle for the restoration of Article 370. The leaders have been sent to jail, more of them from the People’s Democratic Party. One of the leaders has quit the party following his recurrent incarceration. The administration has also  reopened the J&K Cricket Association case  against Dr Farooq Abdullah, the PAGD president, and attached his property worth over Rs 11 crores. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has been summoned by the National Investigation Agency.  The cost seems to be directly proportional to pro-Article 370 noise by the alliance: stronger its pitch for the restoration of J&K autonomy, greater the punishment for the leaders.

This state of affairs has been alien to mainstream leaders over the last seventy years. Their politics has largely been about the pursuit of power than of a cause. True, the National Conference and the PDP have always sought strengthening of Kashmir’s autonomy but this demand has been more in the nature of a political slogan than a goal they actively pursued and sacrificed for. More often than not, the mainstream politics in  J&K – more so, in the Valley – has been a cringing and unedifying spectacle of the enjoyment of power, albeit largely divested of the space to exercise it.  The BJP has now demanded and got the local establishment leaders to become subservient, if not completely identify with its own political stance on Kashmir. It has tried to forcibly hone them  to its nationalist straitjacket, thereby rendering them stultifying figures whose statements struggle to carry conviction in Kashmir.

The BJP government has also raised heavy  costs for what has essentially been an innocuous Kashmir-centric politics: a demand by Kashmiri leaders, much of it perfunctory in nature,  for the protection of political rights of Kashmiris. And the saffron party knows that the mainstream leaders are unlikely to be ready to sacrifice beyond a point, with a few exceptions, of course. The strategy has paid off. The PAGD is in paralysis within months after its formation. The alliance has, more or less, stopped pursuing the goal for which it was created. And the grouping itself is on the brink of coming apart.

Sure, there are other reasons too for the PAGD to cease to carry out its professed role: the survival and expansion of the individual parties – particularly that of the NC, the PDP and the PC – which depends on the corresponding decline in the footprint of the other parties. For example, the NC can’t retain its traditional standing as a dominant party without encroaching into the constituencies of the PDP or the PC. Ditto for the latter two which cannot hope to grow  without doing the same to other parties. After exiting the PAGD,  Sajad Lone has broken free. He is luring the former PDP and the NC leaders into his party and trying to expand his party’s base in north Kashmir. This would have been impossible for him to do being a member of the Gupkar alliance where his party would only get  to contest from the two Assembly seats from where his candidates had won last time. And if the DDC election is anything to go by, even here his candidates would have had to contend with the proxies from the other parties.

The NC, PDP and the other parties would face a similar situation. In fact, many leaders in the NC are sore that by forming the PAGD they have given a new lease of life to the PDP and the PC which had largely lost the public confidence following their alliance with the BJP. And some PDP leaders, on the other hand, think that the NC has gone quiet over the demand for Article 370 after the Enforcement Directorate notice to Farooq Abdullah, with one leader accusing senior Abdullah and the son Omar Abdullah of “depoliticizing their narrative”. This mutual suspicion and the necessity for survival and growth as individual entities leaves little scope for an alliance that freezes their political standing in line with their last electoral performance.

As things stand, there’s thus little that gives the parties in the PAGD a cause to stay united. In fact, there are more reasons for them to strike on their own and pursue individual political ambitions. As for the struggle for Article 370, it can hardly be pursued within the paradigm of the power politics. More so, when such a struggle will not only be a drawn one with little chance of  its success but will also call for sacrifices by the leaders and the parties.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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