Abdication of Leadership

The mainstream politics in Kashmir by its very nature doesn’t lend itself to a fight for a bigger cause

THOUGH the political process in Kashmir is deemed to have long resumed, other than a few leaders who have tried to respond to the evolving situation, the political parties have chosen to play possum, behaving as if they don’t exist. The reasons for it are obvious: majority of leaders don’t want to be on the wrong side of New Delhi and suffer as a result. More so, when the centre has let them be under no illusion as to their fate should they dare to question its policies in Kashmir or demand reversal of the revocation of Article 370 that granted J&K a semi-autonomous status within Indian Union. In fact, most of these leaders were in jail when the constitutional provision was withdrawn on August 5, 2019. So, the memory of those days must be raw.

To be sure, there was a brief interregnum when it had appeared that the mainstream parties might be able to put up some resistance to August 5 move. In August last, six parties including the main regional outfits like National Conference and the PDP got together to form People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to demand restoration of J&K’s special status. But a month on, they were working at cross-purposes in the District Development Council polls by putting up candidates against the official PAGD candidates. Subsequently, the People’s Conference led by Sajjad Lone quit the alliance citing the fielding of proxy candidates by the constituent parties in the DDC election. He has since gone about strengthening his party in the north. Former PDP patron Muzaffar Hussain Beigh has joined him, so has Mansoor Hussain and Khurshid Alam, two senior PDP leaders. Basharat Bukhari of the National Conference too is now a PC member. Earlier, many PDP leaders went on to found the Apni Party led by businessman turned politician Altaf Bukhari, also a former PDP leader.

There are apparently no worthwhile political or ideological reasons for this switching of sides. They are primarily about a personal political rehabilitation, so, in a sense, are an exercise in rank opportunism. As things stand, the effort is on to redraw the political landscape of the Valley, if not that of Jammu. This is leading to fragmentation of the political representation with the mandate sought to be divided among several parties, none of them in a position to form a government on its own in a future election. There’s also an effort to undermine some parties and promote others, something that is now triggering the exit of the leaders from one party and influx into another deemed to be favourably placed in the given situation.

In the process, the pursuit of the reversal of Article 370 move has been given up as a cause – notwithstanding the few voices still vocal about it, one of them that of the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and another that of the National Conference leader Aga Ruhullah. There are several reasons for it: one, the centre has raised the cost – both personal and political – for the politicians and the political parties seeking this reversal. Second, the demand for restoration of J&K autonomy is deemed as a lost cause. And third, the mainstream politicians generally don’t think it is their place to struggle for a cause. Establishment politics in Kashmir has never been a site for principles and ideology. It is no place for struggle and sacrifice. People don’t join it for conviction or a cause. Their reasons to join are generally self-serving in nature: to enjoy a good life and some petty power. Such political parties may model themselves as a movement for a larger good, but, in practice, they are not fully in control of even the delivery of basic governance, their primary job. A significant proportion of the people who man these political outfits are opportunists. Their words are posturing, their deeds are phony. As for the high-sounding agendas of the parties, they are more of an electoral necessity than a political ideology.

This politics, as a result, doesn’t lend itself to a fight for a bigger cause. It offers deep structural impediments for such a pursuit: For its survival, it has to run with its local constituency and hunt with New Delhi. This has created a breed of leaders who defer to New Delhi’s conditions and have, in turn, been shaped by them. Facing a predicament like the one Kashmir is saddled with now, they would thus prefer silence over talk, and compromise over confrontation. The recent party hopping of some leaders is a reflection of this state of affairs.

Where does this kind of politics leave Kashmir? Nowhere. This politics is good for nothing, largely unrepresentative. It abdicates its basic role of articulating the interests of its people, let alone being responsive to the sentiment on the ground. The latter it has often found beyond its moral authority to represent. This politics can make a severely limited set of demands, most of these in the domain of development. This is perhaps why, at a time, when Kashmir more than ever needs a leadership, nobody is ready to rise to the occasion.

  • 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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