Silenced Politics

Union Home Minister Amit Shah and J&K Lt Governor Manoj Sinha during a meeting in New Delhi on Friday  | PTI Photo

As long as the BJP government is in power in New Delhi, Kashmiri establishment parties, let alone separatist groups, won’t be able to engage in normal political activity. That’s a given

EVER since the repeal of Article 370 in August 2019, there has been a chilling effect on the politics in Kashmir. The occasional political activity has done nothing to change this reality. So, when on June 12, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration held its first meeting after seven months to discuss the ongoing situation in Kashmir,  it appeared that the Valley will finally witness a return to normal politics. The meeting came amid fresh speculations about the centre mulling more extraordinary constitutional and administrative changes in J&K including bifurcation and carving out of new administrative units. On a positive note, there were also rumours that efforts were on to restore statehood to J&K.

There was thus, a sense of de javu. The PAGD meeting was a throwback to the August 4, 2019 meeting of the Kashmiri parties which too was held amid extraordinary speculations about the withdrawal of J&K’s autonomy. And as it turned out, the speculations came true the very following day.

But in the case of June 6, the rumours have so far not come true.  In their interactions with the media, the PAGD leaders also played down the rumours. They displayed a sense of resignation to what might happen next with the amalgam’s president Dr Farooq Abdullah saying that “they had reposed their faith in Allah”.

The reports of New Delhi making further changes in Kashmir have also alarmed Pakistan, forcing it to write to United Nations Secretary-general Antonio Guterres. The centre has so far not responded to the reports. However, J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in an interview with a national television channel denied any move to bifurcate the union territory and said that such “completely baseless rumours” were spread by anti-national people with vested interests.

But the speculations about the new changes being contemplated about Kashmir haven’t abated. Some major changes being speculated about are bizarre: People expect steps such as further division of J&K into Kashmir and Jammu, South Kashmir being made a part of Jammu, a union territory within Kashmir being carved for Kashmiri Pandit community etc. On a positive note, some also expect restoration of statehood to J&K.

But as things stand, the last prospect looks unlikely in the near term. So do the other speculations. But considering that the centre has earlier done unthinkable in regard to Kashmir – such as repealing Article 370 and bifurcating J&K into two union territories – the speculations have acquired a ring of plausibility. More so, when such possible measures do align with the BJP’s ideological outlook on Kashmir. For example, the BJP would like to create a separate enclave for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley

In February 2020, home minister Amit Shah had made it clear that the government will create townships in all the 10 districts of the Valley for the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandit community. He had assured the members of the community that a blueprint for the purpose was being given final touches. The plan also involved the renovation and rebuilding of temples destroyed since the outbreak of separatist militancy three decades ago. The home minister was also reported to have sought help from the Pandit groups to assist the government in compiling a database of all the properties that had either been occupied or encroached upon so that the government could initiate redressal mechanisms to restore the property to the rightful owner.

As for statehood, the centre is understood to not be in favour of restoring it until it has completed the process of fresh delimitation of Assembly seats. And to this end, a delimitation commission has been working for the last one and a half year.

The exercise is due to change the electoral game in the Valley. The commission set up by the government is likely to enhance the seats for Jammu making it politically at par with Kashmir.

If that happens, a Jammu based party like the BJP would have more political weight in the future J&K Assembly.  And even if a Kashmir based party were to form or lead a future government, it would have little manoeuvring space to carry out its agenda or overturn the laws passed by the New Delhi backed administration over the last two years.

Any further changes in Kashmir, however, would face severe opposition from Pakistan and jeopardize the nascent thaw in the relations between the two neighbours in the wake of what is deemed to be an ongoing back-channel dialogue.

Should any changes be made, this could once again sour India, Pakistan relations, something that may not be in the interest of regional peace.

Going forward, the situation looks very uncertain. It is unlikely that space for normal political activity will open up anytime soon. Though there’s talk of the centre seeking to engage the establishment parties in J&K as part of its efforts to restore statehood to J&K and pave the way for Assembly elections, this may not change much. The harsh truth is that the centre will engage on its terms and offer little accommodation to the demands of the major regional parties like the National Conference and the PDP. There is also little hope that these parties will be allowed to publicly raise their issues. They will have no option but to wait.  As long as the BJP government is in power in New Delhi, they won’t be able to engage in normal political activity. That’s a given.

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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