THE recent meet of Kashmiri leaders with prime minister Narendra Modi was both an opportunity and challenge for leaders of the PAGD (People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration) or Gupkar Alliance, for short.
These leaders had already lost much of their relevance and credibility after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. At least Farooq Abdullah and his son , Omar had had a meeting with the prime minister, a couple of days before the Modi govt took the extreme step of withdrawing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and breaking the state into two Union territories. It is hard to believe that the father-son duo were too naive to size up the situation. But they fumbled for a proper response. All they and other leaders of the Gupkar Alliance, including Mehbooba Mufti, did was to commit themselves to protecting Art. 370 or Jammu and Kashmir’s internal sovereignty. For this, they resolved to seek an audience with the President of India, the Prime Minister and leaders of the Opposition parties across India.
An interesting thing happened then. A few workers of the National Conference told a photo journalist at Farooq Abdullah’s residence that they had been pleading with Omar Abdullah to give a call for Eidgah Chalo or March to Eidgah. They lamented that he was not listening to them. Such was their desperation that they asked the photojournalist to intervene which he politely refused.
Many suspect that the subsequent arrest of Farooq, Omar , Mehbooba and other leaders of the PAGD was actually a face-saving for them. This suspicion became stronger when none of these leaders did anything of consequence after their release from prison. The only decision, right or wrong, they took was to participate in the District Development Council polls with the apparent aim to prevent BJP from making inroads in Kashmir Valley and secular constituencies elsewhere.
Ahead of their meeting with the PM , the PAGD leaders spoke with huge energy and enthusiasm to assure ordinary people of Kashmir that they would represent their sentiment. . They said they would demand what was rightfully theirs and had been wrongfully snatched from them. This was in sharp contrast with the suspicions and wariness of ordinary people who feared a security lockdown like the one in 2019 on the day of the meeting or immediately after. Rumours flew fast and thick that the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley might be dismembered. So suspicious were people of the government’s intentions that even the cancellation of this year’s Amsrnsth Yatra was seen , by many, as a step dictated by considerations of politics and law and order rather than by the Covid situation. Some people fled the Valley for fear that the internet might be suspended again.
There fears of a fresh lockdown or internet blockade have not come true., But the PAGD leadership has not generated any hope either. The only outcome of their meeting with the PM is that the govt will complete the delimitation process and then hold elections to the Assembly. Restoration of statehood will, if at all, happen later. As for Articles 370 or 35A , nothing has been heard about them.
It is important to note that the delimitation process evokes strong fears among ordinary Kashmiris who see it as part of a conspiracy to give more seats to Hindu majority Jammu region. What makes the people more suspicious is that while all over India delimitation is due only in 2026 , it has been advanced only in Jammu and Kashmir.
Omar Abdullah is a politician and is, as such, supposed to put up a political fight. He has, instead, been indulging in escapism. Mehbooba Mufti has apparently taken a tougher stand. But in her case too, it is rhetoric sans (without) any practical plans.
Coming back to Article 370. Omar Abdullah said in an interview that NC has not given up its demand about J&K’s special status. But he emphasised that his party would not take the law into its own hands. He said the fight for J&K’s special status would be fought in the Supreme Court. He hasn’t answered the question as to how many people share his optimism about the Supreme Court restoring Article 370. In any case, it is for the lawyers to fight it out in the judiciary. Omar Abdullah is a politician and is, as such, supposed to put up a political fight. He has, instead, been indulging in escapism. Mehbooba Mufti has apparently taken a tougher stand. But in her case too, it is rhetoric sans (without) any practical plans. Some say, she has, instead, been playing victim because she is more often than not prevented by police from visiting any family for condolence.
Coming back to the PM’s meeting with PAGD leaders , it has been a disappointment for ordinary people in Kashmir. They find that leaders (from PAGD and other parties) called to the meeting with the PM proved themselves either collaborators or a spineless lot. People may still vote for PAGD in elections. But that’ll be more a vote against BJP than for Abdullahs or Muftis.
Many observers are now convinced that PM Modi talked to Kashmiri leaders only to deflect international pressure. There are so many indications of such pressure. Recently, the President of the UN General Assembly , while on a visit to Pakistan , talked of the Kashmir problem and the need to address it. In a article captioned ” india in geopolitical churn, PM Narendra Modi forced to dial back” Sushant Singh, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research writes: “It is no secret that the Modi government has been at the receiving end of the Biden administration’s strident advocacy of democratic principles and human rights concerns, though these tough conversations have taken place behind closed doors so far.” He further writes: “Earlier this month, during a Congressional hearing on ‘Democracy in the Indo-Pacific’, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Dean Thompson was asked pointed questions by Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan on Kashmir. Thompson’s reply was telling: “Kashmir is one area where we have urged them to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. We’ve seen some steps taken: the release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other — electoral — steps we’d like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”
The crisis in Ladakh happened immediately after the abrogation of J&K’s special status. India now faces the threat of two front war (with China and Pakistan). This , according to observers , has prompted India to resume back channel diplomacy with Pakistan
Then there is the China factor. The crisis in Ladakh happened immediately after the abrogation of J&K’s special status. India now faces the threat of two front war (with China and Pakistan). This , according to observers , has prompted India to resume back channel diplomacy with Pakistan. Late last year, Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s National Security Advisor , Moeed Yusuf revealed during an interview to Karan Thapar that India was keen to have talks with his country. “We have got a message of desire for conversation” he told Mr Thapar.
Of late, Pakistan has made any formal talks with India conditional on India undoing its Aug 2019 decision on Kashmir which impacts demography in the erstwhile state. Incidentally, this Pakistani demand is a far cry from India making bilateral talks conditional on Pakistan ending her support to armed militancy in Kashmir.
Sushant Singh makes an important point. He says the Indian “government’s refusal to restore statehood to J&K suggests that the backchannel talks with Pakistan have stalled, as Islamabad focusses on US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
So, whatever may have been PM Modi’s compulsion to “dial back”, the PAGD leaders have once again squandered an opportunity to restore their own credibility. Ordinary people are more convinced than ever before that Kashmir is too big an issue for Kashmiri leaders and will be resolved between India and Pakistan through peace or through war. Even separatist political leaders have lost much of their relevance. They have kind of gone into hibernation, occasionally issuing statements on social and health issues, rather than political.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a veteran journalist who has served as the BBC bureau chief in Srinagar
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