As important as it is to acknowledge that politics has very little room in the current situation, there is also a lack of will on the part of political parties to engage in politics
IT is rare now that one comes across a sustained political activity or at least a statement from a politician or a political party in Kashmir. And even if any statement is made, it generally skirts the contentious issues besetting J&K. Such is the restraint exercised by the political actors – except, of course, by Mehbooba Mufti and very occasionally by Dr Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah who keep making some anti-government noise.
Overall, there is a loud silence as far as the political and civil society activity. It is true there is little space for politics in the existing situation but at the same time, there’s also little will on the part of the political parties to do politics. The reason for this is the transformation in the terms of the political discourse following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019: In the new political climate, it has become difficult to practice old-style mainstream politics that seamlessly blended pro-India credentials with liberal nods to soft separatism and took pride in an adversarial stance towards New Delhi.
The parties are now content to issue bland statements about the prevailing situation, only occasionally foraying into the political domain but not so much as to ruffle feathers of the powers that be.
What is more, even the parties like the Apni Party which have apparently reconciled to the post-Article 370 reality are largely silent. Apart from poaching upon the leaders of the established parties like the PDP – whose ranks have now largely been depleted – and the NC, these parties are choosing to lie low. The dilemma for them is also the same: they can’t publicly support the withdrawal of Article 370 fearing a popular backlash. And their demand for the restoration of statehood has not resonated with people. More so, after the centre has made it clear that the statehood would be restored only after delimitation and the elections. So, the only thing they are left to talk about is the routine governance issues, but they aren’t doing even that. One reason for this is that no party is ready to stick its neck out and talk in an adversarial tone against the government, which is otherwise the lifeblood of politics. This is, in part, understandable. These parties are part of an alternative political and civil society structure which is being primed to take place of the established structure. For example, Apni Party led by the industrialist turned politician Altaf Bukhari was founded early last year to fill in the vacuum created by the then absence of the established political parties like the NC and the PDP, most of whose leaders were in detention at the time.
The consequent political vacuum has thus needed filling. But with a political representation that gave voice to the aspirations and the grievances of the people and certainly not with the one that is seen to represent New Delhi in Kashmir. Apni Party was set up to fill this vacuum. But going by its politics, the Party has not only struggled to find spontaneous support among people but it has also given up trying. Its relevance briefly hinged on an absence from the scene of parties like NC and the PDP which New Delhi ensured over the one year after the withdrawal of Article 370.
But the Apni Party has since been almost completely overtaken by the People’s Conference which has cornered most of the defecting leaders from the PDP and also some from the NC. With these entries, the People’s Conference has received a shot in the arm. The footprint of the People’s Conference since its founding has otherwise been limited to a part of North Kashmir. The maximum number of Assembly seats that the Peoples Conference has won in an election is two. Safina Beigh who has some support in Baramulla, a district in north Kashmir, could help now expand the party’s base in North Kashmir already strengthened by the party’s general secretary Imran Reza Ansari, who commands substantial support at Pattan, a constituency in district Baramulla.
In theory, the influx of the leaders from the PDP and also from the National Conference has set up the People’s Conference as a formidable Kashmir-based party. And should Lone succeed in rallying North Kashmir around his party, it would transform the electoral landscape of the Valley. This would split up Kashmir among the three parties: the National Conference (NC), the PDP and the PC. That is, if we discount the chances of Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari, which boasts of some leaders, most of them drawn from the PDP, who command some support in their respective constituencies.
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 NC 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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