Srinagar: Seven months after he was released from detention, Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said he would not speak on political matters, something he has said for the first time in his political career spanning over 50 years. A cheeky politician, known for his audacious lifestyle and youthful demeanour, Farooq looked old and frail as he appeared from his house arrest.
The senior-most leader in J&K today thanked people, and spoke about the detention of two other former chief ministers, including his son Omar Abdullah and People Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti. But, he maintained a kind of ‘silence’, just like other leaders, released before him, did.
“I will answer no question or speak on political matters till everyone is released. It’s only when they are released that I will be able to speak on political matters,” Abdullah told the media.
But, despite his promise to remain silent after facing a political onslaught from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the future of politics in the region is moving in a direction where Abdullah and his National Conference (NC) will likely remain at the centre stage, instead of being pushed to the margins, but with renewed character.
After the severe clampdown that ensued in the region as the Union government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories, all political activity was suspended, except for BJP which carried out multiple programmes, rallies and functions in Kashmir despite restrictions even as most regional leaders remained incarcerated.
Hundreds of its political activists, members and workers have been killed in J&K since the 1990s. Unlike most counterparts in the country, Farooq Abdullah and his party, however, have survived conflict, massive agitations, political onslaughts, violence, betrayal, conspiracies and at times turned all this to its advantage.
Farooq Abdullah’s release comes at a time when some members of his party have joined a newly formed political outfit – Jammu Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) -- led by Altaf Bukhari and his band of PDP and Congress rebels mostly. With the emergence of Apni Party, the much-awaited third front in the region has finally taken a shape.
Some PDP leaders believe that Bukhari and his new party members have shown political courage that was earlier shown by Abdullah and Mufti by forging a new front, but Apni Party may end up shrinking NC’s influence and PDP’s space on the ground.
The third front, however, many local politicians believe, will have a more adverse effect on PDP than on NC. “The third front mostly comprises members from PDP and has not been able to woo any important figure from NC. On ground, it’s a division of cadre within PDP,” a PDP insider told NewsClick.
As PDP emerged on the mainstream political spectrum with its soft-separatism politics in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was able to create its own space, while NC continued to retain its own bastions across the region, including in Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal areas.
Usman Majeed, a former Ikhwani and two-time Congress-affiliated MLA from Bandipora, is among the leaders who joined Apni Party. Before Abdullah was released, he was confident that the era of traditional politics in the region had passed. Members from the fledgling Apni Party, Usman said, have approached many leaders in all political parties. “We are open to even Hurriyat leaders if they are willing to join our brand of politics, which is regional and development-oriented,” he said.
For Usman, Kashmiris have no role to play in the Kashmir issue, which he feels is a problem between India and Pakistan and it for the two countries to solve and deliberate upon.
The newly formed party, headed by businessman-politician Bukhari, has strategically poached former MLAs, MLCs and tribal and minority leaders and is willing to move beyond the issue of Article 370, which PDP and NC are caught up with and find it difficult to reconcile with.
NC spokesperson Imran Nabi, however, is confident that Apni Party will not matter much in the region. “The political stalemate that set in after the abrogation of Article 370 and arrest of leaders continues to exist in the region. Apni Party suffers from credibility issues and people of Kashmir know what is happening,” he told NewsClick.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, after meeting Abdullah, at his residence a day after his release, also indicated that Apni Party was an outfit propped by the “agencies” that wouldn’t make much impact.
A senior member of PDP, however, says the stalemate has ended and sees the emergence of Apni Party with caution. “Irrespective of the differences, we have to agree that Bukhari has broken the ice and has initiated a political process. The third front has put both PDP and NC in a fix even if everyone may not realise this for now,” the PDP member says.
The Central government, led by BJP, has evidently made it clear that the future of politics in Kashmir will revolve around the issues of return of J&K’s statehood status, domicile law, jobs and developmental issues, everything that Apni Party has put in its agenda. As for NC and PDP, they are still bound by the Gupkar declaration – unless they choose to move beyond Article 370.
As of now, Apni Party is reaching out to people from across the political spectrum, including Hurriyat. A party insider told NewsClick there were over two dozen probables likely to join the party following which they would launch the party in Jammu and Chenab Valley as well.
“With Apni Party in the scene, the Central government has masterfully created a situation where there is only one way out for local politicians – to fall in line. If you do, Indian democracy wins, if you don’t, BJP wins,” a PDP insider said.
But, for many, irrespective of whether they are able to create a sustainable outfit or not, Apni Party has initiated a jolt that will push all parties and individuals to make a decision sooner than later. A decision, which after Farooq’ release, Omar and Mehbooba will have to make.