Srinagar: This fresh joint resolution of six political parties of Kashmir, which demands the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, the constitution of J&K and its statehood, is being viewed as the ‘cornerstone’ for the future politics unless it reverts to similar instances of ‘unity and opposition’ by the mainstream leadership in the past.
The revival of the Gupkar Declaration which brought together major political parties of Jammu and Kashmir has set into motion the political opposition for abrogation of Article 370 decision, a year after it was carried out by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre.
The parties including National Conference (NC), Congress party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), People’s Conference (PC), Awami National Conference (ANC) and CPI (M) committed itself to the outcome of the All Party Meeting held on August 4, 2019, a day before the revocation of Article 370 was unilaterally carried out by the central government with the decision to downsize J&K into two union territories. The political leadership since then, including the BJP allies, were detained for nearly a year in the wake of their opposition to the decision.
For the signatories of the Gupkar Declaration to emerge as a strong ‘united front’, the challenge in front of them is to defy their own misgivings about any such political cooperation. The apprehension, observers say, is rooted in various political misadventures carried out by the mainstream parties historically that have been marred by defection to downright collusion.
According to M. Ibrahim Wani, Assistant Professor of Kashmir Studies at Kashmir University, it is as of yet, only a loose consensus which has not assumed the form of a “United Front.”
“The real test for this consensus will be the Assembly election, whenever it takes place. However, even if it materialises into a coalition, this will be nothing new. The history of politics in Kashmir is in a way the history of coming together of various political groups and thought processes, and then their moving apart, based on the immediate context,” Wani says.
Wani views it from the historical perspective right from the interplay between the Muslim Conference and the National Conference before 1947, a major political faultline in Kashmir, that not only dominated the scene during the time of Independence but, for many following years.
“Many parties including the separatist parties came together with many political movements such as the Holy relic controversy in 1963. However, such alliances and platforms have suffered from serious discords as the platforms failed to develop mechanisms for longterm resolutions,” he adds.
For the NC, a proponent of J&K’s accession to India, the first blow came in 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah, an undisputed towering leader of Kashmir back then, was arrested and his government dismissed. Sheikh’s close ally Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad replaced him as the Prime Minister of J&K. But, prior to his dismissal in August 1953, Sheikh had set up a committee in May in view of a looming political uncertainty and to explore the option of plebiscite for the people in the region. The committee included Bakshi, GM Sadiq and many others who went on to serve in the government that replaced Sheikh’s.
The events of 1953 were seen as a major blowback to the relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi and a beginning of the erosion of the ‘special status’ granted to the erstwhile state under the new Union due to which Sheikh had to spend over a decade in jail.
In the joint statement, the six parties reiterated that they are “bound, wholly, by the contents of the Gupkar Declaration and will unwaveringly adhere to it.”
“We all reiterate our commitment to collectively fight to restore the Special Status of J&K as guaranteed under the Constitution and the commitments made from time to time,” the statement read.
After Sheikh’s release, he led an opposition under the Plebiscite Front (PF) and exhibited strong political activism only to denounce it as “siyasi awaragardi” or “political waywardness” later. The PF was banned from participating in the state Assembly elections of 1972 until Sheikh reached an accord with the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 and returned to power. The erstwhile state titles of Prime Minister or Sadr i Riyasat had been abolished and were replaced by Chief Minister and the Governor. The National Conference had by then accepted the new political reality and moved on.
After Sheikh passed away in 1982, his son Dr Farooq Abdullah became the chief minister until his relationship with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi soured. Former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who has served in Kashmir on various administrative posts, in his memoir My Kashmir: The Dying of the Light, writes, Farooq “consorted with a caucus of Opposition parties that had emerged in states across the country after the election of 1977” and when Farooq hosted a National Opposition Conclave in Srinagar in October 1983, it “precipitated his unseating”.
“The overthrow of Farooq’s government in 1984 was reminiscent of the events of 1953, down to the collusion of his cohorts with the ruling party at the centre,” Habibullah writes.
Farooq’s government was replaced by his brother-in-law G M Shah, another close lieutenant of Sheikh. Shah stayed in power for just two years -- his government was dismissed and Governor’s rule imposed -- and formed his own party Awami National Conference, a signatory of the Gupkar Declaration.
In the following elections, various political outfits came together to form a Muslim United Front (MUF) of which banned outfit Jamaat e Islami (JeI) was a key constituent. Before, the Farooq led NC assumed charge of the new government, most of the MUF leaders were put behind bars and the elections deemed to have been rigged, something that was considered a watershed moment in the history of the region that ultimately sparked a violent rebellion in the following decade. The politics of Kashmir has since been dominated by the events of the outbreak of insurgency.
Prof Noor Mohammad Baba of the Department of Politics and Governance at Central University of Kashmir, however, says that the current political situation in the region is unique with no parallels in history.
“This is a completely different situation. We have had no parallels in the past. Mainstream leadership has never been undermined the way it has been undermined today,” Baba told NewsClick.
Calling it an “important” development, Baba adds, “NC was always committed to Article 370, PDP wanted Self-Rule of which 370 is a component, CPI-M’s Tarigami was also committed to autonomy. Sajad Lone talked of a larger framework in which autonomy is an important factor. So, for these parties, restoration of the pre-August 2019 situation is the common minimum to agree upon.”
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