By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
The virtually defunct alliance of some Kashmir-based mainstream political parties, which has been deserted by two key constituents and has met only once in the last six months, would be deciding in Srinagar on Tuesday whether to attend or boycott the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled meeting with the Jammu and Kashmir politicians on Thursday.
For the first time after the breakdown of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP government in June 2018 –more significantly, for the first time after withdrawal of the erstwhile State’s special status and its bifurcation into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019 — Prime Minister Modi has called a round-table conference of the J&K politicians on the political stalemate in the last three years.
The Centre’s invite has gone to the politicians through the Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla. It does not specify the agenda but the meeting is speculated, inter alia, to discuss the current political scenario and the prospects of the next Assembly elections with particular reference to the delimitation process. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which was passed by the Parliament in August 2019, provides for the addition of seven new constituencies to the Assembly.
While the four seats of Ladakh have ceased to exist after it was granted the status of an independent UT, the effective strength of the J&K Assembly has reduced to 83 seats. With the addition of seven new seats, its working strength would rise to 90. Twenty-four seats would continue to remain reserved and vacant for the representatives of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) till the time that region comes back under the governance and administration of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Delimitation Commission of Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai is believed to complete its exercise in the next four or five months, even as it has been granted an extension of one year till March 2022. It has engaged all the five Lok Sabha members from J&K–three of National Conference (NC) and two of the BJP — as its associate members. In spite of NC’s disassociation, the commission is understood to have sought the relevant demographic records from the Deputy Commissioners and completed the basic exercise.
According to well-placed and knowledgeable sources, NC’s Farooq Abdullah as well as PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti had some serious reservations over attending their first meeting after August 2019 with the Prime Minister without a specific agenda. “They have apprehensions that the Centre would finalise the delimitation of the Assembly constituencies according to the BJP’s suitability and portray the Kashmir-based parties’ sanction to it,” said a top ranking political source within the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).
“I don’t think there are bright prospects of the NC’s and the PDP’s participation (in Modi’s meeting) until there is an agenda, or at least a public commitment, that the conference would deliberate upon the possibilities of the restoration of Article 370 and 35-A, full Statehood and reunification of Ladakh with J&K,” said the political source. According to him, the PDP would also set the condition of its youth President Waheed-ur-Rehman Para’s release.
Sources in the BJP, however, rule out any discussion on the PAGD’s demand of the status quo ante in Jammu and Kashmir. “Let alone Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, no government in India can bring Article 370 and 35-A back,” said a senior leader, pointing out how Congress had moved out of the PAGD ahead of the Assembly elections in five States. Congress had ditched the PAGD when Modi and Amit Shah challenged it to include restoration of Article 370 in its manifesto.
It was the first setback for the PAGD when Congress decided to contest J&K’s District Development Council (DDC) elections independently and it fielded candidates against the NC and the PDP in October-November 2020. The second setback came in the former Minister Sajad Lone’s resignation and his Peoples Conference’s separation from the alliance in January 2021.
While the influence of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is limited to the one-odd segment of Kulgam, J&K Peoples Movement (founded and deserted by Shah Faesal) and the Awami National Conference are just fillers with no base. With these developments, the PAGD has numerically reduced from seven to five constituents–three of them insignificant.
Those invited by the Centre include four former Chief Ministers–Farooq Abdullah (NC), Omar Abdullah (NC), Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) and four Deputy Chief Ministers–Muzaffar Hussain Baig (PDP), Tara Chand (Congress), Nirmal Singh (BJP) and Kavinder Gupta (BJP).
The Centre has also invited Ravinder Raina, President of the BJP’s J&K unit, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, President of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee, Bhim Singh, President of the J&K National Panthers Party, CPM’s senior most leader and former State Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, the PC President Sajad Lone and the Apni Party (AP) chief Altaf Bukhari.
Until late on Monday, none of the five Lok Sabha members, including the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, had been invited.
Reports springing from several quarters indicate that the AP and the PC, who had been projected as ‘alternatives to the dynastic ruling parties’ during the Governor’s and the President’s rule, are upset over the ‘reinstatement and rehabilitation being granted to Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti’s parties.
Separately, a group of the youth activists like Mir Junaid and Tauseef Raina, which had been created to neutralise the NC and the PDP in 2018 and 2019, is also reportedly upset with New Delhi’s outreach to the traditional ruling parties. They feel they have been “used and thrown away like tissue papers”.
Political analysts in New Delhi as well as Srinagar insist that the BJP-led Centre has gone for reaching out to the two traditional ruling parties after realising that the ardent pro-Indian youth activists had no room in the electoral politics. The AP’s and the PC’s influence was limited to just a few pockets of the valley. And that there was no alternative to winning back the NC and the PDP, albeit on the terms and conditions of the Modi government.
According to these analysts, it would be made unambiguously clear to the two parties that the BJP government at the Centre would not tolerate any accommodation to the separatists and the militants or legitimacy to the Pakistani narratives which the Valley-based parties did in a competition, particularly from 2002 to 2019.
“It’s clear enough that the Kashmiri leaders will be reinstated and recognised only when they will contest the separatist and the Pakistani narratives politically. If they refuse, they will be made irrelevant in the electoral politics”, said a senior journalist. He asserted that the Kashmiri politicians would have to toe the BJP line as they had been left with no strength. “None of them can independently hold a rally of 10,000 people. For the militants and the separatists they are the Indian agents and traitors. For New Delhi, they are linked to the separatists and the Pakistan,” he said with a reference to Para’s detention.
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