Blacked Out?

Days after PAGD White Paper on the situation post-2019, there are voices suggesting the two key players in Kashmir politics had their own contribution in the erosion of autonomy. And then the tech-savvy politicians avoided uploading the key document on their social media pages, reports Khalid Bashir Gura

Soon after the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) released The Betrayal, its White Paper to counter, what it said, the BJP’s narrative on Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370, it stirred a hornet’s nest. Terming it as a “bunch of lies by a bunch of dynasts” BJP leader Devender Singh Rana termed it as an attempt to regain lost power by indulging in “falsehood” and “misrepresentation of facts”. In response, it was Dr Farooq Abdullah, alone visible in the “ring”.

Blacked out White Paper

None of the two key PAGD leaders was standing in defence. The tech-savvy former chief, Omar Abdullah was attending a book launch in Tamil Nadu and his colleague, the PDP President Mehbooba Mufi was also in Chennai, albeit for a family wedding. They even blacked out their own white paper on their social media, followed by millions of their followers.

The white paper highlights the manner in which the Constitution of India was brazenly interrupted while dismembering and downgrading a Jammu and Kasmir as a State in a federal set-up. The paper also traces the background in which Jammu and Kashmir was granted autonomy except in the matters conceded to the Union and the constitutional mechanism devised to guarantee its autonomy or special status.

As the white paper highlighted the “wrongs” and the “breach of promise” and “assault on autonomy” after the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, it highlighted the achievements of successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir.  To justify the decision, a canard was created, the paper said, envisaging mistruths, untruths and half-truths.

PAGD leaders released a ‘white paper’ in Srinagar on February 26, 2022, during a press conference. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Article 370 Plank

BJP aside, the PAGD umbrella is failing to shield itself against the onslaught of its own former members.

“It would have been better if they would have mentioned their own betrayals in the paper as well,” said Syed Basharat Ahmad Bukhari former lawmaker, who fought and won on PDP mandate in the erstwhile state. “It has been gleaned from various sources which were already public. Earlier we used to avail these historical ‘facts’ from different sources now a single booklet is available” Initially migrating to National Conference, he is now with the Peoples’ Conference.

Concurring with the facts about wrongs and injustice met by denuding Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and breach of promises, Bukhari said PAGD was an amalgamation of diverse and different political parties. As the parties across the ideological spectrum, had pledged perseverance in the pursuit of the restoration of Article 370, Bukhari questioned achievements, causes and roadmaps.

“PAGD has said that they will appraise other political parties in mainland India. Did their MP’s not vote against us? Even Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal who himself is asking for a statehood voted against us,” he said terming these tactics of PAGD as its survival tactics and gimmicks.  “If you cannot get back Pre August 5, 2019 position please tell people categorically. Don’t hoodwink.”

PAGD according to him was able to legitimize its existence after winning District Development Council (DDC) elections; however, it failed to capitalize and diverted from its purpose.

Now as the delimitation exercise is giving final touches to electoral boundaries, parties are gearing up sleeves to woo voters as elections are expected to follow after the exercise.

“Now Mehbooba Mufti is saying choose among the PAGD constituents and vote for their candidates. She is again out to fight assembly elections on PAGD’s ticket. Was PAGD formed to fight elections and make government?” he asked

Basharat Bukhari

Echoing Bukhari, Apni Party’s Jagmohan Singh Raina, believes NC and PDP were always power-hungry. There is a lot of disparity in what they profess and practice and they change their discourse according to audiences and places. “They are creating justifications to cater to vote bank and say we suffered, fought for you. Did NC MP’s and Omar Abdullah not meet PM a day before reading down of Article 370?” he asked. He believes key people were aware of the happening in anticipation.

White Paper

“The least, the Government of India could do, is to grant real autonomy to the Jammu and Kashmir state as envisioned by the Constituent Assembly of India and ratified by the Constituent Assembly,” reads the White Paper. The PAGD has demanded that Delhi must undertake a dispassionate appraisal of the August 2019 decision. It has given a detailed account of why Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status and how it was deprived of the same through “propaganda smokescreen, mistruths.” It has termed decisions as “constitutionally impermissible” and “morally un-condonable”.

The paper claims that the major reason for economic distress is the Indus Water Treaty as it restricts J&K from making full use of its water resources, the only natural resource available in abundance. It has also claimed the central government has not disbursed pending funds and relief packages.

The report in order to counter the narrative of economic backwardness has offered statistics suggesting that in spite of 30 years of turmoil, the state excelled in the areas of education, health, and infrastructural development. It rejects the idea that so-called economic backwardness was responsible for whatever subversive activity exists. It does not accept that dynastic politics led to the loot of Kashmir’s wealth and Article 370 gave freedom to rulers to indulge in large scale corruption. Much of “the propaganda blitz”, can be laid to rest by examining the State’s pre-2019 record on the growth and human development front.

PAGD terms it false that Jammu and Kashmir was plagued by corruption and misgovernance. While “the suppression of dissent and democratic functioning” was enforced,  the right-wing is painting a picture of poor economic performance in the pre-August 2019 era, the paper said.

It has also been argued that Articles 370, 35A facilitated uniform empowerment and did not impede upon progressive and welfare legislation and not otherwise.  It has also underscored that over the years, Article 370 was arbitrarily eroded.

The Counterpoint

The PAGD antagonists, however, insist that the two parties were contributors to the erosion of autonomy.  “The President of India issued an order in July 1986 extending Article 249 of the Constitution empowering Parliament to legislate on state list through the resolution in Rajya Sabha. Centre’s own appointee Jagmohan, the then Governor gave the concurrence to such an assault on autonomy,” Bukhari said. “Did we react and work for its undoing?”

Perhaps the first photograph that shows the Jammu and Kashmir politicians at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Delhi residence on June 24, 2021, on the occasion of All-Party Meeting that he hosted. This was the first outreach of the Government of India for Jammu and Kashmir politicians.

Bukhari, a former BJPDP law minister said when Congress extended Article 249 it did not meet any opposition.  Same, he said was done by his own government in GST.

NC-PDP

NC spokesman, Imran Nabi Dar, said that BJP just has rhetoric, allegations as they have nothing to show. “What have they achieved in more than two years? Except for further alienation, distress, torture and mental trauma, we witnessed nothing. BJP has no facts and they are good at blaming and turning blind eye to facts across the country,” he said.

BJP leader Devender Singh Rana addressing a gathering in Panchayat Baran of block Bhalwal on March 7, 2022

The white paper, he said presents facts as the people are being fed with a fake narrative. Mohit Bhan, Dar’s counterpart in PDP said it is very important to tell people what is happening after the abrogation of Article 370. “They were launching old schemes and inaugurating old projects as passing it down as their work post-August 5, 2019,” Bhan said. He pointed out that non-locals are being employed when Jammu and Kashmir’s own unemployment rates are soaring.

Many mega projects like the Central University, Banihal Tunnel, Nashri Tunnel and ZMorh Tunnel being highlighted by the current ruling dispensation are projects started during the UPA2 regime under the Prime Ministership of Dr Manmohan Singh.

Omar Abdulah at the book release function on M K Stalin, the Tamil Nadur Chief Minister, in Chennai on February 28 2022

Bhan said while so-called dynastic politics is being loudly talked about Kashmir, are not the sons of BJP bigwigs holding lucrative positions. “Are not sons of Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah in the Parliament and Cricket board?” he asked.

PAGD spokesperson, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that the alliance will invite all MPs of Parliament for a discussion on Article 370 abrogation and will also send copies of the white paper to the President. He forewarned that if this constitutional assault will be ignored it will have ramifications across the country. “This assault on constitutional rights has become a poison, which can reach Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and other states. We appeal to Indian intelligentsia, civil society, the press and all Indians to understand the pain of Kashmiris,” he said, as it clarifies whether Article 370 can be rolled back, whether Article 35 A can be removed and was it all constitutionally legal?

Interestingly, however, the Twitter and social media newsfeed of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, which has diverse audiences and huge reach, the white paper failed to make it to their handles. The two parties and their leaders would have reached almost 38 lakh people on Twitter alone, had they used the medium available to them.

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