Disorganising Reorganisation

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The Gupkar Declaration has been a major political development in recent days. Almost similar insecurities are pushing the political class in Ladakh and Jammu to initiatives akin to Gupkar. Tracing the evolution of the Gupkar initiative, Tasavur Mushtaq offers an idea about how the other two regions are managing their insecurities unleashed in August 2019

A file photo of senior leaders of mainstream political parties during a meeting on August 4, 2019.

After being jailed jointly for the most of the year after unilateral scrapping of the special status, Kashmir’s unionist politicians picked up the threads from Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019. It was sort of a political process that took place in jail. With many highs and lows, the individuals representing different political formations within the so-called mainstream camp eventually joined hands for the Gupkar Declaration 2.0.

This bonhomie, however, was apparently in making for a long time.

In April 2014, when Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) came out with its manifesto, the pledge to revoke Kashmir’s special status was prominent. Parties in Jammu and Kashmir saw it an electoral gimmick. Former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah said Article 370 revocation will reopen the entire issue of accession. “As far as Article 370 is concerned, let us understand it cannot be revoked without reopening the entire question of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India,” Omar said. “If the BJP is prepared to reopen that question, we have no problem talking about it. The problem is the BJP is absolutely unclear about what it wants.”

Referring to his stint in National Democratic Alliance (NDA), when he was a minister, Omar noted, “I have been a part of the NDA, and hence I know that there was never a discussion on any of the issues. The BJP uses the issues to come to power and are kept on the back burner once they are there.”

Dr Farooq Abdullah, however, slammed the BJP’s manifesto and termed it a means to “hoodwink the voters”. At the time of filing his nomination papers for Srinagar seat, Farooq said: “BJP’s aim has always been to remove Article 370 and they are lying when they say that there is a scope for discussion. It’s mere eyewash, but we will never allow it to happen till we are alive.”

Gupkar: What Next?

BJPDP Government

With the assembly elections over in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP and PDP allied after protracted deliberations between Haseeb Drabu and Ram Madhav. They negotiated an Agenda of Alliance (AoA) that said: “the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir including the special status in the Constitution of India.”

Mehbooba Mufti with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Srinagar. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

As the next general elections came, the BJP manifesto mentioned again the revocation of special status. It was in April 2019. By then, BJP had undone BJPDP government in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370. We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state,” relevant section of the manifesto read.

Reactions To Manifesto

However, the Kashmir parties reacted. Arch-rivals fighting on the same turf, NC and PDP talked in almost identical terms. As NC said it will pave way for “freedom” from India, the PDP warned them to stop “playing with fire”.

“Jammu and Kashmir is already sitting on a powder keg. If the BJP does not stop making such statements and give up such intentions (about Article 370), it will not only burn the state but the entire region,” Mehbooba said. By abrogating the special status, Mehbooba said “Indian Constitution won’t be applicable to the state anymore.” Dr Farooq, who was in the fray for contesting the parliamentary elections, said: “If you do that (repeal Article 370), the accession will also not stand. I think this is the wish of Almighty, we will get freedom from them,” he said.

Dr Farooq Abdullah and other NC leaders at party headquarter after NC won all three Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir.

Even People’s Conference led by Sajad Lone also talked on similar lines. “Article 370 and 35-A are sacred,” Lone said. “The only space for movement in this regard is the reversal of the erosions. Any other reckless thought or comment seeking removal is a disaster”. Communist leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami said abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A will have “unimaginable repercussions.” Congress party in Jammu and Kashmir said these provisions are “irrevocable”.

Speaking to an election meeting in Baramulla, Omar went a step ahead, saying NC would bring back the demand of “separate Prime Minister and President of Kashmir”. “To maintain our identity distinctly, we entered certain things in the Constitution. We said our identity would be ours, we will have our own law, our own flag,” he said. “At that time we also had our Sadar-e-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam, and God willing we will bring that back.”

Modi Reacts

Narendra Modi, speaking at a public rally at Telangana’s Secunderabad, said, “A major ally of the Congress, Mahagathbandhan’s powerful minister – the National Conference has said that there should be a separate Prime Minister in Kashmir. You tell me, do you agree with this demand of the Congress’ ally?”

Rajnath Singh, the then Home Minister, reacted sharply: “If someone talks about a separate Prime Minister for Jammu and Kashmir, we will have no option other than to abolish Article 370 and Article 35A.”

In the following months, there was an uneasy calm with everybody anticipating that “something is going to happen.”

Wrapped Warning

Late July 2019, a series of government advisories triggered panic. With the massive paramilitary deployment, the literal pushback of tourists, and an unprecedented halt to ongoing Amarnath Yatra, the quick-pace events triggered chaos. Coming events were casting the shadow. Officials from Delhi to Srinagar talked about the “rumours”.  The political class, already out of the governance structure, grew anxious on the Gupkar ‘power street’. Dr Farooq, Omar and Husnain Masoodi visited the Prime Minister in Delhi. With no clue, the Kashmir parties decided to meet under the leadership of Dr Farooq Abdullah. Eventually, they passed a resolution suggesting that “all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever.”

PM Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh

They adopted the ’Gupkar Declaration’.

Later, Omar led a delegation to the then-governor Satya Pa Malik and were told that “all is well.” Unconvinced, Omar urged that Kashmir should get assurance from the parliament. “We want to hear it from the Parliament that there is no need for people to be afraid,” Omar said after meeting with Malik.

The parliament resumed. The Home Minister spoke. By then, however, most of the unionist politicians were under detention, Kashmir was under physical and virtual curfew. The special status was read down.

The Reunion

After being jolted during a yearlong jail term, when unionists right to roam around was restored, the destination remained unchanged – the residence of Dr Farooq Abdullah. This time they wanted a follow-up to Gupkar Declaration. They eventually released Gupkar Declaration-II. NC, PDP, Congress, Peoples Conference (PC), CPI(M), and the Awami National Conference (ANC) vowed to fight collectively the revocation.

Terming the Centre’s unilateral decision as “grossly unconstitutional” and a “measure to dis-empower” Jammu and Kashmir, the parties unequivocally and unanimously reiterated that there can be “nothing about us without us”. Outside the fold, however, questions were raised over the presence of national parties like Congress and CPI(M). In fact, Haseeb Drabu raised the issue in one of his columns. Both the national parties responded saying their participation in the joint initiative is the outcome of their party decision at the national level.

In between, there were interesting developments. Omar Abdullah, for instance, broke his silence in an interview with The Indian Express in which he seemed angrier and hurt. He said he would not contest any election in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. It did trigger a series of controversies to which he took his own time to respond.

Post-Gupkar 2.0,  Dr Farooq took over the crucial issue himself. Seemingly, Omar silently shifted his stand. Asserting that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India”, Omar told at the launch of a book India Tomorrow: Conversations with the Next Generation of Political Leaders that he is very clear that he won’t ask Delhi to reverse its position on the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35 A or convert the newly formed Union Territory back into a state. “…why would I ask Mr Modi to reverse what Mr Modi has done? It’s stupid. It’s pointless. It’s just tokenism. It’s the worst form of politics because all I’d be doing is trying to appease the voters, knowing full well that nothing will come out of it. And I don’t want to do that. I think the politics of appeasement is the worst thing I can do to people here,” he explained.

Political commentator and journalist, Mohammad Sayeed Malik in his post wrote the statement has “seriously compromised NC’s declared stand on Gupkar Resolution.”

“Evidently, Omar has washed his hands off the Gupkar Resolution seeking restoration of the constitutional position as it existed on August 4, 2019,” Malik wrote, adding “would it be wrong to infer that Omar’s categoric statement places his NC at par with Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party? At least on this crucial juncture.”

To review the togetherness of parties in Kashmir, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav flew to Srinagar and met party leaders. Sources said only two things were on the agenda, “security of party workers and scenario post-Gupkar declaration-II.”

Past Practice

The rare unity in the political class is taking place only for the second time since 1947. “The first time being in 1955 when Plebiscite Front was founded, immediately after the first, the mother of all Constitutional Order, 1954 was promulgated,” Drabu wrote. The Front seeking plebiscite finally signed the Indira Abdullah-Accord in 1975. “In those 20 years, which then Sheikh Abdullah himself labelled as siyasi awaragardi, the boycotted elections enabled easy victories for those backed by Delhi. That is history.”

File photo of Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Justice Hasnain Masoodi with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Comparing 2020 with 1975, Malik said: “if the position taken by Omar eventually turns out to be the stand of his party, the situation would seem to be an action replay of 1975.” Explaining his point, the veteran journalist wrote, “Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s path to return to power in 1975 also started from his demand for ‘restoration of pre-1953 constitutional position’ but ended up too far from it.”

Omar, he said seems “emulating his grandfather and conceding that the demand for the return to August 4, 2019, the position was nothing but a fruitless political gimmick.” Interestingly, NC avoided reacting to what Omar said.

Alternate Approach

Not averse to scraping the special status, at least initially, Jammu and Ladakh regions have grown sensitive towards their “identities.” As the momentary celebrations concluded, the public and politicians are out with their demands to “safeguard” their interests.

Desperate to seek division from the erstwhile state, particularly Kashmir, and desirous of “integration” with the rest of the country, the majority of the politicians in Ladakh are seeking safeguards. Leaving aside the party affiliations and differences, the desert leaders, have started a campaign to pursue an alternate view on the emerging situation.

People taking out a rally in Leh demands constitutional safeguard. Pic:: Excelsior

Ladakh veterans have demanded the implementation of the 6th schedule for the region. They have rejected the new domicile laws. They are, however, thankful for the union territory status but want a legislative assembly. “We are happy that we have been freed from the yoke of selfish rulers who remote-controlled us both as people and territory,” their resolution reads.

“Our movement for UT was motivated by a desire to gain self-respect through a system of self-governance to preserve and perpetuate our rare social, cultural, environmental, and linguistic heritage. It was intended to achieve greater cooperation between us and the Union Government but instead, we find that a conventional approach has been adopted marked by non-application of mind to our historic struggle for political empowerment,” they added. The signatories include former Members of Parliament, Thiksay Rinpochey and Thupstan Chhewang, Congress veteran Nawang Rigzin Jora and former minister Chering Dorjay. Congress support to the Ladakh demand in Leh and Gupkar Declaration in Srinagar explains the crisis looming over the initiative.

Fearing sort of isolation, BJP led Ladakh Hill Development Council Leh attended by 30 councillors passed a resolution seeking safeguards under Article 371 of the Constitution of India or sixth schedule or domicile law to protect the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh.

“Keeping in view the aspirations of the people of Ladakh, I would like to move the resolution that the Union Territory of Ladakh be granted constitutional safeguards for the land, environment, employment, business, and cultural resources either under 6th schedule or under Article 371 or domicile act under the Constitution of India to protect the tribal rights of the indigenous people of Ladakh,” the resolution reads. The resolution was moved by BJP’s LAHDC Deputy Chairman and was unanimously passed.

Interestingly the BJP MP from Ladakh Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the one who won accolades for his speech against Article 370 in the parliament was also present and reportedly welcomed the resolution.

Kargil, however, is not part of the Leh initiative. The movement in this part of the desert is for status quo ante.

Jammu Response

Jammu is keen to see its interests are secured. Barring the recent oath ceremony of new Lieutenant Governor, the main BJP leaders have curtailed their public presence.

Members of the BJP women wing celebrating the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu in August 2019. Pic courtesy: PTI

Former IAS officer, KB Jandial believes that the current situation is a defining moment in Jammu’s history. In a write-up, he suggested a Jammu declaration. “Jammu has always missed such opportunities to demonstrate their political unity for a cause,” he wrote. “Today, the opportunity has come again and with its all-inclusiveness, Jammu must grab it to counter Kashmir’s effort to again command hegemony over Jammu. Jammu’s civil society should take initiative and bring all political forces at a common platform for Jammu’s cause and come up with Jammu Declaration.”

If that happens, it will also have a Kargil like component in Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal Valley. Efforts are underway to explore the possibility of the rise of another high-altitude political initiative for the people, seemingly caught in between Kashmir and Jammu.

Post Script

With most of the PDP, the second major Kashmir party, still restricted to homes (Mehbooba Mufti is under PSA), the real politics is still far away. The indications suggest that political class in Jammu and Ladakh will also face crucial existential issues in coming days. Seemingly, the road ahead is bumpy and uneven for the Gupkar Resolution. As the national political forces re-organised Jammu and Kashmir, now the local political forces will push it towards the new disorganisation. In that chaos, who will be able to net the fish, is an open game.

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