Historic Gamble

Tariq Hameed Karra created history by resigning from Lok Sabha in protest against the happenings in Kashmir. But will the decision push him to change the course of politics or join a different political force, Masood Hussain explains

Mehbooba Mufti and Tariq Hameed Karra after Party’s win Pics: Bilal Bahadur
Mehbooba Mufti and Tariq Hameed Karra after Party’s win
Pics: Bilal Bahadur

“You should understand the dilemma from my point of view,” Tariq Hameed Karra tells one of his followers trying to explain why  he did not resign on day one and waited for all the 16 months. “PDP to me was akin to my home that I, with others, built brick-by-brick and when somebody’s home is on fire, what do you do?”

Karra, sitting in the middle of a select crowd, drawn from various places across central Kashmir, explains his position to them. “The first priority is to extinguish the fire and if it becomes impossible then, one tries to get the valuables out to safety and when he fails on all fronts, he jumps out from the window to save himself,” Karra tell the story to his responsive group. “That is exactly what I did.”

For the last more than a week after creating history by becoming the first elected Lok Sabha member from Kashmir who resigned to protest against an overwhelming situation, prevailing for nearly seven fortnights, Karra spends his days in talking to people. In the tale-telling meeting, there were people from Kangan, Ganderbal and most of Srinagar, even a few women “It is just sharing of ideas and nothing more,” Karra said. “Nothing can be done in a situation where anger dominates the street.”

The people meeting him invariably come with three things: a response to how his resignation was taken by the society; a response what Karra and his people should do in coming days and a newspaper that carries their resignation. In the hall that is home to Karra’s new politics, there is a register in which the published resignations are collected.

“It is growing gradually,” one of his workers, the custodian of the register, said. “Wait till situation improves, it will get thick.”

But Karra lacks hopes of any major resignation getting into the register. Neither of his erstwhile party’s “disgruntled” elements is apparently following him, not the man whom he made the politician or his relative. But that does not apply to the workers who follow him in central Kashmir where he worked tirelessly in 2014 to become the ‘king-slayer’ by defeating Dr Farooq Abdullah. Karra’s capacities as an organizer and a party man have been acknowledged even by his political adversaries.

While his resignation has been acknowledged by the entire separatist clan, his workers tell him about the mosques and the Imam’s who mentioned him in their Friday speeches. They tell him about slogans in certain protests where he was mentioned. One worker says that his resignation has created a credibility issue for people like Engineer Rashid, Yousuf Tarigami and others “who talk big without compromising their status”. Then a young bearded man cracks the routine: “I came out of the police station only yesterday after 10 days (arrest). Somehow I escaped the (public safety) act they (PDP) were so keen to get me in under.”

Tariq Hamid Karra addressing PDP workers during in election campaign in old city. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Tariq Hamid Karra addressing PDP workers during in election campaign in old city.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Karra’s political background is rooted in Kashmir’s history. But most of his career was in PDP when, after spending a brief time in NC, Karra became the founding Secretary General of the PDP in 1999. He became a member of legislative council and eventually was elected from Batamaloo in a by-election and became a minister of finance and urban development. Pretty controversial, his tenures remained noisy and newsy. After his party was pushed to opposition in 2008 polls, Karra distanced from the party leadership. At times, it was looking almost possible that Karra would resign and join his rivals. But when PDP started hunting for the Lok Sabha candidates, certain choices were ideal: Muzaffar Hussain Beig from north Kashmir and Karra from central Kashmir. Both founding members engaged in an internal war for No 2 position, were apparently pushed to elections to get consumed.

They won and added to their individual worth. Later when PDP started negotiating with BJP, Karra and many others, spoke against the idea.

That was perhaps the reason for Karra having strained relations with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. For most of the nine months, Mufti led the government; Karra would attack it for allying with BJP.

But Karra made surprise reappearance after Mufti’s death early 2016. Apparently aimed at bridging the gap, Ms Mufti gave him a clear say in party affairs. In fact, it was Karra who helped turn the tide when a strong section within the party was keen to elected president outside the family. “I saw the situation and then decided,” Karra told Kashmir Life, “I obviously supported the lesser danger.”

But the bonhomie did not last long. At the time of oath-taking when Ms Mufti partially accommodated Karra’s concerns, tensions were back at play. He boycotted Ms Mufti’s oath-taking ceremony. This gulf widened after the unrest broke out at a huge cost to the society and a “choked” Karra decided to shout from his Shivpora roof-top.

MP Tariq Hamid Karra

PDP, Karra tells his workers, was set-up to survive as a political buffer between Delhi’s ultra-nationalists and Kashmir’s separatists.

“It was like a political sandbag that would take the hit from both sides but dominate the middle ground,” Karra said. “That position has been compromised completely as the party is clearly on one side now, siding with fascists.”

Karra says PDP has resorted to things it was designed to oppose. “We won the election because we said we will not kill people, we will withdraw the pellet and chilly guns and we will talk and facilitate negotiations,” Karra said, “Now, we are creating a generation of blind, filling cemeteries and accusing Pakistan for everything that happens in Kashmir.”

Pained that every reaction from Delhi paints Kashmiris as Pakistanis, Karra said the youth stands pushed to the wall. “His gun could have Pakistan links, I understand but how could a protest and a stone be Pakistani?” Karra asked. “They dub every kind of protest as Pakistani so I decided why do not I resign after having taking oath of constitution of J&K and India, and see if they say it was also directed by Pakistan.” He shocked his family with his decision barely 12 hours ahead of making his resignation public. Almost three crore rupees of salary and perks apart, Karra as MP would control a resource kitty of nearly Rs 20 crore of MPLADs in his term. But the politician who has declared assets of more than Rs 100 crore insists he doesn’t care about the personal benefit part of his decision.

His resignation had panicked all. While his own party was expecting some people to follow, even the tensions were felt in NC. “If he gets a few more people following him, the move has the capacity to push the mainstream (unionist camp) back to 1990s,” one former minister told Kashmir Life. “But I think, system at some level is aware of the costs the gamble could have.” Some of Karra’s erstwhile colleagues were shocked by the “move” saying “this much of courage is a rare stuff”.

Resignation apart, the reasons behind the decision that Karra read out to the media, were disastrous. Listing the consequences of the alliance and his abortive interventions, Karra detailed how his party’s ally was intervening in key areas of faith and special position that J&K enjoys. Dubbing Delhi’s responses hegemonies and Modi’s utterances exploitative, Karra drew parallels between the ruling alliance and the Nazis of Germany, a key point that led to mentioning of his statement by Pakistan in the ongoing UN assembly.

The resignation, Karra says, was not directed at “embarrassing or undoing parties”. “Regardless of what they want, the youth on streets cannot be pushed to the wall further by giving them a sense of defeat,” Karra said. “Instead of embarrassing anybody, my resignation is my personal initiative aimed at somehow contributing in dousing the flames.” Karra said that had he aimed at his party, he would have brought down many reputations. “I know everything about everyone but exposing people is not my idea,” Karra said. “Perhaps these guys do not understand the situation.”

Tariq Hameed Karra (extreme left) with his brother, sister and parents.
Tariq Hameed Karra (extreme left) with his brother, sister and parents.

While the possibility of the “gamble” getting reduced to a knot, once the situation improves, is not ruled out, the bigger question for Karra is what next? His resignation does not mean he has deserted the camp or renounced his ideology. For him choices are limited: to join an existing party or simply float his own.

Karra says it is too early to reach a conclusion. “As you saw, I am consulting with my people and right now my only idea is how to contribute in cooling the tensions that dominate the street,” Karra said, “Once that happens, something has to be done.” He does want that Delhi must talk to the people. He is keen that the inhumanity dominating the street must end and the justice delivered to people. He is pained that Delhi is deliberately suppressing a genuine case by using wait-and-watch tactics at the cost of the people. “Why only Kashmir needs pellet guns, by the way,” he asks.

Creating a new party is a long, resource and effort intensive process. Floating a new party will essentially mean helping Delhi further divide the Kashmir mandate, already shared by NC and PDP and many others in such a way that there is no possibility of a single-party rule in Kashmir. Already, there are plans being discussed behind closed doors that Kashmir should have three parties – one each for south, north and central Kashmir to manage competitive politics within the unionist camp and help rediscover Kamraz, Maraz and Yemraz.

This situation may push Karra to follows his courtyard creepers that have given a new identity to some of the tree species hosting them. They are grown something differently they look like now. Even an electric pole looks so lush green!


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