New Politics

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Political forces moving out of the PDP are reshaping the two new parties and making them the ‘new’ mainstream writesZahoor Malik 

Peoples Democratic Party President (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti arrives at the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in connection with an alleged money laundering case, at Rajbagh in Srinagar, Thursday, March 25, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Eclipsed post- August 5, 2019, Sajjad Gani Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) is in the spotlight. The joining of former PDP leaders Muzzafar Hussain Beig, Basharat  Bukhari,  Khurshid Alam and Pir Mansoor added much-needed weight to the party. Otherwise, it was Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, which was in focus.

 Out of PAGD

It took some time for Sajjad to come out of  Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which National Conference, PDP, Peoples Conference, CPI( M) and some other parties had formed for restoration of articles 370 and 35 A. PC alleged that NC fielded proxy candidates against PAGD candidates in recently held development council polls.

 At a recent press conference, Lone said that Article 370 can be restored only either through the judiciary or parliament. Claims by people suggesting the read-down provision can be restored by any other means is misleading, he said. Apparently, Sajjad is trying now to bring back his party on rails as it was before August 5, 2019.

A Claim To Top Position

On November 21, 2018, Sajjad had staked a claim for forming a government with other parties (including BJP) when PDP too had staked a claim for forming the government with NC and Congress support. Then, Altaf Bukhari had emerged as the consensus candidate of PDP and NC for the post of chief minister. The letters about staking the claim to form the government were faxed to the then governor Satya Pal Malik by the respective parties.

Apni Party leaders with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on March 14, 2020.

Malik, however, claimed that he did not receive the letters as the Raj Bhawan fax machine was out of order and that there was nobody to repair the machine as employees were on Eid holiday. In quick follow-up, Malik dissolved the assembly.

Post-assembly dissolution, all parties made up their mind to make preparations for fresh assembly polls. They had no idea what central leadership was secretly planning. Everything became clear finally on August 5, 2019.

A New Situation

After Article 370 was abrogated, the centre told in clear cut terms to Kashmir politicians against pressing for its restoration. While Abdullahs and Muftis and a few others showed resistance, a good flock, mostly from a PDP background, agreed to do politics beyond article 370. Altaf Bukhari founded Apni Party and became the new face of mainstream leadership. Sajjad too pulled out of PAGD and his party is emerging as a parallel camp to Bukhari. PDP and NC leaders say both camps have the patronage of central leadership.

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone along with his senior leaders Muzaffar Hussain Baig, at his residence in Srinagar on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

On the other hand, leaders in the two camps believe that PAGD will lose steam with every passing day and will soon die its death. They refer to the PAGD silence over the questioning of Mehbooba Mufti by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Their argument is that NC avoided reacting to the issue unlike Mehbooba in Dr Farooq’s summoning by the ED. However, Mehbooba tried to play down the issue saying PAGD has been formed for a much bigger issue and not like questioning by ED.

Later, however, Omar Abdullah did react angrily to the government refusing Mehbooba a passport on the grounds that she was a threat to national security. He asked why was not she a threat when she was the chief minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government and was heading the unified headquarter of various security and intelligence agencies and also heading the state’s home department. Interestingly, even her mother was denied a passport on the same grounds.

Changed Equations

The political situation changed drastically in Jammu and Kashmir after BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba government on June 19, 2018. She might have never imagined that a situation can emerge in her political career when she would be denied a passport and declared a security threat by none other than her erstwhile ally.

Till she was in office, Mehbooba seemingly had a good rapport with central leadership and was able to manage the anger and protest by state BJP leadership against some of her moves. This possibly made her overconfident and cost her politically. She is still being remembered for her “toffee and milk” comment in a joint press conference with the then union home minister Rajnath Singh. She alleged that youth were being made shields by those organising violent protests and provoked to pelt stones on security forces camps.” While she was appreciated by TV anchors for her “bold and courageous” statement, she lost a lot of clout and ground back home. Eventually, she apologised. But it was very late.

Besides, some PDP leaders were unhappy with Mehbooba’s move to bring her brother from Bollywood and induct him as minister. With some of her relatives enjoying a free hand to some also did not go well within her party and the ally. Many believe that her biggest flaw as a politician and as a chief minister was that she was totally unaware of what was cooking up in Delhi against her. And she received a big shock and surprise when BJP withdrew support to her government and she had to resign.

Now she lacks a passport and has to explain to ED. Her party’s space is being filled by the PC and Apni Party. It is her statements that keep her in news.

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