Started as an almost stillborn initiative in the wake of haze in August 2019, with an avowed objective to fight for Jammu and Kashmir’s rights, the PAGD was eventually reduced to a photo-op for JKNC and PDP. In the wake of Lok Sabha polls, the two parties have landed in a situation where they will face each other and it marks the end of it, reports BabraWani

The unmaking of PAGD, an illustration by KL designer Malik Kaisar

“Very humbly may I state that I stand vindicated,” was the curt response that Peoples’ Conference leader Sajad Lone put on his X account, hours after Kashmir’s two key political parties, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) indicated that the two are going separately to the electoral hustings in the fast approaching Lok Sabha Polls. Lone was a key player in formalising the loose alliance aimed at jointly fighting for the read-down special status, which was eventually named the People’s Alliance on Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).

As the alliance took off, the naysayers had hinted that it would fall under its own weight. Congress was the first to crawl out of the alliance, and Sajad seconded, leaving PDP, JKNC, CPI (M) and Awami National Conference (ANC) for occasional photo-ups. Within four years of its takeoff, the two main parties made their disagreements over electoral politics public and the “stillborn” initiative almost grounded.

The development took place within less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Srinagar and spoke to a huge gathering in which he talked about everything other than the PAGD objective. Non-PAGD political forces asserted that it was destined to end this way as they had indicated earlier. “This round was won by the BJP, hands down,” one observer said. “Now, one can expect more in the coming days.”

Twin Pressers

Unmaking of PAGD was a work in progress from the day; the two Kashmir parties started sharing the dice. In the last year, things started moving quite fast and it eventually reached a stage on Saturday when the two parties stated their positions which eventually meant the undoing of it. This is despite the fact, as JKNC leader Nasir Sogami explained earlier that PAGD is not an electoral alliance but is framed for a particular cause.

Both parties are part of the grand INDIA alliance that has been constituted as a counter to the BJP-led NDA in the country. Of the six Lok Sabha berths in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, currently, three are held by BJP (Ladakh, Jammu, Udhampur) and three by JKNC (Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla). The party has maintained from the very beginning that since three seats are already with INDIA ally, the seat sharing must focus on the three berths which are with the BJP. While it was public knowledge already, Omar Abdullah only reiterated it formally.

Omar Abdullah’s Presser

Omar spoke to the media at his party headquarters on Friday. “We have not ousted PDP it is the current situation that ousted the party,” Omar told reporters. “We are often (being) asked why not give the South Kashmir seat to PDP, why cannot they contest in the elections from there? How can this happen and what kind of politics is it that the party which achieved the third rank in the last elections should be allowed to contest, while number one and two parties should leave their claim? And that too for the seat which is not under any influence or threat from BJP?”

The JKNC Vice President expressed the hurt and anger over what happened in the recent past. PDP members, he said, have time and again targeted NC through their tweets, during their rallies and in their speeches as well. “Why does not anyone ask them what kind of coalition it is? Since past two years whenever PDP held their raising days, more than BJP it was the NC that was targeted,” Omar regretted. “Records are there; even the songs that were sung there, albain hataaw kalam dawaat ko vote daalo (remove the plough, vote pen and inkpot). Should we forget about that?”

More recently when Pakistan elections were allegedly rigged by a section of the political parties with the help of the army, there were tweets in Kashmir saying it is exactly what Kashmir witnessed in 1987. Then, the JKNC-Congress alliance allegedly rigged polls and “deafest” the erstwhile Muslim United Front (MUF) as a result of which militancy broke out within a year.

“Even for what happened there, NC is held accountable through tweets,” Omar said. “What kind of coalition dharma is this? PDP even interfered when Azad was targeting Farooq Abdullah, through their Twitter platform. Is that coalition?”

Omar said running a coalition and ensuring units is not just JKNCs responsibility alone. “It is not just our responsibility to run the coalition; it is their responsibility as well. Until they stop targeting us, they should not pin their hopes on us,” he said. “To keep it intact or make it work, it is the responsibility of every political party.”

Despite being targeted continuously, Omar said he told Congress that though there is not a larger scope of sharing these six seats, but JKNC is ready to work together in the assembly election. There was a caveat, however, “on the condition that we will see how they (JKPDP) behave during the upcoming parliamentary elections.”

Omar told Congress they can contest from Udhampur, Jammu and Ladakh, “We told them we will not be contesting from those seats. We all should try to send a candidate through mutual consensus, who will be able to win the seat and represent us against the BJP,” Omar said. “Even for the Anantnag seat, we said we could give it to them even though it was our seat. But since we won the seat, we were not ready to leave it for any third party, which I think is our right.”

When asked if, in that case, Congress gives it to PDP, Omar said that a party ranked third has no right to claim or ask for a seat. “They (PDP) got third rank because a force was with them. How many of those people who helped them in achieving the third rank are in PDP now?” Omar asked. “It makes no sense and I want to clear this that had I been informed before going into the INDIA alliance that we have to weaken ourselves for some other member to gain power, possibly I would not have joined the alliance. The only reason we joined the alliance was that we are facing BJP and NDA.”

Mehbooba Counters

Within a few hours after Omar’s statements splashed on the TV screens, Mehbooba Mufti came to her party headquarters and talked to the media. She admitted she was hurt but looked not angry.

“On August 4, 2019, I went to the places of many political leaders to try to unite them to face all of the upcoming storms. Then abrogation happened, and we were all put under detention, and back then when Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were released they also said that we all would be united and until Mehbooba Mufti was released we could not comment on our next moves,” Mehbooba told reporters in the presser. “And since that day till now, there has been an increase in our challenges, and tribulations. It is heartbreaking to witness the sufferings of people here. And there is nobody to talk about them. You may even have witnessed how our party was shattered. Considering all these factors, we collectively decided to show our resistance by forming PAGD and we even conducted meetings, and took decisions about how to move forward.”

New Delhi has always had this on their mind to break this alliance, to break PAGD, as it had become the face of resistance here in Kashmir. The people of Kashmir found a hope in PAGD. We have collectively done a lot of work, from meeting the Prime Minister to meeting the Governor, we have collectively attended to a lot of developments and even made decisions together,” she said.

When DDC elections took place in Kashmir, she said, JKNC suggested contesting together, because of which “many of our members whom we could not provide any mandate to, left the party”. But, she said, “We thought let us stick to the larger cause and stay united. We wanted to send this message across that we are strong together and we will face everything head on as one unit.”

Mehbooba stated that when a conversation regarding Jammu and Kashmir in joining the Opposition INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance –a large political alliance in India consisting of 27 political parties as of February 16, 2024) began, “I told them that Farooq Abdullah, is the senior most leader from Jammu and Kashmir, and he will take a call on the seat-sharing issue in Kashmir. We were always steadfast in this statement of ours. We always thought of him as the PAGD leader.”

“I am disappointed,” Mehbooba admitted. Every time a decision was taken in the PAGD, Farooq Abdullah would take everyone on board and inform everyone by calling or gathering them. “This time while taking this huge decision, he did not consider us. He just stated that the PDP stands nowhere in the alliance. But had he told us or informed us about their decision to contest all three seats, we may have approved of it or at least been aware enough.”

The former Chief Minister asserted that her party was ready to make the sacrifice for unity. “What difference would one seat make to us? It does not make any difference, but I think that the hope that the people of Kashmir had in the PAGD alliance or the INDIA alliance has been left brutally dejected through this decision of the National Conference. The last hope of the people has been shattered by the own members of PAGD.”

“I always wanted to face our opponent as a united team, since our opponent is very powerful but the decisions made by the NC have now changed everything. We now stand on the opposite ends and the only thing that I know now is PDP may be down but we are not out. We will move forward,” she said. “I believe that only people can help us now, as they hold the ultimate decision-making power and it is very important for us to raise our voice in the parliament, and we have decided to talk to other members and the rest of the alliance to take the further discourse.”

It hurts, she said, that something that “you have valued for more than five years, the unity we had,” is gone. “It hurts to see that unity scrambling. We thought we would fight for the cause of Kashmir as one unit but today we have been separated because of a few seats,” she said. “While I am hurt, but I am hopeful as well, I have full faith in my workers, and I am hopeful that they will take PDP to new heights just like they did back in 2014 and make the party shine.”

Replying to Omar’s statement regarding PDP standing third in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mehbooba said that NC has lost elections in the past as well. “Does that mean they should not contest in any election? It is very strange this reason.”

Asserting that the alliance has been reduced to a “joke”, she added that since PAGD, which she called a unique alliance that was constitutional is over, “We are still in the INDIA alliance and we will look about it. We have always tried our best and we will continue to do so, even if PAGD has been reduced to a mere joke and that was not our move at all. We still want the alliance to be there but unfortunately, it is over.”

A Major Development

JKNC and PDP, the main stakeholders in the Kashmir landscape – dubbed dynasts by the BJP, going separately is a major development. As they will face each other in the Lok Sabha, it is likely to add to the bad blood that will prevent any kind of patch-up between the two in the assembly election, which, LG Manoj Sinha said will be held within the time frame set by the Supreme Court. The Election Commission of India has indicated that it has started making the mandatory spade work for the exercise.

Though the Lok Sabha elections hardly matter in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir or even in the parliament where the six members are in an absolute minority, it is expected to have an impact on the outcomes of the two elections in the next year. These can also have serious implications for the local body and municipal polls as well.

BJP is happy that the decision will have a serious impact on the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat and even in north Kashmir. The right-wing party insiders believe that while they have no issues in retaining Jammu and Udhampur, the “real prize” will be to wrest the Anantnag-Rajpouri from the “dynasts”. There is a strong possibility of a Pahari leader from Kashmir contesting from the south Kashmir seat to add to the vote division.

A Marriage of Convenience

BJP leader Kavinder Gupta termed PAGD a “brittle alliance” and “marriage of convenience” that was destined to meet a tragic death. “With BJP making inroads in Kashmir and making a strong foothold with the wholehearted support of common masses, uprooting of so-called Kashmir-centric PDP and NC has become inevitable leading to the collapse of this ornamental patch-up between north-south parties,” Gupta, a former Deputy Chief Minister in BJPDP alliance said in a statement. “People should not get confused or swayed going after this short-lived and purposeless galvanisation of poles-apart parties especially since they have the best option in the shape of nationalist party BJP.”

Bukhari’s Take

The collapse of the “card house” coincided with the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party celebrating its fourth raising day. A party that comprises mostly the members of the PDP under the leadership of business tycoon, Altaf Bukhari, it has been vocal throughout against the PAGD.

“Once again they have poured water over the expectations of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Bukhari told reporters. “This has been their record. History has told us that they are deceivers. PAGD was a point of resistance but unfortunately today these traitors betrayed the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

“There was hope the PAGD are forming a point of resistance to express dissent (against the changes), but today they didn’t even hold its funeral. The group did not last even a mere five years not to talk of bringing back Articles 370 or 35 A,” he added, insisting that after launching the alliance on March 8, 2020, they were ridiculed for promising to practise “the politics of truth”.

“It is dead. PAGD has shared its fate with the 2.5 lakh people, who were killed. Even though those 2.5 lakh people were buried, PAGD was not even buried,” he said in his speech earlier. “It is very unfortunate, the leaders who created PAGD five years ago gave hope to people but now everything has shattered. These political leaders who formed PAGD still think the people of Kashmir are stupid. I am stressing on this point that even with the PAGD gone, these leaders did not tell us the truth. Politically they have died but even now our people are not aware that they have lied to us.”

Sajad Lone was brief in his response: “Very humbly may I state that I stand vindicated.”

Evolution amid Mess

Kashmir parties had come together in 2018, then initiated by Altaf Bukhari, when they staked claim over the throne. The initiative died the same day when the then-governor said he could not receive communication from Mehbooba Mufti because it was a holiday and his fax machine was not working. He later talked about many things including the stake made by Sajad Lone.

The parties came together again in August 2019, shortly before Article 370 was read down. All the political parties were seen with candles moving on the erstwhile powerful Gupkar Road during the late evening hours. It was an unnamed group comprising almost all the parties in Kashmir. It was an attempt by the local parties to pre-empt the centre’s move against tinkering with Article 370 the night before it was abrogated.

A day after they released their joint statement against the possible abrogation of the article, the BJP-led NDA government removed Article 370 and the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was thereafter placed under total lockdown, with all internal and external contacts to the state being cut off. In addition to hundreds of their party workers, several prominent figures, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, were placed under house arrest or were formally arrested. They were prevented from any interactions within or with people.

“We want the government of India to return to the people of the state the rights they had before August 5, 2019,” Farooq Abdullah said while the six parties gathered again a year after on October 24, 2020, when the PAGD came into being, formally. “We want the political issue of the state to be resolved as quickly as possible through dialogue in a peaceful manner with all stakeholders involved in this problem.”

While Mehbooba Mufti was chosen to be the vice president of the alliance, Jammu and Kashmir’s five-time Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah was unanimously elected to be its president. Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami became the convenor, Hasnain Masoodi its coordinator and Sajad Lone the spokesman. By then, Congress had managed its tactical exit from the grouping fearing its joining of the alliance would boomerang in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Sajad Gani Lone addressing a Presser in Srinagar

It was Sajad, a major player, who left the alliance. He sent a letter to the PAGD president detailing the reasons for his exit.

“The alliance needed sacrifice. No party is willing to cede space; no party is willing to sacrifice. We fought against each other in Kashmir province not against the perpetrators of August 5 (2019). And those who perpetrated August 5, and their minions are now vocally gleeful. It is difficult for us to stay on and pretend as if nothing has happened,” his letter read. “Trust between allying partners who have been rivals all along can be very elusive and extremely fragile. Proxies have made it perpetually elusive.”

The letter was sent in context to the results of the DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir when the PAGD secured more than 110 of the 280 seats. With 75 seats, including the saffron party’s first victories in Kashmir, the BJP emerged as the single largest party. Sajad in his letter stated: “DDC elections per se may not matter institutionally. But… it was less of an election and more of an opportunity to send a strong unanimous political message.”

Lone stated that his Peoples Conference was either left to fend for itself in most of the regions where it filed candidates on behalf of PAGD or that other parties made matters worse by fielding proxy candidates.

Eventually, this fetched Lone a “B-team” tag by the PAGD. This left the PAGD too-perforated house to the JKNC and PDP. Now they fell apart. Kashmir political class has finally retained its pre-2019 status even when they are in post-2019 politics. Though efforts are underway to have a patch-up with Congress meddling in Kashmir politics at the highest level, it is unlikely that anything substantial will happen.

The rest of the story will now be watched on TV screens when the two parties will move to the people with the “dirty Lenin”.

PAGD is formally over. RIP PAGD.


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