PAGD No More?

The struggle for the restoration of Article 370 can hardly be pursued within the paradigm of power politics. More so, when such a struggle will not only be a drawn one but also with little chance of success, writes Riyaz Wani

Leaders of “Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration” addressing a press conference at PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti’s Gupkar residence on October 24, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

National Conference is reconsidering its decision to participate in meetings of the delimitation commission following the party’s recent virtual meet where some leaders have batted for such a move. So far, the party has boycotted the commission terming it a useless and illegal exercise until Article 370 was restored and Jammu and Kashmir was made a state. The rationale behind the rethink is that the boycott would give the BJP a free-run in the commission, tasked with redrawing the parliamentary and assembly segments of the union territory.

 Now the NC president, Dr Farooq Abdullah will take a final call on what the party will do. But regardless of whether the NC decides in favour or against attending the meetings, what is revealing is that the party decided this without bothering to take on board the other parties of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). This is yet another proof that the much-hyped alliance no longer exists or exists only on paper. Though the alliance is yet to be formally dissolved, but for all practical purposes, the alliance no longer exists.

 Formation

When the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) was formed in October 2020, its constituent parties pledged perseverance and steadfastness in their pursuit of the restoration of Article 370 that granted Jammu and Kashmir its semi-autonomous status under India’s constitution. This resolve was also affirmed in the alliance’s declaration where the parties stated that there will be “nothing about them without them”.

Prof Bhim Singh National Panthers Party supremo accompanied by party colleague Anita Thakur interacting with the members of the PAfGD in Jammu on Saturday, November 7.2020

“We want to assure the people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J-K as it existed on 4th August 2019,” read a gushing declaration about the PAGD’s goal. 

The constituents, it further said, would be “bound, wholly, by the contents of the Gupkar Declaration and will unwaveringly adhere to it”.

Sajad Leaves

Just three months later, the grouping suffered its first jolt when its key member Sajad Gani Lone left it citing the fielding of proxy candidates by constituent parties against the officially mandated candidates of the alliance during the maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections. He called it “a breach of trust between the partners”.

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

Lone was one of the front-running proponents of the PAGD and his sudden exit has left the alliance reeling. Ever since the alliance has given every indication of falling apart, even if the rest of the constituents have held uneasily together. It hasn’t met since December 2020.  It hasn’t also issued any statement, nor do its leaders including the president Dr Farooq Abdullah talk on behalf of the alliance. They speak as the leaders of their individual parties.

In the process, the discourse about the restoration of Article 370 has been relegated to the background and the demand for statehood peddled by the Apni Party and the BJP has hurtled to the foreground. In his recent parliament speech, Abdullah chose to talk about farmers protest and the other issues for two-third of his time and gave only a little over a minute to express his dismay at the loss of J&K autonomy.

Switching Sides

Strangely, the alliance didn’t even celebrate its win in the DDC polls. Its candidates won on 110 of 280 seats, two-third of them in Kashmir. It also watched impassively as its candidates, some of them belonging to constituent parties – switched sides and joined Apni Party which now heads three of the ten DDCs in Kashmir despite winning only ten seats.

Why is it so? The answer to this question is not known but understood in the Valley.

There’s an ostensible reason and then there’s a real reason for this. For example, few people in Kashmir believe that Lone’s exit from the PAGD was over the proxy candidates’ issue. This issue could have been discussed and sorted out between the parties. And also, Lone’s party was least affected by the proxy candidates, as it won eight out of the ten seats contested by the party. 

A cartoon by Kashmir’s legendary cartoonist BAB saying the PADG would fight for 370, then will fight elections and will eventually fight within.

Though the remaining five parties in the PAGD have stuck together – among them the major parties like National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party – they have stopped meeting or talking as one.

As things stand, a significant opinion in the NC and the PDP has grown increasingly sceptical about their alliance and for very different reasons: the NC thinks the PAGD is proving detrimental to its traditional standing as the largest Jammu and Kashmir party and the PDP feels that the NC is going slow on the demand for restoration of the former state’s autonomy as the centre turns up the heat. It may be thus a matter of time before the parties’ part company, ending the alliance that promised to mount a formidable opposition to the BJP in the union territory. They all know, PAGD is reduced to a corpse. They must be finding the pit to bury it as it smells foul.

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