Statehood, Special Status

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How long can NC and PDP stick to the demand for restoration of special status, asks Zahoor Malik. 

Dr Farooq Abdullah takes the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, March 2,2021.

Notwithstanding their very limited routine political activities, the top leadership of Kashmir’s mainstream parties seem to be concerned about their own political survival. This is a natural consequence of August 5, 2019, that completely changed the political scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.

The probe by central investigating agencies into the alleged J&K Cricket Association scam and JK Bank recruitments have started showing effects on the politics of two former chief ministers, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. PDP had already grown weak as most of its senior leaders have deserted it. National Conference (NC), however, still survives as united amid crises.

However, NC is finding it difficult to play a lead role and take political risks in a completely new atmosphere. Seemingly, its main focus will remain to retain the space in electoral politics by denying it to parties being floated to counter the Abdullah and Mufti families. Mehbooba lacks options but to support NC till she is able to revive her party.

Alternative Party

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had created PDP as an alternative to NC, which had dominated Kashmir politics for decades without any strong opposition. Post-1999, PDP threw NC out of power twice. Omar Abdullah lost the assembly election in 2002 and Dr Farooq Abdullah the parliament poll in 2014. But now the scene is different for Mehbooba and her party. Observers say much damage was done to PDP in Kashmir as it joined BJP for power while campaigning against it during polls.

Mehbooba Mufti addressing party workers in Pulwama

After BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba government on June 19, 2018, and governor’s rule was imposed in the state, NC was confident of gaining politically and regaining power. But the scrapping of articles 370 and 35 (A) and bifurcating the state into two union territories on August 5, 2019, by parliament, led to the emergence of a completely unimagined and unexpected political scene in Kashmir.

Delimitation First

Central leaders have made it clear that the next assembly polls will be held only after the delimitation of assembly seats is over. The Delimitation Commission recently got a year’s extension. Though the central government is committed to the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir but there is no time frame. It remains to be seen whether the assembly polls will precede or follow the statehood restoration.

Meeting of delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

Whenever the assembly polls are conducted, NC and PDP have no option but to take part. Staying away from electoral politics will mean compromising their lifeline. If they have to be connected with the masses and get power, they have to contest polls. This was evident from the district development councils (DDC) elections. . The two parties along with the Peoples Conference contested under the banner of Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). They said they took part in the election to deny space to new parties, being created by the centre. Later Peoples Conference moved out of the alliance alleging that NC fielded proxy candidates in the polls.

 No Cakewalks

Gone are the days when assembly polls used to be a cakewalk for political parties particularly those close to the central government. Since 2002, the polls are a litmus test for the parties here. Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the centre gave a new meaning to assembly polls in 2002 by holding free and fair polls. The trend continued thereafter and Lok Sabha polls too followed the same pattern. Even the DDC election results sprang some surprises.

BJP is very keen to have its government in Jammu and Kashmir. It seriously contested the last assembly polls and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself addressed poll rallies. Unlike Jammu, where it swept the elections, BJP could not open its account in Kashmir and later joined hands with PDP. In future also, BJP would like to form its own government with like-minded parties providing a helping hand. But till then it is to be seen how the NC and PDP leadership comes out of the present difficult time and whether they are able to play a leading role during polls.

BJP Kashmir unit Sunday facilitated newly District Development Council (DDC) members. Pic: Internet

It is amply evident right now that the central government would not like them to go ahead with their agenda for restoration of Articles 370 and 35 A.  NC, PDP leadership is alleging that they are being victimised for demanding the restoration of the two articles. Leaders of Apni Party say NC and PDP are misleading the masses by claiming they will get back the special status.

It is a fact that Kashmir’s tallest leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah could not get the pre-1953 position back despite a long political struggle. Finally, he agreed to get power in 1975. Sheikh was communicated in clear terms by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi that he should not press for special status as the hands of the clock cannot be turned back.

And now getting back the special status is unimaginable and unexpected. No government in the centre would accept such a demand. Congress eroded article 370 to a large extent and finally, BJP completely read it down.

So, sticking to the demand for restoration of articles 370 and 35 A is getting increasingly difficult for NC and PDP. How long can they stick to the demand is a matter of time.

(Zahoor Malik is a senior journalist.)

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