The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is mobilizing public opinion in Jammu and Kashmir around its theory of Self-Rule and is seeking wider participation to further inform it. At the core of the idea is an attempt to replace the already contested accession of the state to the union of India with a set of rules governing center-state relations. It also presumes that Pakistan-administered Kashmir will acquire the same concessions for it from that country. Even if it is imagined that the idea is agreed upon by both countries as a way to empower the state’s people and thus a final solution to the Kashmir issue, the Self-Rule theory is totally silent on how it will be deemed acceptable to the same people.
From the pronouncements of its leaders, it appears that the PDP is preparing to fight the next state elections primarily on the Self-Rule plank. The party hopes to get an absolute majority in the legislative house which is governed by the historically manipulated rules of center-state relations under Article 370. It will be like putting a solution for the Kashmir issue to test through an institution that has enjoyed little credibility among the vast majority of Kashmiris – the Election Commission of India.
From this point of view, PDP’s Self-Rule theory appears to match what India once was willing to concede to the state – sky is the limit within Indian constitution. The Indian Parliament’s trashing of the National Conference’s Autonomy Resolution guides our understanding otherwise. Thereby, the Self-Rule becomes a proposal for reconciliation of the Kashmiri aspirations with India – the difference is a hope that it may have a degree of finality to it. The only new idea contained in the theory is the economic integration of the two parts of the divided political entity, basically seeking to formalize the Line of Control into a soft international border of sorts if Pakistan agrees. This also matches New Delhi’s unwillingness to change the borders but make them irrelevant.
Is the Self-Rule then an idea that actually originated from New Delhi which needed a local political party as a medium to sell it in Kashmir? The coming about of PDP as a party that was allowed to govern the state for three years with its 16 members – less than one-fifth of the total strength of the Legislative House – begs a serious examination. With the benefit of hindsight, it is not difficult to reach a conclusion that the party was encouraged to invade and appropriate the separatist political space as a way to prepare ground for New Delhi to deliver some sort of a solution India would be comfortable with. The party now wants to be seen as the political structure that can accept and receive a solution on behalf of Kashmiris which was actually envisioned in New Delhi.
In that sense creation of PDP was perhaps one of Indian intelligence establishment’s biggest political operations in Kashmir. This operation, it seems, has already met its preliminary twin objectives. One, sizing up NC as the only sub-nationalist Kashmiri political party New Delhi has historically perceived as risky partners. Two, appropriate and neutralize the separatist position as exclusive to those who do not fight elections in the state and question the accession.
The PDP has been extremely dexterous in building some sort of credibility for itself by highlighting NC’s blunders between late 1940s and mid 1970s and by adopting the separatist idiom to marry it with their Self-Rule theory.
Mufti Mohammad Syeed, whose ambition is to be recognized as the statesman who finally delivered a Kashmir solution, may have already realized the first stage of the Self-Rule project. Fairview, the erstwhile dreaded torture center Papa-2, is already his official residence and directional headquarters of the PDP.