Srinagar: The two main political dynasties in Kashmir are staring at an endgame, with nobody shedding a tear in the Valley over the detention of their heir and heiress — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
The offices of their parties — the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — are deserted and locked across the Valley as their cadres have pulled off a vanishing act.
Abdullah and Mufti, under detention at Cheshmashahi and Hari Niwas in Srinagar, respectively, have no idea about the existential crisis in their parties. They are cut off from the world, with no access to television, phones or newspapers, highly placed government functionaries said.
On the streets in Srinagar, and villages in south Kashmir visited by ThePrint over the past three days, people start hurling expletives at the very mention of these leaders who, they believe, “looted” Kashmir and “compromised” their interests. The two dynasts remain blissfully unaware of these sentiments, though.
The two, detained right after the nullification of Article 370, had been put in Hari Niwas together but were separated after a heated exchange between them, with Abdullah blaming the PDP chief for bringing the BJP into the state secretariat by forming a coalition government with it, and Mufti accusing him of helping the BJP by deciding against the formation of an alternative coalition.
Officials maintain that they had been kept together at Hari Niwas only temporarily and Abdullah’s shift had nothing to do with their verbal altercation. Abdullah’s father Farooq Abdullah remains under house arrest in Srinagar.
‘Only one solution, gun solution’
Right after Article 370, which gave special status to the state, was invalidated by the Centre, the PDP and NC dynasts reacted strongly, condemning the move, but it didn’t convince even their party cadres, who haven’t been seen for the past 20 days.
ThePrint visited their headquarters in Srinagar and offices at Khanabal in south Kashmir Saturday.
The main gate of the PDP headquarters at Lal Chowk in Srinagar was locked with about half-a-dozen stray dogs barking at visitors. A security guard peeped over it to say no one had been there for over a fortnight. The only crowd outside the gate constituted Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel deployed to guard what was the ruling party’s office until a year back.
The National Conference headquarters at Rajbagh is difficult to find for a newcomer in the city, with a heavily-guarded checkpost serving as entrance to a narrow gully — apparently to obviate any hand-grenade threat — leading to the main building. No one was allowed inside. There wasn’t anyone seeking entry in the past three weeks, anyway.
The adjoining shop, known for serving the best “ice cream coffee” in town, had four youngsters enjoying the receding sun. They had great issues with “Indian media” but “loved” Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami for providing “unadulterated entertainment”. They had a lot to say about the “politics and ideology” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government but there was one thing they liked him for — “finishing Abdullahs and Muftis for good in Kashmir”.
They held the two “self-serving” dynasties solely responsible for the current state of affairs even though they admired former J&K prime minister Sheikh Abdullah, Omar’s grandfather, who had been kept in jail for several years by the Jawaharlal Nehru government.
The youngsters started laughing when asked about their options in the coming election.
“What election? The mayor of Srinagar won with 14 votes and the deputy mayor with one. Farooq Abdullah became an MP with 14 per cent of the votes (the voter turnout). Elections, huh!” said one of them, a doctor.
Muftis were “another Indian prop” to them. The two left the scene riding their bikes and shouting, “there is only one solution, gun solution, gun solution” — a slogan heard during the early days of the Kashmir insurgency in the early 1990s.
Incidentally, even as these youngsters were talking, the state government announced its decision to hold elections for 316 block development councils in the state “soon”.
Interactions with residents in Srinagar and Anantnag in south Kashmir echoed similar sentiments, especially about the two principal political dynasties in the Valley.
The leaders and workers of the NC and the PDP were nowhere in sight to challenge it.
Modi gets it right
The PDP and NC offices at Khanabal in Anantnag were also deserted Saturday. Security guards in these offices at Khanabal — the headquarters of these parties in south Kashmir — looking through small windows or holes in the gates said there was no one inside to talk to.
Nobody had come to these offices for the past three weeks and they didn’t know whether anyone would turn up in the coming days.
It wasn’t just the NC and the PDP that seemed to have closed their shops in the Valley. On a day when Rahul Gandhi was making headlines, flying down to Srinagar with a delegation of opposition leaders, the Congress headquarters in Srinagar remained locked.
Nearly 150 political leaders were detained by the government after the nullification of Article 370 but these parties are unlikely to witness any dramatic turn in their fortunes even after their release.
Going by the prevailing sentiments in the Valley, it seems Modi got it right about their underbellies. In an address earlier this month, PM Modi said the dynasties had held Kashmiris back. “Those who ruled Kashmir thinking it is their divine right to do so will dislike democratisation, and peddle incorrect narratives. They do not want a self-made, younger leadership to emerge,” he had said.
The residents of Kashmir seem to agree with him, for once.