Srinagar: The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expelled nine leaders Thursday, soon after five of them met the foreign diplomat delegation currently visiting Kashmir, ThePrint has learnt.
According to PDP insiders, the expulsion of the remaining four leaders was triggered by their meeting with Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu earlier this week.
“The individuals who met with the L-G and gave him a memorandum as well as those who met the foreign delegation have been expelled from the party on the directions of party president Mehbooba Mufti,” a source in the PDP said.
The expelled leaders include former PDP spokesperson Rafi Mir, former minister Dilawar Mir, and former MLAs Rahim Rather, Majeed Padder, Javaid Baig, Qamar Hussain, Raja Mazoor, and Noor Mohammad, besides former MLC Zaffar Manhas.
The PDP’s decision comes amid talks in the Valley to form an alternative political vehicle, allegedly backed by New Delhi, which will be ready to give up the demand to restore Article 370 in return for full statehood and domicile-related assurances for local residents.
This is a deal traditional Valley players, including the PDP and the National Conference (NC), don’t support.
The parties have also refused to engage with the central government on account of the continued detention of senior politicians, such as former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), Omar Abdullah (NC) and Farooq Abdullah (NC). According to PDP sources, this stand had been made clear by the party.
‘The real picture of Kashmir’
The meeting with the foreign delegation as well as that with Murmu were both attended by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, who quit the party last year and is said to be involved in talks for the new formation along with former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Baig.
Expelled PDP leader Rahim Rather, who met the foreign delegation, said he talked to them about the internet lockdown. “We raised the demand of restoring the internet, release of political prisoners, and told the delegation that the scrapping of Article 370 had shocked the people of Kashmir,” Rather said. “There is a trust deficit between J&K and Delhi that needs to be dealt with.”
Hassan Mir of the Democratic Party Nationalist, who also plans to be part of the new political grouping, said he met the delegation to show them the “real picture of Kashmir”.
“We talked about issues such as protection of land and jobs for local residents. There is insecurity among people that non-locals might take up space and we told them these fears need to be allayed,” Mir added.
Article 370 and Article 35A, which were scrapped last year, gave some special privileges for Kashmiris. Local residents fear that their removal will be a green signal for the influx of outsiders.
An Army briefing and a ride by the Dal
The foreign delegation, which comprised diplomats from 17 countries, including US ambassador Kenneth Juster, was brought to the Valley by the central government for a briefing on the current situation in Kashmir, which has been under an internet lockdown since the scrapping of Article 370 last August.
The delegation also included envoys from Togo, Guyana, Bangladesh, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Peru, Vietnam, Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, Norway, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Argentina.
Travelling under a heavy security cover, the envoys met politicians, civil society members and journalists, among others in Srinagar.
This is the second time a foreign delegation’s visit has been facilitated by the central government since the scrapping of Article 370, the first being that of Members of the European Parliament who visited Kashmir in October. That visit had come under criticism owing to the far-Right leanings of some of its members.
The visit of the 17-nation delegation has been more discreet — a conscious decision that, according to a senior government official, was taken to avoid unnecessary attention.
It took place amid massive security deployment and restrictions on civilian movement on the Gupkar Boulevard, where the delegation spent the afternoon.
The delegation arrived around 11.30 am, and then visited the base of the Indian Army’s 15 Corps at Badami Bagh in Srinagar.
After a briefing by the Army at the base, the dignitaries were taken to The Lalit hotel, which happens to be near the places where Omar and Farooq are currently being held.
A massive security blanket covered the area as the delegation arrived and all entry and exit points leading to the hotel were barricaded. The entire area was also monitored throughout the day by multiple surveillance drones.
The 37-vehicle convoy of the dignitaries, which also comprised vehicles of the Army, paramilitary and police forces, moved out of the hotel around 4 pm for a ride along the famous Dal Lake.
A shikara ride, however, could not be arranged owing to lack of time and the cold weather, a senior police officer said.
The delegation was then taken to the Raj Bhavan, from where an Army helicopter took the envoys to the Srinagar airport.