Going by the low key celebrations in Kashmir after Farooq Abdullah’s release from 8-month detention, the old war horse of J&K would have learned a thing or two about the changed ground realities.
The Abdullah and the Mufti clans should learn to read the writing on the wall. Although, their parties, National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have limited options now, in it lies a great opportunity to revive their fortunes if they are able to integrate their views with the national mainstream.
Farooq Abdullah understands the change, and has refused to comment on the political situation until all other detainees are released. He has also expressed his wish to attend the Parliament of which he is a member.
J&K has accepted new realities
After the dilution of Article 370, much to the disappointment of the Abdullah family, the people of the Union territory decided to accept the changes, rather than prepare for a long-drawn battle. The change in the status was explained by the Narendra Modi government as a necessity to maintain law and order, and keep a close watch on the emerging situation so that external forces do not take advantage of it.
Politics in J&K cannot be and is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Abdullah clan. From the time Sheikh Abdullah became member of the Constituent Assembly in 1946 to when his grandson became the chief minister, the family has ruled over J&K for nearly four decades. It was the opinion of this family and that of the Muftis that guided the fortunes of the erstwhile state since Independence.
Despite the members of these two families getting plum posts in the state and the Union governments, their views on converting the temporary provision of Article 370 to a permanent feature or distancing themselves from the centre, especially when they are not in power are common knowledge. This is one reason why the family’s incarceration evoked very little or no protest.
According to the Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy, no major terror incident has taken place since the dilution of Article 370 and J&K has reported only 79 incidents, comparatively very low.
Co-operation is the only way forward
The centre would very much want the political process to begin in J&K, paving way for an election and an end to the central rule. This would be the right time for all political parties to participate in the process and strengthen the democracy. Dilution of Article 370 is a done and dusted deal. No political party can turn the wheel back.
The NC and the PDP are in reality family-run parties, very much like many other regional parties. The Congress has local leaders, but is also firmly anchored to one family. The Communist parties used to have cadre, but that is a distant past. The BJP, therefore, seems to be very well disposed to put up a fight on the basis of a bright and better future.
The political establishment in J&K will play a crucial role in shaping the security parameters. New Delhi’s strategy towards Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Pakistan’s behaviour will also be key guiding factors.
Abdullah’s Delhi connect
The Abdullah family has had a perplexing love-hate relationship with the “Delhi Dynasty”. In 1946 Sheikhh Abdullah launched the Quit Kashmir agitation against the then ruler of Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail but released in 1947. Ironically, the sane Maharaja appointed his bête noir as Head of the Emergency Administration, post accession and Pakistan’s aggression in J&K.
Again, in 1953 Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed as Sadr-e-Riyasat (Prime Minister) of J&K and jailed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru only to be released in 1964. Ironically, Nehru sent him to Pakistan to negotiate with Gen. Ayub Khan on the Kashmir issue. Unfortunately, Nehru died in 1964 and successive Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi put Sheikh back in prison from 1965 to 1968. The Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1974 changed the course of history, albeit for some time.
Post 1971, Pakistan resorted to exporting terrorism targeting J&K, mainly to de-stabilise the state and internationalise the Kashmir issue. The situation underwent a sea change in 2014 after the Narendra Modi government decided to look at the Kashmir issue with a perspective very different from that of the “Delhi Dynasty”. India has always maintained that J&K is its integral part and that Article 370, a temporary provision in the Indian Constitution, was its internal matter. But no government had the political will to dilute Article 370 which the Modi government did in its second term.
The social and political atmosphere in J&K has changed drastically. The detention of political leaders did not evoke strong reactions from the public except for stray incidents of protest in the initial stages. Abdullah’s and Mufti’s can’t miss this new reality. On all issues, be it the final and irrevocable integration of J&K with India, dilution of Article 370, regaining POK or national security and strategy, all parties need to be on the same page.
The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.