Srinagar: The suspense over the Narendra Modi government’s rumoured plan to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status had brought the state’s mainstream political parties on the same page for a brief while. But since then, political developments in New Delhi have challenged this fragile peace, forcing state parties to react.
The Rajya Sabha vote on Triple Talaq Tuesday — in which PDP members abstained —threatened to hurt this effort to form a joint platform as National Conference leaders accused the PDP of helping the BJP. And now, the Enforcement Directorate grilled National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah in connection with the multi-crore Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association scam Wednesday, prompting fellow former J&K CM and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti to call out the Centre’s efforts to widen the differences.
JK cricket scam is an old case that’s been under investigation for quite sometime. ED questioning Farooq sahab at a time when J&K mainstream parties are collectively standing up to protect its unique identity raises suspicions & questions.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) July 31, 2019
Political observers say the latest move could make the parties put aside their differences, even if temporarily. Senior CPI(M) leader M.Y Tarigami said a united front was the need of the hour, but there shouldn’t be double standards.
“The PDP MPs abstained from voting yesterday. No doubt there is need for unification, but there should be no double standards. From now on, all moves should be taken in the interests of the state,” he said.
Fallout of PDP’s abstention
On 29 July, Mufti requested her rival Farooq Abdullah to convene an all-party meet to discuss the ground situation in the Valley.
In light of recent developments that have caused a sense of panic amongst people in J&K, I’ve requested Dr Farooq Abdullah sahab to convene an all party meeting. Need of the hour is to come together & forge a united response. We the people of Kashmir need to stand up as one
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) July 29, 2019
Abdullah responded positively, but the sparring between Mufti and Abdullah’s son, former CM Omar Abdullah, on Twitter Tuesday over the Triple Talaq Bill laid bare the deepening fault-lines in Kashmir’s mainstream political landscape, in the face of an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party.
PDP leader Waheed Para offered an explanation for the abstention.
“There was a walkout and our MPs too left the floor of the House and were not able to vote. That was later considered abstention. But as a party, we are against the Triple Talaq Bill. We have spoken against the bill in the past and will continue to do so,” Para said.
The explanation, however, didn’t pass muster for the NC, one of whose senior leaders told ThePrint: “The PDP is doing what it’s best at, fooling people.”
Meanwhile, senior BJP leader Ram Madhav, who attended a party event in Srinagar Wednesday, “thanked” MPs who abstained from voting on the Triple Talaq Bill.
“I want to thank those people from the bottom of my heart who abstained from voting. This shows that they want to work under the aegis of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but want to do so silently. I want to tell them to continue working silently, don’t talk about explosives,” Madhav said, referring to PDP leaders’ comments that abrogation of Article 35A may lead to increased violence.
Far from a joint effort
Sources said the NC and the PDP are far from any joint effort to keep the BJP’s plans for Kashmir at bay — be it delimitation or the abrogation of Article 35A or the upcoming state elections, in which the BJP will try to make inroads into the Kashmir Valley.
A senior NC leader told ThePrint that the party leadership is not keen on meeting Mufti — not until there is some clarity on what the Centre plans to do about Article 35A.
“The PDP is back to playing politics. We are not against an all-party meet, but what will be the agenda of the meet? There is speculation that Article 35A will be removed, but there hasn’t been a concrete statement issued by the BJP or the Centre on the issue. First, the NC wants to find out what is happening in Delhi,” the leader said on the condition of anonymity.
Tanvir Sadiq, adviser to Omar Abdullah, added that Farooq Abdullah had sought time to meet PM Modi.
“Our MPs are also fighting it out in Parliament, so we are doing our bit as we owe it to our state and its people. But it is also important to know what the Centre’s plans are. The all-party meet will only be possible after there is some clarity,” Sadiq said.
Meanwhile, asked to comment on the possibility of an all-party meet, a senior PDP leader said: “What will Farooq Abdullah be able to find out? Does Delhi tell everything to him or any other Kashmiri politician? The Centre will do whatever it wants unless we are able to put up a unified stand.”
Former Langate MLA Engineer Rashid, an alliance partner of IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal, agreed.
“Mr Omar Abdullah is on record saying that he was not aware that Afzal Guru would be hanged. Does he expect Delhi will inform him about its decisions now?” Rashid said at the launch of his alliance’s signature campaign to save Article 35A.
However, Para said the PDP will go ahead with the all-party meet, even if the NC is not on board. “Mehbooba Mufti has met with Sajad Lone, Imran Ansari, Yasir Reshi and other political leaders. We will go ahead,” he said.
Mufti also seems to be undeterred — she started touring the most disturbed parts of south Kashmir Wednesday, with an agenda to talk about the abrogation of Article 35A.
“It is now or never for the PDP. We will take to the streets and agitate if Article 35A is touched,” a senior PDP leader said. Other PDP leaders too said they are preparing for the long haul.
The aggressiveness within the party can be traced back to Mufti’s speech on its 20th foundation day last week, where she said, “Tinkering with Article 35A is akin to setting the powder keg on fire, and it would not only burn the hand but the whole body of those who attempt it.”
BJP takes a dig
Madhav, who confirmed the BJP’s priority at the moment was to hold elections in Jammu and Kashmir, also took digs at the PDP and the NC.
“I was surprised by the regional parties making an issue on Article 35A, they begin spread fear,” he said. “We want elections to be held and the people of state to move beyond the two families that have accumulated all the power.”
Madhav also alluded to Farooq Abdullah’s questioning, saying “someone is being questioned in Chandigarh”, and that there is “fear” among politicians in Kashmir that they will be called next.