Srinagar: It’s been more than a month since former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers and National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were released from detention, but they have remained silent on the scrapping of Article 370 by the Narendra Modi government last August.
Mehbooba Mufti, president of their rival Peoples Democratic Party and also a former chief minister, is still in detention, but keeps giving out her views on issues through her Twitter account operated by her daughter Iltija. And yet, there’s no word from her on the move to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status either.
Political observers interpret this silence from the two big parties in the Valley as their readiness to recalibrate their politics according to the post-370 reality.
The observers say the parties will soon have to make a decision on whether to focus on the demand that J&K’s special status be returned, or move on.
Kashmir’s oldest party, National Conference, is the only regional power whose top leadership (except general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar) has been released. The party did take strong stands on issues that cropped up in the last month, such as restoration of high speed internet, release of detained politicians and others booked last year, the controversial domicile law introduced by the Centre, and the criminal cases filed by police against Kashmiri journalists.
However, it hasn’t said a word about the future course of action on Article 370.
“Political activity has been suspended in J&K, but talking has not been suspended. No one expects political parties to hold protests or rallies given the (Covid) crisis, but they should have stated their position clearly,” said Dr Noor Ahmad Baba, political analyst and professor at the Central University of Kashmir.
“The regional powers, particularly the NC, whose leadership has now been released, could have easily mentioned their position on abrogation of Article 370 and what the party plans to do now after being almost paralysed since August. It is almost as if they have accepted surrender as a condition to be released.”
However, NC leader Salman Sagar defended his party, saying: “Ideally, after the release (of party leaders), we should have met the public and sought their opinion on what to do in future. But we have not been able to reach out to the people owing to the Covid crisis right now. We are an old party with a proper structure and will take a decision on the future course of action only after seeking opinion from the public.”
Sources in the NC said the Abdullah father and son, who are president and vice-president of the party, have established contact with leaders and cadres through email and WhatsApp, but only to discuss efforts to help people amid the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown.
Omar Abdullah has also cited the pandemic as the reason for not talking politics for the time being. But Ibrahim Wani, assistant professor at the Institute of Kashmir Studies at Srinagar’s University of Kashmir, expressed scepticism.
“If you see the trend in some places, the ruling elite has not suspended their politics because of the pandemic, but in some places, the opposition has done that, and has been acting like think-tanks which criticise policy matters and administrative decisions. This is clearly the case in Kashmir,” said Wani.
Onus on Farooq Abdullah
Politicians from the PDP and the Sajad Lone-led People’s Conference, who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment over the silence of Abdullahs, saying they have to speak out sooner or later.
One of the tweets by Omar Abdullah during the controversy on the new domicile law had particularly not gone down well with the other political parties. He had written about the restoration of statehood and elections, and given special status a miss.
“The Modi government has said on multiple occasions that statehood will be returned to J&K and elections will be held. What is exceptional about asking for that? The core issue was and should remain the loss of our standing in the Constitution of India, i.e. Article 370,” a PDP leader said.
“Keeping the special status of J&K off the table is political suicide, and also a sign of surrender,” the leader said.
A day before the Modi government scrapped Article 370, all major political parties had met at Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road residence, and vowed to protect the special status of the state in the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ they had all signed. But the declaration has been given a miss by all released politicians so far.
“Dr Farooq Abdullah is the senior-most politician of Kashmir. The Gupkar Declaration meeting was held under his guidance and mainstream politics cannot move ahead without senior leaders on board,” said a second PDP leader.
Adnan Ashraf of the People’s Conference expressed a similar view. “The released leaders should not remain silent. The NC is the biggest stakeholder in J&K; all other parties combined are not as big as NC. Keeping quiet will hurt Kashmir’s interests,” said Ashraf, whose party chief Lone, after spending months in detention, is now under house arrest.
“Even before 5 August, all of us got together. On the first day, it was Mehbooba Mufti, Sajad Lone and (former IAS officer and J&K People’s Movement party leader) Shah Faesal. The National Conference was a bit reluctant on the first day, but the next day, all of us sat together at Dr Farooq Abdullah’s residence and signed the Gupkar Declaration. We should carry forward things from that declaration,” Ashraf added.
PDP spokesperson Najmu Saqib, however, told ThePrint the party stands by the Gupkar Declaration.
“Since our leadership is incarcerated, and because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no joint strategy could be formulated till now. Once the
situation stabilises and restrictions on our leadership is lifted, we will approach other political parties and formulate strategy ahead
which will be in the public domain, as we have already mentioned before,” he added.
“The declaration signed before the abrogation of Article 370 states any modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, trifurcation of the state or unconstitutional delimitation would be considered as aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” Saqib said.
“It also states that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy and special status of the JK state against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever.”
Why wait for NC response?
University of Kashmir’s Wani, however, does not buy the argument the NC has to take the lead.
“It is not only political activity that has been suspended, but also the democratic process, such as elections. Who is talking about elections or delimitation? Talking about these issues will naturally force politicians to make their stands clearer. Do all mainstream parties in Kashmir want to look up to one party and wait for it to speak? If that is the case, all other parties should join them (NC),” he said.
After Mufti was shifted to her Gupkar Road residence last month, her daughter Iltija had tweeted on her behalf that once restrictions imposed on her are lifted, “she will approach all stakeholders for a joint strategy to move forward. She will also speak to the press about her views on what transpired post 5th August”.
PDP leader Waheed Para, who remains under house arrest, added: “Issues regarding the future course of action can only be decided after Madam Mehbooba Mufti is released.”