The abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 changed the face of Jammu and Kashmir politics. Assembly elections in the Union Territory are expected to be held next year, once the winter conditions settle. Sources say that the exact time for the polls will be determined after a proper assessment of the security situation.
It is estimated that more than 750,000 voters are there in the valley. Three years after the abrogation of Article 370, electoral rolls were finally revised and after a “delimitation exercise,” seven seats were added to the assembly, taking the tally of seats to 90. This does not, however, include the seats allocated to Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
There was a time when the Abdullahs and Muftis enjoyed unprecedented power in the Jammu and Kashmir region, but today they have almost been reduced to non-entities in their own homeland. Omar Abdullah has said that he may not contest the next elections. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who after quitting the Indian National Congress launched his own party called Democratic Azad Party, is being looked at with hope by some. But he has been very vocal about his support for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Thus many eyes are set on the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), also called the “Gupkar Alliance,” an alliance of almost all of the regional political parties. They call it a campaign for bringing back autonomy to the region by restoring its previous special status, along with Article 35A of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah is the president of the alliance.
Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and convenor and spokesperson of the PAGD, shared his thoughts about the present situation in the valley and the forthcoming elections.
Tarigami said that the abrogation of Article 370 blatantly trampled on the constitution, to the detriment of the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
“We fought for the independence of Jammu and Kashmir, India – the country as a whole. We were there, and just to remind you, this happened when Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was part of the Nehru-led cabinet. It was initially discussed, debated, and there was agreement on Article 370, which earlier was also Article 306(A),” he said, recounting the history. Tarigami said that this was decided at the residence of Sardar Patel, the then-home minster.
“There was not a single dissident note in the constituent assembly of India, this means what? And now they have abrogated it, without any consultation with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”
One local leader, unhappy with the present political situation, points out that in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, under clause 3, the president can remove it only with the approval of the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. The abrogation was not discussed in the assembly, by civil society, or by the legislative council.
“They have turned a majestic state into a Union Territory,” Tarigami railed. “They have sent a Lieutenant Governor here. The Delhi Home Department is in command, there is no elected party; it is Modi-led fascism. The democratic rights of people are being denied since 2018.
“When the Election Commission announces a certain frame for restoring order here, all parties of the Gupkar Alliance will sit together and decide about its response. We are confident of a positive result in the time to come.”
Yet according to media reports, one part of the Gupkar Alliance, the National Conference, has decided to contest the elections alone. What does that mean for the alliance?
Sajjad Gani Lone, a former member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, sounded confused when asked if he still is a part of the Gupkar Alliance.
Another leader of alliance, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, a former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, shared his views as well. Baig was a founding member of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. After Sayeed’s death in 2016, Baig was named as patron of the party.
“In the first meeting we had of the Gupkar Alliance I was asked to present our stance to the media in a press conference, but the very next day Article 370 was abrogated,” Baig recounted. “We wanted to have talks with the center. We had genuine concerns for Jammu and Kashmir and tried to find if there is a peaceful way out … But they passed the abrogation bill.”
When asked about the elections, Baig says that it is difficult to say which way the wind will blow. People will decide that when it’s time to cast the ballot paper. “What will work out? What will happen, next week, next month – we can’t predict. We still don’t know but I can tell you that there is a sea change in people’s perception and that is for the good,” Baig said.
Baig claims that media reports of BJP leaders having a huge welcome in Jammu and Kashmir are not true.
When whether he attended the recent Shaurya Diwas (Martyr Day) event, where India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh launched a slew of developmental projects in the valley, Baig said, “Shaurya Diwas is a Hindi word, I don’t understand that. Did Rajnath Singh come? That’s good. Of course he is a big leader, so obviously many people would have come.”
On a ground level, quite a lot of development work is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. As there is no government in the Union Territory, the work of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has become more prominent than ever. Before Article 370 was abrogated, the Union Territory had no PRIs and all developmental work was stalled. Terrorism has been another problem, but the situation is improving. Previously amendment 73 and 74 were not applicable to the then-state of Jammu and Kashmir. Under these two amendments, development started at the grassroots level and huge changes are taking place, be it in administration or statutory matters.
Local news agencies have also reported the scenario has changed with the new Union Territory status for Jammu and Kashmir and have confirmed that all three tier Panchayati Raj Institutions are working in harmony. Both the rural and urban local bodies are doing great developmental work in the socioeconomic domain. Earlier, the rural bodies had very little or no financial ability to get work done.
Today, there are roads in the countryside, there is electricity and drinking water. Hundreds of schemes are being implemented. People are reacting favorably to this development, and the trend of corruption and recommendations in offices is slowly dissipating.
The Gupkar Alliance does not seem to have a promising future as of now. The NDA is definitely stronger at the moment. There are few other contenders, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but they would need to work really hard to impress voters. One can never predict what is going to happen in politics. As of now, the NDA-led arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir is yielding good results and countering them electorally is not going to be easy for the Gupkar Alliance, in whatever form it exists.