Srinagar, Oct 5 : It has been over one year since Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status, but politically the union territory continues to be a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces do not seem to fall in place sometime soon.
Having ruled the state for over 70 years harping on the special status protected by Articles 370 and 35A, both of which were abrogated on August 5, 2019, regional political parties and even the mainstream political parties, are still undecided about the way forward.
The largest regional political party, the National Conference (NC), headed by Dr. Farooq Abdullah, wants the Pre-August 5, 2019 status restored before a genuine political process can be restated in J&K. Joining chorus with the NC, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headed by Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Conference (PC) headed by Sajad Gani Lone, Awami National Conference (ANC) headed by Khalida Shah, the CPI-M, etc., have supported the restoration of J&K’s special status by pledging support to the ‘Gupkar Declaration’.
The declaration wants Articles 370, 35A and statehood restored as a pre-condition for these parties to join any future political process. While the Congress does not publicly support the restoration of 370 and 35A for obvious reasons, yet the party has stated that the manner in which these changes were brought in has left everything to be desired.
Known otherwise to hedge his bets, Farooq Abdullah recently went too far by saying that the mistrust between Delhi and Srinagar has grown so deep that ‘Kashmiris would rather like to be ruled by China’. Insiders attribute the hardening of anti-Delhi posture by Abdullah to his son, Omar Abdullah, who reportedly believes that after August 5, 2019, Delhi has choked the space in which pro-India regional parties could operate in Kashmir.
Apni Party, headed by former minister and senior PDP leader, Syed Altaf Bukhari, is the only regional party that advocates moving ahead to bring in a political government to address the problems faced by the people. Bukhari says what happened on August 5, 2019 was a disaster, but we must move ahead without giving up on the demand to restore whatever was taken away.
“The Supreme Court of the country is to decide on whether the abrogation of 370 was constitutional or not. All of us must have faith in the apex court and its decision must be binding on us. The special status was abrogated by the Parliament and after that the only constitutional recourse is to approach the Supreme Court which we have done.
“Constitutional matters will have to be decided constitutionally”, Bukhari told IANS while setting aside reports that his party was okay with the abrogation of J&K’s special status.
In contrast to the Apni Party, all other regional political players are facing an inertia of sorts which prevents them from facing the people after they lost what they believed to be their ‘raison d’etre’ to exist as Pro-Kashmir parties without supporting separatism.
While restoration of statehood is achievable, the restoration of 370 and 35A are ruled out even by the most optimistic political observers. “Our problem is that once we give up on our demand for restoration of J&K’s special status, we logically cease to be a regional party.
“How would we be different from those in the BJP after we agree to forget August 5, 2019″, said a senior NC leader.
The BJP is categorical that Articles 370 and 35A are done and dusted and there is no way these can be restored. The biggest problem for the BJP in Kashmir is that it has not been able to catch the imagination of the common man, despite a deep feeling of betrayal towards the NC and other regional parties.
The BJP is still far away from anchoring itself on the ground in Kashmir while its political base in the Jammu division has been bruised instead of getting strengthened after J&K became a union territory. The PDP as a political party stands decimated so far as its top leadership is concerned, but the PDP’s loss has not been the BJP’s gain.
The NC has suffered a serious ground erosion and yet it remains in one piece as a political entity in both the regions of J&K.
After having demonised the NC and the PDP as political extensions of family rule and corruption, the BJP will find it literally impossible to work out any future arrangement with either of them. The detention of regional political leaders for nearly one year after August 5, 2019 has not generated a groundswell for the BJP in Kashmir.
These realities do not augur well for an early political process getting underway in J&K. Holding Assembly elections will have to be a people participative process and cannot be done to the exclusion of all the regional parties, especially when a viable alternative to the well entrenched ones is yet to emerge.
This is a political jigsaw puzzle for Delhi whose pieces do not seem to fall in place some time soon.