WILL RE-EMERGENCE OF STRONG MAINSTREAM LEADERSHIP IN KASHMIR SUCCEED?

In absence of a strong and powerful mainstream political leadership at local level, some politicians are trying to break the ice on the otherwise frozen political scene of Kashmir by resuming the political activities and working out possible combinations post abrogation Article 370.

The mainstream leadership is presently weak not because three former chief ministers Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are under detention but because they have lost much ground and support in Kashmir for different reasons during their rule over the years.

The re-emerging politicians, who some reports say are backed by centre, are suggesting to the people to move beyond abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and work for other options like restoration of statehood to J&K and domicile rights for citizens.

A group is headed by former minister, Altaf Bukhari, who was expelled from PDP for anti party activities. His group, which met the lieutenant governor Girish Chandra Murmu, and later a visiting delegation of foreign envoys, mainly consists of the leaders who have deserted PDP and later expelled from the party.

Interestingly, only last year Altaf was projected as the chief ministerial candidate jointly by PDP and NC as the two parties wanted to form the government to scuttle the possible BJP backed move to install the government of Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone. But the then governor Satya Pal Malik said he could not receive the letters of NC and PDP as the “Raj Bhawan fax machine was not working and there was nobody to repair the fax machine as the staff was on holiday.”

Abrogation of Article 370 changed equations as Sajjad is no more in picture now and Altaf is back on political scene.
Altaf’s latest view to accept the ground reality and move beyond articles may be purely based on his own political interests. But history says that J&K could not get back anything which was taken away by centre from time to time in its process of “Article 370 Gistey Gistey Giss Jaye Ga.” Even the most popular and strongest leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah could not achieve anything when he tried to bargain pre-1953 position prior to Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975. He was categorically conveyed by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi that there was no question of restoring pre-1953 and that “Gaddi ki Souyeon Ko Peechay nahin Kiya Ja Sakta (Hands of clock cannot be moved back).” Sheikh had to be content with getting back power with Congress support.

Central leaders have been saying now that Article 370 is a history and there is no question of J&K getting it back. As per reports, the central government has started an exercise to encourage and guide the willing leaders in Kashmir to move beyond Article 370. There is a feeling in New Delhi that sooner or later the political parties in Kashmir will accept the ground reality and return to routine politics after initial reluctance due to the public stands they had taken against the abrogation of Article 370. Regarding the restoration of statehood , the central leaders have already made a public commitment in this regard, and about domicile rights for J&K citizens, only time will tell about that even as a section in political circles say that it too is under consideration of the government.
Re-arrival of former PDP leaders on scene is not something unexpected. If Articles 370 and 35A were not scrapped and J&K state not bifurcated into two union territories, the PDP party was bound to meet the same fate as of today with one leader after another leaving. This was very much clear when Sajjad was close to BJP. PDP leaders made a beeline to join his party during Governor’s rule. Now Sajjad is not a darling of BJP, so it is Altaf’s turn to receive his ex-colleagues of PDP in new fold.
Immediately after the collapse of Mehbooba Mufti government, there was a feeling among PDP leaders that their party would not return to power for long. They did not want to wait for long in the unpredictable political scenario and wanted to be close to a political force, having some chances in next power sharing arrangements. In a way they wanted to go by “Behti Ganga Maen Haath Dhona.” Since NC, which had some chances of winning after the collapse of Mehbooba’s government, was not ready to take them, most of the PDP leaders preferred moving towards Sajjad because of his close proximity with BJP.
NC was not interested in taking them on the grounds that barring a few, the ex-PDP leaders had no chances of winning assembly polls. Altaf too showed some inclination towards NC but the party seemed not ready to accommodate him because the leadership did not want to annoy its leader and Omar Abdullah’s once close friend, Nasir Aslam Wani, who too contests from Amirakadal constituency. Altaf Bukhari had defeated Sogami in last assembly polls.
Reports suggest that Altaf can win next assembly polls from Amirakadal as he has taken good care of his supporters and voters in government and also outside the government.
It is to be seen how many more leaders from PDP will join Altaf in coming days. Reports say that a few from NC may also leave their party to join Altaf’s group but the number is small.
PDP patron and former minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig too has taken a stand now against detained party president Mehbooba Mufti. He says it was because of the statement of Mehbooba that nobody in Kashmir will hold the tri-colour if Article 370 was revoked, that centre downgraded J&K state into two Union Territories. But political circles here disagree with him on the grounds that he is ill-informed.
According to them, centre had made up its mind to abrogate the two articles and downgrade the state into two UTs much before Mehbooba’s statement. According to them, indications about possible moves of J&K state getting converted into UT was doing rounds here since the beginning of last year. If Beig was not aware, it is his mistake, they say.
Going by the mood of Beig, he too is not ready to work with Mehbooba. He too is waiting for time to announce his line of action, which surely must be against that of PDP president. Will Beig move out of PDP or cause some split in party, and how much support he can get from others, is to be seen. Right now Altaf is busy collecting eggs in his basket-rotten or otherwise, only time can tell.