Getting a whiff of the revival of impending assembly elections, politicians in the Union Territory of J&K seem to be preparing for a long and acrimonious election fight in the coming months. The background in which the forthcoming election is likely to be held is different from most of the previous election environments.
Two outstanding mainstream party leaders have directly and indirectly indicated that they would actively participate in the election process. Both Omar Abdullah, the vice president of National Conference and Ghulam Nabi Azad, the senior Congress leader have made it clear in their recent statements that they consider participating in assembly elections as a responsibility.
However, Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the PDP has not given any indication so far that her party would be boycotting the elections. Sajjad Lone has already disassociated with the Gupkar Alliance. The Hurriyat factions will continue to boycott unless assured that they will not be deprived of the largesse to which they have got used to for more than two decades.
A very exciting scenario is likely to develop with the passing of days. Senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was at the head of the group of 23 dissenting Congressites, has been running his agenda of consolidating his Chenab Valley constituency to which he belongs and from which he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
Ever since he wrote a personal letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi exhorting her to revive the tradition of election to the various offices in the party, he fell from grace, and was exited from the “kitchen cabinet”. Soon he strengthened his position by making the group of 23 senior Congressmen sign a memorandum to the Congress president endorsing his demand for elections to various official positions in the party. The Congress was bogged with a rift in which the upholders and supporters of dynastic supremacy in the Congress were pitted against those who asked for its democratization.
The Congress President called a meeting; heard what some of the dissenters had to say and got herself nominated and endorsed as the permanent Congress president and her son Rahul Gandhi as the vice president. Some punitive actions were taken against some of the dissidents but not Ghulam Nabi Azad for the simple reason that he was not only a senior Congress leader but also the only senior Muslim Congress leader. He could not be touched because it would go against the Congress culture of treating the Muslim leadership with kid gloves.
In true Machiavellian fashion, Azad did not resign from the Congress nor did he give teeth to his displeasure against the Congress high command. Nevertheless, apprehensive of the ruthlessness of the elements at work, Azad rushed to his constituency to galvanize the workers into action. After assessing that the existing Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief GA Mir was riding the bandwagon of Rahul Gandhi, Azad launched a massive but covert campaign of subversion and the result is that a group of 12 Congress members bearing allegiance to him have resigned from their positions in the Pradesh Congress all giving the reason that they are not taken into confidence by the PCC chief while taking important decisions. Many senior Congressmen from both Jammu and Kashmir regions are among the people who have resigned.
Azad wants to overcome the first hurdle and that is of removing or disabling Mir from his position and himself assuming that role provided the Congress high command approves the plan. If not, then he is also preparing to float his party with a base in the Chenab Valley. However, he has aspirations in the Kashmir Valley as well. Only a couple of days back he held a rally in Kokarnag in the valley where he commands some influence because of brisk interaction between the people of the Kokarnag area and those in the Kishtwar-Semthan region.
In this public rally, Azad made a very important statement which may be the final nail in the coffin of the state congress. He said that there was no sense in demanding the revival of Articles 370 and 35-A which were abrogated by the Parliament on 5 August 2019. But Ghulam Nabi Azad focused on the revival of the state saying that J&K had a definite identity even during the colonial power.
However, in his Kokarnag speech, Azad made some exaggerated claims which many observers did not like. For example, he said that “we worked hard for two years and made the central government commit that the state would be revived”. This is not true. The truth is that the Home Minister while moving the bill for dissolving the statehood of Jammu & Kashmir and creating two union territories, said categorically that when time is ripe the State would be revived and the Centre would not like to deprive it of its statehood. Hence, it is the policy.
Azad said that “the identity of the state was snatched on 5 August” and they demanded its restoration. The truth is that the identity of the Jammu & Kashmir state was snatched not on August 5, 2019 but on January 19, 1990 the day on which the entire Kashmir Hindu minority was forced out of their homes and hearths at gun point. On this day the identity of J&K was changed to a Muslim State of J&K. Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A and conversion of the State into two UTs was a compulsive thrust by the Muslim majority and its leadership on Kashmir and its religious minority of Hindus. Things moved as it should have.
Omar Abdullah the vice president of the National Conference has slammed the statement Azad made in the Kokarnag rally. “We were expecting support from other political parties (on the restoration of J&K’s pre-August 5 position and special status) but they are silent. Unfortunate to see Mr Azad saying it’s useless to talk about Article 370. If the special status of J&K was so hollow, why was it snatched,” the former chief minister said at a public speech in the Chenab Valley’s Kishtwar district? Linking Article 370 to the future generations, Omar said, “It was unfortunate to see senior leader Mr Azad stating that it was useless to talk about Article 370 as it has gone forever.”
The standpoint of the top leaders of two mainstream parties differs on the revival of Article 370 and the special status of the State, but it harmonizes on the revival of the status of the State of J&K. Omar Abdullah thinks that Congress leader’s assertion at this point of time that it is useless to talk about Article 370 does great harm to National Conference’s plea before the Supreme Court for the revival of Article 370 and special status.
Why Azad is not eager about the revival of Article 370 and 35-A is that the gross irregularities committed by various State governments under the rubric of the aforementioned Articles had become the source of corruption and alienation of the people from India because it had confirmed for them that the New Delhi government was interested in perpetuating the dynastic rule in Kashmir.
But why Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah both want a revival of the statehood of Jammu & Kashmir under the pretext of identity, historicity, etc., is in reality to revive the domination of politics of the state by Kashmir Valley which enjoys only 7% of the landmass of the state. It is the domination by the Kashmir Valley that is the source of trouble and that source will have to be diluted or paralyzed to bring equitable justice to the people of the state. If the chief secretary has become the Patwari and the DGP a guardsman, nothing is wrong with that. But when a clerk becomes a chief secretary or a patwari becomes the chief justice, all hell breaks loose. A question that the revivalists of the statehood supporters need to answer is: Do you think a revival of statehood will put an end to corruption and nepotism or will it exacerbate them?