'Third Front' takes shape in J&K amid political void

'Third Front' takes shape in J&K amid political uncertainity

ecurity personnel patrol in Lal Chowk area during the Republic Day parade happening at Sher-i-Kashmir cricket Stadium in Srinagar on January 26, 2020. (AFP Photo)

As political uncertainty continues in Jammu and Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370, the formation of a much-speculated "Third Front" backed by the BJP government to counter regional mainstream political parties is slowly but gradually taking shape in the erstwhile state.
 
After the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two union territories on August 5 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah several times said that Article 370 had given the region separatism, terrorism, family rule and corruption.
 
Even during 2014 Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, PM Modi had said that two family-based parties (National Conference and People's Democratic Party) had conspired to take turns at looting the erstwhile state. Though after the fractured mandate in the polls, the BJP entered into a pact with the PDP to rule the insurgency-hit state, the bumpy alliance ended in June 2018. 
 
After the momentous decision by the BJP government on August 5, most of the mainstream leaders in Kashmir, including three former chief ministers - Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar and Mehbooba Mufti - were detained. The three former CMs, who head the NC and the PDP, continue to remain locked up.
 
However, Altaf Bukhari, a former finance minister, along with a group of eight PDP rebel leaders, have been speaking about the need for a "new political formation" in Jammu and Kashmir since the last two months. The eight leaders were expelled from the PDP as they also met a group of visiting diplomats last month. Bukhari had been expelled from the PDP last January for his "anti-party activities."
 
PDP co-founder and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Husain Beig was recently conferred the third-highest civilian award - the Padma Bhushan - by the BJP government. Beig and Bukhari have openly revolted against their incarcerated president Mehbooba Mufti.
 
Bukhari’s meeting earlier this month with Lt Governor Murmu has also coincided with reports of the announcement of a new political party. The memorandum that Bukhari submitted to the Lt Governor clearly delineates the contours within which the new formation will function. They have demanded domicile rights, an extension of Article 371 of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir, protection of jobs for locals and a host of other issues.
 
These events seem to indicate that there may be some effort to shore up whatever middle ground there remains in Jammu and Kashmir on the political front. Sources told DH that the group led by Bukhari was in touch with other leaders of the NC, PDP, Congress and Peoples Conference. 
 
"The BJP government wants to assemble all the rebel leaders of NC, PDP and other parties under one umbrella to give it a political legitimacy and also crush the regional parties. The administration has been directed by New Delhi to provide every possible support to Bukhari-led group to take roots," a source revealed.
 
However, the continued incarceration of Mehbooba, Farooq and Omar, apart from several other political leaders and activists, hardly provides ground for any meaningful political engagement at this point.
 
Former union minister and senior Congress leader Saif-ud-Din Soz says such "so-called Third Front" leaders will soon realize that their proposal of asking Kashmiris to demand application of Article 371 of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir is bound to fail.
 
"The so-called ‘Third Front leaders’ misread the situation in Kashmir. They think that the BJP government at the Centre will succeed in imposing its proposal on Kashmir through them. However, it can't work," he said.
 
A political observer said any political activity without the release of leaders, at the same time endorsed by New Delhi, will have to take into account that it will be viewed with a move from the Centre and not a spontaneous upsurge.