Polls part of process to hand over power to people

Polls part of process to hand over power to people

Gupkar Alliance leaders face a major credibility challenge in the eyes of the people of Kashmir

Ram Madhav. Credit: PTI file photo.

The Gupkaris sound dubious sometimes. The senior leader, Farooq Abdullah, had stirred a hornet’s nest recently by hinting that the Kashmiris were looking at China as their redeemer. Insisting that China “never accepted” the revocation of Article 370, Abdullah told India Today TV that “They (the Chinese) said, till you restore Article 370, we won’t stop.” Leaders of his party and the Gupkar group attempted a feeble defence by claiming that he only made a matter-of-fact statement but never invited China to support Kashmiris. Yet, his hasty statement led to further stereotyping of the Kashmiri leaders as ‘anti-nationals’.

Denials apart, Abdullah appeared to have got carried away by the street talk about China in the Valley. There is a widely circulated myth among Kashmiris about a breed of people -- yojujg and mojujg -- who broadly fit the description of the Chinese. Those mythical people are supposed to be invincible because of their sheer numbers. If they get after somebody, he is doomed by the sheer nuisance they cause. The separatist circles in Kashmir are agog with whispers that the Chinese (a la yojujg and mojujg) have gotten after India and will make life miserable for it. It is even seen as a divine intercession to help the Kashmiris. It is intriguing that a leader of Farooq Abdullah’s stature could be influenced by such separatist fake myths.

Mehbooba Mufti, the other senior leader of the group, held a press conference to dare the Indian State that she would not hold up the Indian flag until the Jammu & Kashmir flag has been restored. “Jo haath 35A ke saath ched chaad karne ke liye uthenge, wo haath hi nahi wo saara jism jal ke raakh ho jaega (Not only the hand that tampers with Article 35A, but the whole body will burn to ashes),” she once reportedly threatened at a party meeting. When Articles 370 and 35A were revoked by the Indian Parliament in August last year, she argued that there would not be a single Kashmiri left to uphold the national tricolour in the Valley. Ironically, one year down the line, while the national flag flutters in many hands, she remained the only person to hold up the Kashmiri flag, displaying it on the table during that press conference.

Kashmiri leaders are prone to such provocations and subsequent somersaults. The popular caricature in Kashmir about Sheik Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah’s father, was that he would be a separatist in the Valley, regionalist in Jammu, and nationalist in Delhi. Farooq Abdullah has inherited it. He would sing Ram Dhun in Delhi and separatist Dhun in Srinagar. Mehbooba is no exception either. She can be her rhetorical best in hardline harangue on the Valley’s streets. But just a couple of years ago at a party convention, she was also heard telling her partymen that, “If there is anyone with the mandate to heal the wounds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, take the state out of the morass, it is only Narendra Modiji and no one else”. A senior Kashmir leader pointedly told her recently about the hollowness of her national flag rhetoric. The national flag was not just a piece of cloth, he reprimanded her, reminding that it is in the official bungalow that she lives in, the official bullet-proof car that she travels by and the security cover that she enjoys.

It’s no surprise then that the Gupkar Alliance leaders face a major credibility challenge in the eyes of the people of Kashmir. Their continued rhetoric about revocation of Articles 370 and 35A and the accompanying hardline statements are meant only to mislead innocent Kashmiris. History is witness to the campaign in the 1950s and 60s by Sheik Abdullah and others about ‘pre-1947 status’. But after the Delhi Agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheik Abdullah in 1975, the goalpost was shifted to ‘pre-1953 status’. Some Gupkar leaders now talk about restoration of statehood as the central issue, thus shifting the goalpost further to ‘pre-2019 status’.

In fact, it is a good sign that the Gupkar leaders realise the futility of the separatist politics of poll boycotts and autonomy demands. They should now stick firmly to constitutional methods. Their decision to participate in the District Development Council elections and making restoration of statehood as the main plank should be welcomed. In a way, they are paving the way for constitutional governance in the state.

After the Panchayat and Block Committee elections, the DDC elections in J&K will create popularly elected government at the district level also. The Union government’s commitment to hand over power to the people of the region will be furthered by the conduct of these elections before the end of this year.

After that, the government will be left with the final obligation of conducting elections to the legislature of the Union Territory, which is a federal mandate of our Constitution.

(The writer is a Member of the Board of Governors, India Foundation, New Delhi)