The decision of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of Jammu and Kashmir-based political parties, to participate in the forthcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections has stirred the state politics.
To begin with, the decision has divided the PAGD and the seat-sharing process has further widened the cracks. Secondly, the decision has taken the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by surprise; and thirdly, it has resulted in J&K parties trying to “occupy” the residual political space without “conceding anymore” to the saffron party.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s tweets describing PAGD as “The Gupkar Gang” has sent the Congress party on the backfoot and it has quickly distanced itself from the newly formed group. “The Gupkar Gang is going global! They want foreign forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir. The Gupkar Gang also insults India’s Tricolour. Do Soniaji and Rahulji support such moves of the Gupkar Gang? They should make their stand crystal clear to the people of India,” Shah had tweeted.
The PAGD released the complete list of seats allotted to the partners for all four phases of the elections, ignoring objections. In some places, PDP candidates defied the PAGD list and filed nominations independently. A week ago, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, the co-founder of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), resigned from the party following a disagreement over seat sharing, a PDP insider told The Federal.
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The PAGD was formed with the objective of fighting a “constitutional battle” against the Centre seeking restoration of Article 370 and statehood for Jammu and Kashmir. Electoral battles were perhaps not on the minds of alliance partners as they had boycotted the state panchayat polls earlier. In a sudden reversal, the PAGD decided to participate in the DDC elections, taking the BJP by surprise. The signatories of the PAGD seem to have realised that there was no point in conceding political space to the BJP.
“We have to reclaim all political spaces. Small and big ones. And it is a democratic way to defeat the nefarious designs of the BJP,” said a former legislator of the PDP.
The PAGD’s decision to participate in the DDC elections has left some of its critics unhappy as they feel that this was “normalising” the August 5 decision of the Centre. Two senior former legislators of the National Conference told The Federal that their “party was going against the wishes of the people of J&K.”
Professor Siddiq Wahid, a well-known academic, political commentator and historian, says that the “Gupkar alliance partners are neither savvy or able to match the trickery of the BJP. They still talk, walk, think and act in their old ways,” whereas the landscape had changed. “Unless they (the PAGD) reinvent themselves, they are history. In the sense of ‘the past’,” Wahid told The Federal.
Omar and Mehbooba hit back
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and PDP supremo, in a tweet hit back at Shah saying, “Old habits die hard”. Earlier, BJP had built a narrative saying ‘tukde tukde gang’ threatened India’s sovereignty and now Shah is describing us as ‘Gupkar Gang’, an euphemism to project us as anti-nationals, she said. “Irony died a million deaths since it’s BJP itself that violates the Constitution day in and day out,” she said.
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister and National Conference leader, in a statement, said, “I can understand the frustration behind this attack by the Hon’ble Home Minister. He had been briefed that the People’s Alliance (PAGD) was preparing to boycott elections. This would have allowed the BJP and newly formed King’s party (J&K Apni Party) a free run in J&K. We didn’t oblige them.”
Commentators on Kashmir politics feel that by repeating the phrase “The Gupkar Gang” thrice in a single tweet, the BJP was displaying its nervousness.
“The PAGD has outfoxed the BJP by its decision to participate in the DDC polls. The BJP had hoped that J&K’s regional parties would boycott the DDC elections paving the way for the BJP to cultivate a new political elite in J&K. But the PAGD has caused a lot of anxieties in the BJP camp by deciding to participate,” senior analyst Riyaz Ahmad told The Federal.
Allegations of sabotage
Farooq Abdullah, the president of PAGD, in a hard- hitting letter to State Election Commissioner K. K. Sharma, alleged that the alliance candidates have been whisked away to “secure locations”. “They are not allowed to canvass; they are completely out of touch with those from whom they are supposed to seek votes,” he said.
The security is blatantly oriented towards a select few and confining others, Abdullah complained. This, he felt was, “more an attempt to interfere in the democratic process than any real concern for the wellbeing of the contestants.” The security cannot and should not be used as a tool or an excuse to interfere in democratic processes, he said in the letter.
Iqbal Nabi, an independent candidate from north Kashmir’s Tangmarg area, put out a video statement saying he was whisked away to a ‘security cluster’ by government forces against his will and was not allowed to speak to his family.
Rouf Bhat, PDP leader from Srinagar, also alleged that he was taken to a nearby police station and detained there for several hours. Similar complaints from other candidates too have been pouring in from various parts of J&K.
Responding to Bhat’s allegations, Srinagar Police had said that it was a routine matter to update profiles of former militants and OGWs (overground workers).
Some commentators argue that the state leaders finding themselves at the “precipice of complete irrelevance” are desperately using rhetoric and sentiment to reclaim some of the lost political space.
Critics say that in 1953, the region’s political space was dominated and occupied by the National Conference. And Sheikh Abdullah was the Prime Minister. He was unceremoniously removed and sent to prison for 22 years in separate stints. Similarly, in 1984, Farooq Abdullah was the region’s Chief Minister. His government too was toppled and his brother-in-law, G M Shah was installed as Abdullah’s replacement.
Between 2002 and 2018, the state’s political scene was dominated either by the Congress, NC or PDP. It’s only in 2018 that Mehbooba Mufti after heading an alliance with the BJP got dismissed. Therefore, the argument of ‘occupying’ and ‘not conceding’ political space to the BJP makes no sense. The regional parties must reinvent themselves and their politics to make any impact, the observers say.