On October 13, the Jammu and Kashmir administration ended the house arrest of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. Her release came after a 14-month detention during which she was slapped with the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) provisions. With her release, normal political activities in J&K that stood frozen for almost two-and-a-half years are expected to gather pace.
Immediately after her release, Mehbooba took the BJP by surprise by releasing a blunt audio message. She not only talked about the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, but also said that there was a need to “collectively strive for the final resolution of the Kashmir dispute”.
“I do concede that this path will not be easy by any stretch, but I do believe that our collective will, determination and resolve would help us achieve our difficult feat,” she said and demanded immediate release of Kashmiris jailed within and outside the state.
Referring to the revocation of the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, she said, “The decision taken on August 5, a black day, kept haunting me, and burdened my heart and soul. I do realize that this would be the state of heart and mind of everyone in Jammu and Kashmir…all of us have to resolve to get back what the ‘Delhi darbar’ snatched from us unconstitutionally, undemocratically, illegally and immorally,” she added.
Mehbooba was invited to a meeting called by the signatories of the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ 1.0 and 2.0.
What is Gupkar Declaration?
On August 4, 2019, in a meeting presided over by Farooq Abdullah, political leaders of various ideological hues in J&K had unanimously resolved that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of J&K against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever. “That modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.”
Later, in the Gupkar Declaration 2.0 in 2020, the leaders of six parties endorsed the previous resolution and added a phrase “nothing about us without us”.
The coming together of six mainline parties is unprecedented in Kashmir politics. Key Kashmir watchers describe the stand taken by the Kashmir-based parties as “political resistance”, but hesitate to call it the “people’s alliance”.
Dr Siddiq Wahid, a well-known academic, historian and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, says, “Only time will tell how ‘significant’ the impact of the second Gupkar Declaration is.”
Representatives of the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, People’s Conference, Awami National Conference, and Communist Party of India (Marxist) met at Farooq Abdullah’s residence on October 15 and gave a formal name to their grouping: ‘People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’.
Critics not impressed
“It is an alliance of political parties and not ‘People’s Alliance’ as the nomenclature seems to suggest,” said Wahid, adding ‘people’ is too big a word and that it will take a while for the Gupkar Group before it could claim it. Besides, the Gupkar Group “needs to address the people’s distrust of their softness towards Delhi in praxis as opposed to rhetoric,” Dr Wahid told The Federal in an e-mailed response.
Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, Srinagar-based political scientist, told The Federal that the “resistance” by pro-India parties in Kashmir “represents a unified position of people and groups that identified with India and stood for a federal arrangement for Jammu and Kashmir… within that it secured its unique identity.”
In Prof Baba’s appreciation “their joining together carries a lot of political weight in relation to international society”.
“It is also defiance against a particular type of politics dominating India’s political landscape and New Delhi’s humiliating attitude toward Kashmir and Kashmiris,” he said.
What does this new alliance mean on Kashmir’s changing political landscape? How is this alliance perceived on Kashmir’s home turf? And what challenge does it pose to the BJP?
“Ours is a constitutional battle. We want the government of India to return to the people of the state the rights they held before 5th August, 2019,” senior Abdullah said. After a two-hour-long meeting, the representatives of six unionist parties resolved to “fight for the restoration of Article 370”.
Observers feel the leaders haven’t moved beyond the rhetoric so far. But they do concede they need not reveal everything at this point of time. “They don’t offer a lot of hope. Instead, they want people to trust them blindly while ignoring the historicity and context and their seasons of betrayals right from 1947.”
Critics in the Valley argue that the three NC parliamentarians (Farooq Abdullah, Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi) and PDP’s Fayaz Ahmad did not even offer to resign as MPs to symbolically register their protest against the August 5 move. They say their resignations could have been a small step in convincing sections of the population that they are serious about walking the talk. Since the NC and the PDP representatives continue to remain in the House which they accuse of committing an immoral, illegal, unconstitutional and unilateral act, it would only mean that their words are hollow, they said.
Farooq Abdullah, too, has called the joint action as a “constitutional battle”. Like Mehbooba, he too has linked the larger conflict resolution to their joint fight.
Over to Supreme Court
The statements perhaps show that the parties are pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court’s verdict on Article 370 and are not keen to take the battle to the streets. They insist that their battle is constitutional and not “separatist”, which implies that they want to keep the doors with New Delhi open.
A section of population in the Kashmir Valley, however, believes that in the absence of a genuine alternative, the parties should be given a chance. But in the same breath, they also say that “they cannot be trusted blindly”.
A section of Kashmiris refuses to place trust in these parties and says “something drastic is required”. According to them, the “old deceptive politics” won’t fetch any results.
“All that the declaration says is that the parties want statehood and the restoration of Article 370. But there is also the question of which entity they want statehood and the restoration of Article 370 for. Delhi is quite adept at taking away ten and giving back two. On August 5, 2019 they took away ten. Is the Gupkar Group asking that all ten be returned or are they settling for the ‘return’ of two, which is ‘statehood’ for the puny Union Territory entity that is today Jammu & Kashmir,” asked Dr Siddiq Wahid.
Except flowery rhetoric, there is no clarity on the path ahead. Ambiguity also persists how these six parties that forged a partnership of sorts, which some of them refer to as ‘Mahagathbandan’, will fight for the collective political and human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the absence of a robust roadmap and a visible structure to their political resilience.
Commentators say in view of the deathly silence in the Valley since August 5 last year, followed by the silencing of politicians and the people’s voices, the mere coming together of six political outfits means only a small progress. They say the politicians have at least started talking politics. They have moved beyond the act of talking at each other and have chosen to talk to each other. Their declaration is indeed a baby step, but a progress nevertheless, they say.
‘Sacred goal’ vs ‘red line’
An important component of GD 2.0 is the ‘pledge’ that “all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J&K as it existed on 4th August 2019”.
There are two ways of looking at the GD. Firstly, that the position taken by the signatories is a huge climb-down from their earlier stances. For instance, the region’s oldest political formation, the National Conference has said in the past that it strives for regional autonomy within the ambit of the Indian Constitution and seeks to reverse the clock back to pre-1953 status. The PDP in the past has demanded self-rule and a joint mechanism in both parts of Kashmir divided between India and Pakistan.
Second, how far can they go reposing faith in electoral politics? Can they cross the red line drawn by New Delhi?
In a hotly contested territory, the contents of the Gupkar Declaration can be hailed or severely criticized, depending on which side of the ideological fence one belongs to. In the eyes of the common people, these parties are essentially responsible for Kashmir’s many ills. Many see them as “collaborators” and “enablers” of the Kashmir policy as far as the current dispensation in Delhi is concerned.