The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has twice ‘postponed’ its proposed meeting at the former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar residence in Srinagar, thus giving rise to speculations that all may not be well with the grouping soon after the region’s 14-member delegation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on June 24.
Insiders fear that “it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the flock together” in the wake of some ‘contradictory statements’ (with regards to restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status) being made by the leaders of various regional parties which, as a collective, represented the PAGD at one time.
After the meeting with Modi, PAGD’s chief spokesperson and Communist leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that the leaders had expectations from the meeting in Delhi, but returned empty-handed. “We had come to Delhi with some expectations but would be returning empty-handed. We didn’t come to the meeting to seek elections. We came with the aim of restoring our constitutional rights which were taken away (from us),” Tarigami said.
Kashmir watchers point out that “the people of J&K expected the PAGD leadership to have gone better prepared and present their case more effectively” there in New Delhi. Senior political commentator Professor Noor Ahmad Baba told The Federal that “They (the PAGD leaders) should have registered a strong protest on how they (the unionist leaders) and people were treated post-August 5, 2019.”
According to key commentators, the PAGD attended the meeting in Delhi in the absence of any substantial homework and agenda, necessary for such engagements. Sources confirmed to The Federal that barring the two former chief ministers —National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti and lone Communist leader Tarigami — no one spoke effectively on contentious issues in the Delhi meeting.
According to Professor Baba, “the lack of coherence within the PAGD” could hurt the unity in the alliance in the near future. Another factor why the PAGD leaders failed to put their case as forcefully as they should have, Baba said, was due to “their enthusiasm about the prospect of their being rehabilitated back into the mainstream.”
He, however, added that the unintended consequence of the Delhi meeting was that “the groups and individuals associated with the PAGD have been rehabilitated within the national political mainstream and the media discourse.”
According to Baba, the Delhi meeting was also seen as “a sort of U-turn on the part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central leadership.”
Agha Ruhullah Mehdi, three-time legislator, NC’s dissident and influential political leader, is extremely unhappy with the party leadership. Mehdi expressed his displeasure over the manner in which the NC engaged with New Delhi.
In an exclusive interview with The Federal, Mehdi said that he won’t be a part of “any electoral exercise until the region’s autonomous status, Article 370 and 35-A and statehood were restored with dignity and honour.”
Mehdi added that since 1953 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah of the National Conference was unceremoniously dismissed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and imprisoned, “Jammu and Kashmir has been pushed to a new low.”
He argued that the Kashmir-based regional parties, including his NC, failed to draw any lessons from history and emerging geopolitical situation and therefore ended up providing an escape route for the BJP-led central government in New Delhi. “You can place it on record, and record it as many times you desire, I will not participate in any elections until Kashmir gets back what has been snatched illegally, unconstitutionally and unilaterally on August 5, 2019,” he said, adding that “all the mainstream parties should avoid participating in any elections till 2024. The BJP is not going to stay in power forever. We must engage with other voices and ideological viewpoints in India till then.”
He also predicted that “the PAGD can fall apart.”
Like Mehdi, there are at least four other leaders in the NC who are upset with the party leadership for what they refer to as “apologetic tone with respect to restoration of J&K’s autonomy.” In the future, according to these leaders, the party could lose some of its winnable candidates if it does not speak ‘unambiguously’ on the matters that are considered as ‘core issues’ in the region.
On its part, the NC maintains that its stance on fundamental issues concerning Jammu and Kashmir is clear and that the party would peacefully, politically and legally fight for restoration of Article 370 and 35-A.
Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi, Member Parliament and senior NC leader, told The Federal, “All of us believe that we were stripped off of our identity, autonomy and statehood in an unconstitutional and illegal manner. We want Government of India to undo the unilateral decision taken on August 5, 2019, and restore the status of J&K as it existed on August 4, 2019.”
Moreover, Masoodi rubbished the argument put forth by the likes of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and former People’s Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig that the matter of J&K’s autonomy was ‘sub-judice.’ “The ‘sub-judice’ argument advanced by some leaders to avoid taking a stand on revocation of special status, guaranteed to Jammu and Kashmir under the Constitution of India, is specious and evasive,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, NC’s provincial spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar told The Federal, “All the mainstream parties received invitation (from New Delhi) individually, not as the PAGD. That is why the representatives of various parties spoke individually. Let me say it unambiguously that the tone of our party leadership on fundamental issues is not apologetic.”
Imran Dar also said that the PAGD meeting has not been cancelled, but “only postponed”.
Speaking to media, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti had urged upon the BJP leadership to talk to Pakistan as a stakeholder with the aim to find a long-lasting and durable solution to the Kashmir dispute. Immediately, NC’s President Farooq Abdullah had distanced himself from Mufti’s statement.
The PAGD is a political conglomerate of various groups that seeks restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood and special status under Articles 370 and 35-A. On August 5, 2019, the BJP-led central government revoked the region’s statehood and special status and downgraded Jammu and Kashmir into two separate union territories, viz Ladakh and J&K.
Presently, Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest political party National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Communist Party of India, Marxist CPI (M), Awami National Conference (ANC) and People’s Movement (PM) are part of the alliance. Earlier, the Congress, Sajad Gani-led Peoples Conference (PC) and incarcerated Engineer Rasheed-led Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) were also part of the alliance. Not anymore.
On August 4, 2019, the Kashmir-based parties had signed a joint resolution called the Gupkar Declaration (GD). In a joint statement, the leaders had unanimously opposed the Centre’s move to revoke J&K’s semi-autonomy and statehood. A day after this joint-statement, several unionists including Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, besides hundreds of their party workers, were placed under house arrest and later detained for months.
The Kashmiri leaders met again on August 22, 2020, and signed the Gupkar Declaration. “We want the Government of India to return to the people of Jammu and Kashmir the rights they had before August 5, 2019,” senior Abdullah had said while announcing the formation of the PAGD. The Gupkar Declaration 2.0 also said “nothing about us without us.”
That is what senior political leaders like Mehdi are reminding the PAGD.