THE land we have known and loved faces today a real existential threat. It stands at the very brink of a precipice. A single wrong step and Kashmir will be gone for good into the domain of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Its lifelong pracharak (activist) Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. That very year, Kashmir was to go to the polls. The RSS’s political department, the BJP, hit upon a plan: sweep the polls in Hindu-majority Jammu, acquire the support of some touts in Kashmir and form a government. It was called ‘44-plus’.
The assembly in Srinagar has 87 seats. The people foiled the plan. Departing from the practice of boycotting elections, they voted enthusiastically for Kashmiri parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC).
Mehbooba acted wisely in taking the initiative to seek Omar Abdullah’s support.
PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his three associates turned out to be more unscrupulous than suspected. Defying the people’s expressed wishes and ignoring offers by the NC and the Congress, they forged an alliance with the BJP. Its negotiator was BJP’s general secretary, Ram Madhav, who was previously the RSS’s official spokesman. Haseeb Drabu of the PDP negotiated the terms of surrender.
The coalition broke up when the BJP withdrew support as its vote in Jammu began dwindling. The governor, N.N. Vohra, imposed governor’s rule on June 20, 2018, since none had a majority in the house. Governor’s rule lasts for six months. Thereafter, president’s rule can follow.
Soon Ram Madhav began working with Sajjad Lone for a BJP government. He is the son of the late Abdul Ghani Lone of the Hurriyat who had begun to toy with the idea of contesting elections, contrary to the policy of the Hurriyat. Sadly, he was assassinated. Sajjad took over this plank with added enthusiasm acquiring in the process sheer contempt. Muzaffar Hussein Baig, a PDP founder, who had been sidelined by Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba, saw an opportunity in Sajjad Lone’s plans for a ‘third front’ government with BJP support plus 18 others bought from the PDP.
That means 25 of the BJP plus 18 others. His own strength in the assembly is a magnificent two. The PDP has 29, the NC 15 and the Congress 12 in a house of 87. As late as on Nov 15, Governor Satya Pal Malik declared: “The Assembly will not be dissolved”. On Nov 21, he dissolved it citing puerile reasons — “horse-trading had started 20 days ago”. Why then the resolve of Nov 15? “Opposing ideologies”. That did not prevent the BJP from forming coalitions in New Delhi.
The real reason is that till Nov 15, the BJP’s pet Sajjad Lone was the sole contender for the chief minister’s chair. It panicked when Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah agreed to join hands to keep the RSS/BJP away.
From Srinagar on Nov 21, 2018, Mehbooba Mufti wrote to Malik, who was in Jammu, staking her claim and citing support from the NC and Congress. Malik panicked. That evening, the home minister, Rajnath Singh, returned to New Delhi. Malik acted late at night, pleading he had not received Mehbooba’s letter because there was no one to operate his fax machine on Nov 21 (Rabi-ul-Awwal 12). He knew that Sajjad did not command a majority as the PDP-NC-Congress combine irrefutably did.
The governor’s treachery as that of Sajjad Lone provides a blessing for the people of Kashmir — provided its leaders rise to the occasion. It provides ground for hope that the politicians will join hands to fight in defence of Kashmir’s rights which Sajjad Lone and his BJP patrons would have readily bartered away for a few crumbs of power. Mehbooba acted wisely in taking the initiative to seek Omar Abdullah’s support and that of his father Farooq Abdullah; as they did by responding.
But, on Nov 22, NC vice president Omar Abdullah spoke of a “temporary grand alliance with the PDP and the Congress to safeguard the special status of J&K in the supreme court”. Will it, then, vanish after the court’s verdict?
Both parties are legitimately locked in a democratic contest for power. But their people’s terrible plight should make them define the limits to the contest, the area in which they must cooperate and the activities which they could jointly undertake. To begin with they must draw up a joint declaration on Kashmir’s autonomy and its future; course for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
Both are agreed on autonomy and on negotiations with both Pakistan and India. Add to these, matters of daily concern to the people in law and order, lifting of curbs on Hurriyat leaders, civil liberties, police excesses, etc. They must involve Kashmiri intellectuals, retired civil servants and the like. This might well be their last chance, lest carpetbaggers take over Kashmir. History will not forgive Mehbooba and Omar if they neglect the task or fail at it.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2018