When the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) was formed in October last year, its constituent parties pledged perseverance and steadfastness towards the restoration of Article 370 that previously granted Jammu and Kashmir semi-autonomy under India's constitution. This resolution was written in the alliance's declaration where the political parties stated there would be “nothing about us without us,” meaning they will stick together come what may.
“We want to assure people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J&K as it existed before August 2019,” read PAGD's proud and chaste declaration. The constituents, it added, would be “bound wholly by the contents of the Gupkar Declaration and will unwaveringly adhere to it”.
Have DDC Polls Helped Gupkar Alliance Unravel?
Three months on, the PAGD suffered its first jolt as a key member, Sajad Gani Lone, left the alliance. He cited the fielding of proxy candidates by the constituent parties of the PAGD against the officially mandated candidates of the alliance as decided during the December District Development Council (DDC) elections. He called these actions "a breach of trust.”
Lone was a front-runner of the PAGD idea and his sudden exit has left a void. The alliance has since seemed shaky, its remaining members in an uneasy accord: they have avoided putting up a united front in public. The alliance has also not met since December’s DDC elections. It has issued no official statement about new configuration, nor have its leaders, including its president Dr Farooq Abdullah talked on behalf of the alliance.
Strangely, the alliance didn't even celebrate its win in the DDC polls. Its candidates won 110 seats, two-third of them in Kashmir Valley. It also watched impassively as its candidates – some of them belonging to constituent parties – switched sides and joined Apni Party which now heads three of the ten DDCs in the Valley despite winning only ten seats. This is because the central anti-defection law is not applicable to local government bodies like District Development Councils.
Is BJP’s Plan of Rendering Gupkar Alliance Powerless Working?
The constituents may often speak as the leaders of individual parties they belong to but increasingly discourse about the restoration of Article 370 has become relegated to the background while the demand for statehood, as pushed by the BJP and the Apni Party – set up last year with the alleged blessing of New Delhi – has hurtled to the foreground.
In his recent parliament speech, Dr Abdullah spent two-third of his time talking about the farmers’ protest and other issues and spared only little over a minute to express his dismay at the loss of J&K autonomy, something that people back in Kashmir wanted him to stress.
Few people in Kashmir believe that Lone's exit from the PAGD was because the constituents of the alliance had fielded candidates against his party candidates, that went contrary to their understanding. The dominant public perception is that Lone left the PAGD under pressure from New Delhi which doesn’t want the alliance to challenge its decision to revoke J&K autonomy.
Though the remaining five parties in the PAGD have so far stuck together, they have stopped meeting or talking as one. According to a senior leader from the PDP, there is possibility they may not meet at all. He accused the National Conference leader and the PAGD president Dr Farooq Abdullah and the son Omar Abdullah of going silent on the demand for J&K autonomy and “depoliticising their narrative”.
The estranged senior National Conference leader and its former spokesman Agha Ruhullah says, “the PAGD has stopped fighting for J&K autonomy for which it was constituted. The PAGD is not mobilising people for the restoration of (J&K) autonomy. They're not talking about it. They have no roadmap. What was the point of forming the alliance?” Ruhullah was also against the PAGD's participation in the DDC elections.
National Conference’s Views About PDP in Gupkar Alliance
The NC leaders blame the PDP for the current state of affairs, saying the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti had undermined the collective fight for J&K by pursuing a hardline politics “geared to resurrect her political career”. For example, some NC leaders are not happy with Mehbooba making the statement that she wouldn’t pick up the Indian flag, saying “this turned Indian public opinion hostile to Kashmiri struggle for restoration of the autonomy”.
“This statement was not in the interest of our struggle. We can’t afford to allow ourselves be branded as anti-nationals,” goes the refrain in the NC.
The NC is also sore over the fact that it suffered after the formation of the PAGD, with the J&K administration reopening the case about the scam in J&K Cricket Association (JKCA) against Farooq Abdullah and attaching his properties worth Rs 11.86 crore. The multi-crore scam is about the embezzlement of the money received by the JKCA from BCCI between 2002 and 2011.
Abdullah, who was then chairman JKCA, is alleged to have appointed one of his associates, Ahsan Ahmad Mirza, as treasurer in 2003 and allegedly laundered the money through him.
The NC leaders also say privately that they were not in favour of forming the PAGD as they didn’t want “to give new lease of life” to the PDP and the PC.
They think these two parties had been “politically finished” following their alliance with the BJP in J&K’s last elected government before the central rule was imposed in June 2018 followed by repeal of Article 370 in August 2019.
But now, the NC leaders argue, “their party is being taken for a ride” and “individual party interests are trumping those of the alliance”.
They also lament how at Beerwah – the NC vice president Omar Abdullah's constituency in central Kashmir – the PDP fielded its candidate against that of the PAGD, who was an NC worker. The PDP candidate later won.
Mehbooba’s PDP Doesn’t Approve of Abdullahs’ Toning Down
But the sources in the PDP say that the proxy candidates were fielded by all the PAGD constituents, including the NC. They defend their leader Mehbooba saying she is only filling in the growing silence on Article 370 in Kashmir, pointing out “how the Abdullahs had moderated their stance on the issue since being served the Enforcement Directorate notice”.
“Mehbooba ji is supposed to speak about the restoration of Article 370 as a member of the PAGD. Our people have massively sacrificed in the struggle for their political rights and we can’t be silent about that,” a PDP leader shares.
As things stand, a significant opinion in the NC and the PDP has grown increasingly sceptical about their alliance and for very different reasons: the NC thinks the PAGD is proving detrimental to its traditional standing as the largest J&K party, while the PDP feels that the NC is going slow on the demand for restoration of the former state's autonomy as the centre turns up heat.
It may be thus a matter of time before the parties part company, ending the alliance that promised to mount a formidable opposition to the BJP in the union territory.
The PAGD is likely to meet again later in March and the sources in both parties say that if there is no understanding on the “key issues” facing the alliance, then it might probably break.
(The author is journalist based in Kashmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)