The separation of Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference from the People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) five weeks ago might turn out to be only the first step in the weakening of the party.
There are signs that powerful groups within the party might break ranks further. Behind the scenes, there has even been talk of some of these forming a new party, perhaps over the next few weeks.
Some leading Kashmiri politicians have visited New Delhi in the past few days.
A Powerful Faction Flexes Muscle
The powerful faction within the party that forced its separation from the PAGD might become a leading light in a new formation.
That would leave PC wedged deep between two stools. For, it was in order to prevent a split that Lone had agreed, very unwillingly, to dissociate PC from the PAGD. He was forced to do it after several abusive arguments within his party.
If the party now splits anyway, the grapevine says that notable leaders of the party from key corners of north Kashmir, especially Baramulla district, might also go across to the new party.
The rump of the party would not only be left weak, the powerful faction could take with it the chair of the Kupwara District Council, the only one that PC was able to win. That faction also controls the loyalty of PC members of the Baramulla Council.
A Different Kind of Reservation in Baramulla
Those who might turn dissident have already ensured that the party threw its weight behind Safina Beigh for the Baramulla district Council chair.
As presaged in The Quint in January 2021, Safina Beigh was elected chairperson on 13 February, even though she was elected as an independent and initially seemed to have no other supporters.
Her husband, former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Beigh, had apparently been promised this from the Centre. The administration went through various convolutions to ensure that the Baramulla Council chair was reserved for a woman.
PDP Has Shifted Its Agenda
Nominally, Beigh has been a member of the PDP, the second largest party in the PAGD Alliance. The Alliance came together to fight the DDC elections in November-December, but could not energise a united push.
The PDP’s line appeared to shift from the Gupkar Declaration when party President Mehbooba Mufti returned to projecting J&K as a bridge between India and Pakistan at the function at which she was re-elected party president on Sunday.
This is the line Mehbooba’s father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, had adopted when he was chief minister, and Prime Minister Vajpayee and Pakistan President Musharraf were engaged in a potentially historic rapprochement from 2003 on. Mehbooba has taken it up since July 2017.
The Gupkar Declaration was for the restoration of full statehood to J&K and the special constitutional provisions for it.
These are closest to the heart of the National Conference. The district councils polls showed that the lead NC had clearly established during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls remains largely intact.
New ‘Magnet’ Emerging?
If a voice in the depths of Srinagar’s ever-buzzing grapevine is to be believed, some of those associated with the PAGD might be persuaded to join a new party, if one does emerge.
Former PDP minister Altaf Bukhari has shown the way to success by that route.
The Apni Party, which he formed almost a year ago, got far more votes in the district elections than indicated by the dozen or so victories it was able to claim. Its candidates came in second in a large number of constituencies across the Valley.
Amid hectic jockeying, the party managed to get the chairs of two district councils, Srinagar and Shopian, despite having relatively few elected members.
Apni Party Has Paved the Way
As I had said before the votes in the district polls were counted, it was important to watch the margins of victory.
That’s where the Apni Party’s success was visible. More importantly, it was where the failure of the PAGD agenda showed up.
Although a lot of reports from Kashmir superficially declared that PAGD had won the large majority of seats in the Valley, those reports missed the point that PAGD candidates generally won by narrow margins.
A large number of independent candidates (often from other constituent parties of PAGD) won many seats, and very many votes — as did the Apni Party.
No Groundswell of Mass Support
If there had been a groundswell of support for the Gupkar Declaration, its candidates ought to have won by massive margins in at least a fair number of constituencies. They did not.
In fact, it was the BJP’s candidates that won with massive margins — often polling twice as many votes as whoever came second — in the four Hindu-dominated districts of Jammu, Udhampur, Samba, and Kathua.
The fact that constituent parties put up so many ‘proxy’ candidates against official PAGD candidates indicated that even the top leaders of the alliance could see that the Gupkar Declaration was not a clinching issue.
It also showed that they were focused on their own parties’ futures — by ensuring that their loyalists were elected to power and influence, even if nominally as independents.
(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. 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.)