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Will New Delhi ‘Gain’ From Sajad Lone’s Exit From Gupkar Alliance?

“Lone quitting Gupkar is a win-win for not just New Delhi but also for the leadership of the 7 constituent parties.”

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Opinion
5 min read
Image of Sajad Lone & PAGD (People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration) symbol used for representational purposes.
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The exit of People’s Conference Chief Sajad Lone from the Gupkar alliance is opening a new world of possibilities on Kashmir’s political turf. Lone, whose party won eight seats in the recently concluded DDC elections in J&K, has positioned himself on a moral high ground by accusing his alliance partners of betraying the people of Kashmir.

“We fought against each other in Kashmir province, and not against the perpetrators of 5 August,” Sajad said in his letter to the Gupkar alliance Chief Dr Farooq Abdullah, days after speculations went rife that the party of the former minister in the BJP-PDP government was quitting the alliance.

“This alliance needed sacrifice. Every party had to sacrifice on the ground in terms of giving space to fellow allies. No party is willing to cede space, no party is willing to sacrifice,” the letter notes.

With Sajad’s departure, the future of Gupkar alliance remains uncertain. The two major parties in the alliance — National Conference and People’s Democratic Party — have not yet reacted officially to his allegations, although the leadership of these two parties are also speaking of ‘betrayal’ in off-the-record conversations, suggesting that the days of the alliance may be numbered.

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What History Tells Us, And Why Unravelling Of Gupkar Alliance Is Not Surprising

On 2 July 1984, 12 National Conference members of the J&K Legislative Assembly, allegedly at the behest of the then Governor Jagmohan, threw their weight behind GM Shah. This tactical manoeuvre reduced the government of his brother-in-law and adversary, Dr Farooq Abdullah, an eyesore for New Delhi at that time, into a minority, paving way for his dismissal.

The “coup” by New Delhi, Cambridge scholar and historian Alastair Lamb had noted, “marked the end of Article 370”. The coup was important because New Delhi didn’t want to cede an inch of its ‘territory’ to the autonomy-seeking Dr Abdullah. It had become important to remove Dr Abdullah from power in order to show him “his place”.

The formal reading down of the Article 370 has now been used as a vehicle to hold a mirror not just to Dr Abdullah but the entire pro-India (or pro-Congress) polity in Kashmir who have been cut to the size of a flock of birds aggrieved over the clipping of their wings.

In just three months, the much publicised show of unity put up by Dr Abdullah, his son Omar, PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti, CPI(M) General Secretary MY Tarigami and PC Chief Sajad Lone — for the “restoration of the rights and dignity” of the people of J&K — has turned into a spectacle of national amusement.

Scenes of jubilation that were witnessed at Srinagar’s Gupkar Road have been replaced by cries of distrust and deceit. But the unravelling of the Gupkar alliance is neither surprising nor shocking. Since its inception on 20 October 2020, the conglomerate of seven regional parties has found it difficult to navigate the turbulence in the Valley’s political atmosphere, post the reading down of J&K’s special status.

Fissures in Gupkar Alliance

The fissures began to appear on 12 November when the alliance was preparing its first list of 27 candidates for the recently concluded DDC elections. As heated arguments ensued between the leaders of the constituent parties over the choice of candidates, Dr Abdullah, who leads the alliance, used his position to allot 21 seats to his own party candidates.

“This was a cruel betrayal of the cause that had brought us together,” said a political leader, wishing to remain anonymous. “When we were facing an existential crisis, he (Dr Abdullah) started indulging in moral grandstanding and opportunism, without showing scant regard for the wishes of people.”

When the polling booths opened for voters from 28 November 2020, the noises of friction within the Gupkar alliance began to seep out and the facade of unity started to crumble. Turns out, the official candidates of the Gupkar alliance were facing a challenge on the political turf — not just from their rivals but their alliance partners too.

“In most places, the party fielding the candidate on behalf of PAGD was left to fend for itself and secured the votes that his party managed. In most places other parties were silent bystanders or worse — compounded the problem by fielding proxy candidates,” Sajad wrote in his letter to Dr Abdullah.

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Lone’s Exit: A ‘Win-Win’ Situation?

Lone’s exit from Gupkar alliance is nevertheless a win-win situation for not just New Delhi but also for the leadership of the seven constituent parties. While the NC and the PDP are likely to stick together for the time being, much will depend on how New Delhi executes its next move on J&K.

“If the Gupkar experiment fails, the constituent parties will not only skirt blame for participating in the DDC elections but they will have also tested the uncertain waters for their future roadmap. On the other hand, New Delhi will use this exercise to portray that all is well in Kashmir,” said Ashiq Hussain, a historian based in Srinagar.

The success of the DDC elections may have also brought the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir a step closer to the much delayed assembly polls which, in the eyes of New Delhi, will be the final stamp of approval for the 5 August, 2019 decision.

What Are The Political Possibilities That Can Emerge If Statehood Is Restored To J&K?

With the change of guard at the White House, holding assembly elections in J&K has become more important than ever. Already, a series of radical policy decisions taken by the Trump administration have been written off by the Biden administration on its first day in office. It is only a matter of time before the new administration turns its attention to Kashmir.

If the Centre restores statehood to J&K, as has been promised, it will open up a window of many opportunities for the political class.

The DDC elections and the fissures in the Gupkar alliance have thrown up a possibility for all kinds of permutations and combinations, like it happened in the summer of 1984.

However, instead of GM Shah, the BJP can look up to an ally like business tycoon-turned-politician, Altaf Bukhari, whose Apni Party won 12 seats in its maiden DDC election and others. With Sajad Lone’s exit from the Gupkar alliance, the rapidly changing atmosphere can throw up a radically redrawn political map of J&K.

(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk. This is a report and analysis, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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