Why Amit Shah Attacking GUPKAR Alliance

Altaf Hussain ,
Former Correspondent BBC

The union home minister, Amit Shah ‘s diatribe against  People”s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration may have demonized Kashmir’s pro-India leadership, but it seems more an assault on the Indian National Congress.                

 Taking to twitter the other day, Amit Shah alleged that the PAGD wanted foreign powers to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir.

https://twitter.com/AmitShah/status/1328602174889275393

Amit Shah was referring to Farooq Abdullah’s TV interview in which he said “Would to God their (China’s) clout helped people of J&k and Articles 470 and 35A wererestored.”

Amit Shah Union home minister of India

The National Conference later clarified that Farooq’s statement was being mis-interpreted and that he had never sought China’s intervention.

Amit Shah  also accused the PAGD leaders of insulting the Indian tri-colour. Earlier,  the PDP president and former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti had said that she would  carry the Indian national flag only after J&K’ had got back its own flag. (J&K lost its flag as a consequence of Art. 370 being revoked).

  Both NC and PDP have since reiterated that they will fight for the rights of Kashmiri people through peaceful means and within the Indian constitution.

 Pertinent to mention  the pro-India regional parties in Kashmir have borne maximum brunt of the armed uprising against Indian rule that began more than three decades ago. Many leaders and activists of the National Conference fell to the bullets of separatist militants. In fact, the first civilian gunned down by the militants was a Block President of the NC, Mohammad Yusuf Halwai. Almost all the senior leaders of the NC and hundreds of party activists had to flee their homes in the Valley as did the Kashmiri Pandits.  In 1990s, Farooq Abdullah pleaded India’s case at a UN Human Rights meet  in Geneva.

As for PDP, its founder and patron,  the late Mufti Mohammad Saeed was the home minister of India in 1990 , the year when separatist violence peaked in Kashmir. The militants abducted his daughter Rubya Saerd. It was on his watch that the Indian military and paramilitaries fired at civilian protesters, killing scores of people at several places in Srinagar. It was again on his watch that  paramilitary forces allegedly torched the border town of Handwara, burning 16 civilians alive . He is known in Kashmir as an Indian by conviction. In fact, Narendra Modi was more than willing to forge an alliance of the BJP and the Mufti’s PDP (People’s Democratic Party) in 2014.  The late Mufti headed the coalition government thus formed in the erstwhile state.

This is why Amit Shah’s statement, suggesting that the PAGD leaders are indulging in seditious politics , has come as a shocker. But, some observers point out that this may actually help these regional leaders to regain their credibility among people in J&K, particularly among the majority Muslim community.        

A section of the people in Kashmir suspect that NC and PDP leaders actually  acquiesced to the abrogation of Article 370 w, putting up a facade  of protest.. They say that the Gupkar Declaration adopted on 4 August 2019 is proof that these leaders knew about the Modi government’s plan and yet did nothing at all to mobilise any resistance to it.

But another section of people believes that while the outrage of these leaders is real, they are clueless as to what they should do. Farooq Andullah and his son, Omar have ruled out street demonstrations , saying they do not want to get people killed (in police firing). They have pinned their hopes on the Supreme Court __ this at a time when the judiciary’s commitment to justice is being questioned day in day out by former judges, lawyers and ordinary people across India.

Whether Amit Shah intends to hurt or help the PAGD leadership , many observers are of the opinion that this demonisation of PAGD may help BJP in the Hindu majority Jammu region of  J&K where many people who supported revocation of Articles 370 and 35 A now regret doing so.  Many people in Jammu fear losing their lands and jobs to outsiders.  A recent media report (published by the Wire,) quoted people from different walks of life in Jammu as saying that they were Modi supporters but feel that the BJP exploited their nationalism. Tanya Bandral, who has an M.Sc in Chemistry is quoted as saying: “I celebrated the move, But 15 months down the line, I feel betrayed. We have been ruined. Our jobs are gone, our land is gone.”  

What better way to sway such people than to whip up their nationalist sentiment by calling Kashmir’s regional parties anti-India and  seditious.  

But, jammu region with its two Lok Sabha seats, should not matter much for the BJP or the Congress. The Valley has three seats which again is insignificant in a house of 543. Yet Kashmir is so very important for both rhe BJP and the Congress. Both the parties  have used Kashmir as a pawn on the chess board of politica outside Jammu and Kashmir. For instance, the BJP touted the repeal of Article 370 as a major achievenent and sought votes during recent elections in Bihar in the name of its hardline Kashmir policy. The Congress-led UPA government hanged Afzal Gooru , out of turn, only in an attempt to blunt the edge of BJP’s ultra-nationslist campaign.

It’s important to note that Amit Shah did not stop at demonising  Kashmir’s pro-India regional leadership. He asked  Sonia Gandhi and Rahul to make their stand vis a vis the PAGD clear to the people of India.

Congress was quick to dismiss Amit Shah’s allegations. But while doing so, the party did not express any reservations about the repeal of Article 370. It did not defend the Nationsl Conference or the PDP , even though both  these parties were alliance partners of the BJP and the Congress, at one time or the other.in recent past. Instead, Randeep Singh Surjewala emphasised that Congress was not a part of the PAGD.

Many in Kashmir and, may be elsewhere too, are baffled by what they call the Congress party’s dual game. The party has a seat sharing arrangement with constituents of the PAGD for the upcoming DDC polls in J&K. Yet, it has been so conveniently and so fast distanced itself from the PAGD, to defend itself from BJP’s assault.

Pertinently, the BJP and the Congress have had almost the same policy toward Kashmir. The Congress undermined Article 370 slowly but steadily since the time of Nehru. The BJP did away with it in a single stroke. The Congress ruled the state of Jammu and Kashmir for a decade  before the the Indira-Abdullah accord in mid 1970s. . It was during that period that much of the erstwhile state’s autonomy was withdrawn ___ the Prime Minister of J&K became the chief minister and the elected Sadr e Riyasat or President of the state was replaced by a governor, appointed by the Centre. Such was then the resentment among kashmiri people against the Congress that if anybody died in the family of a worker of the party, the family was denied coffin by the local mosque to carry the body for burial.

After the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971,  Sheikh Abdullah , who fought for a plebiscite in J&K  for two decades, joined the Indian mainstream following an accord with Mrs Gandhi. She promised to review the central laws extended to Jammu and Kadhmir. But , while Sheikh Abdullah was still on his way back to Srinagar from Delhi, she declared in parliament that hands of the clock could not be turned back. This undermined Sheikh Abdullah’s popularity as also his legacy among his people who saw the accord as a sell -out.

Within  two years of the Sheikh’s death, Mrs Gandhi toppled the Nationsl Conference government in J&K , headed by his son , Farooq Abdullah  She used the Raj Bhawan to engineer defections in the National Conference. The whole exercise was an act of revenge: Mrs Gandhi had taken offence at Farooq Abdullah’s refusal to have an electoral alliance with Congress in 1983. A frustrated Farooq Abdullah later on forged an alliance with the Congress, when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. This further eroded the NC’s popularity and created a political vacuum in Kashmir. The armed conflict broke out only a few years later.  It was not necessarily a direct result of these developments but was surely facilitated by them. Many youths, whose families activrly supported the National Conference, joined the ranks of armed militants.

It has been a characteristic of politics in the Indian subcontinent that every big leader puts himself or herself above the party and the party above the country. Indira Gandhi did that with a vengeance and created a psychological cleavage between Delhi and Srinagar. The incumbent Prime Minister, BJP’s Narender Modi has been following in her footsteps. Many believe the BJP’s rise to power has more to do with  failures of the Congress, particularly its oscillating stand on secularism and democracy. Upto a million people, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, were killed in the communal riots that happened at the time of partition. Yet, Pandit Nehru and other Congress leaders had the charisma and confidence to declare India a secular polity. Today the  Congress is in such a bad shape  that it recently experimented with soft Hindutva to fight the BJP. Such a weak party can hardly afford to take a principled stand on sensitive matters like Kashmir. Yet, it is the main Opposition to BJP at the All India level. The BJP has been trying everything to damage it as much more as possible and put it on the defensive on matters of sentimental value to the Indian people  Amit Shah demoniding the PAGD in Kashmir  was calculated to put Congress on the back foot in nationalist constituency across India. And the Congress party’s act of quickly distancing itself from the PAGD has diminished hopes of the pro-India camp in Kashmir that ouster of the BJP from power at the Centre anytime in future would help their struggle for restoration of J&K’s statehood and special status.  Ends

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