The trajectory of the People’s Alliance in J&K is somewhat similar to that of the Plebiscite Front in terms of the circumstances in which both were formed. Ironically, the People’s Alliance is fighting for what the Plebiscite Front received after 20 years of fighting for something else – Article 370.
By Hamaad Habibullah
The coming up of the major mainstream parties under the umbrella of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Deceleration (PADG) was a major political development in Jammu & Kashmir post centre’s August 5, 2019 decision to revoke J&K’s special status. The members of this alliance have vowed to fight till the August 5 decision is reversed. Certain sharp statements also came out from this camp which led to controversies. But the alliance faced a major setback when one of its constituent parties, People’s Conference led by separatist turned mainstream leader Sajjad Lone pulled out of the alliance. Lone, the former BJP ally in the valley said that there had been a breach of trust among the partners. This may or may not be the actual reason behind his decision but such a move by an important member of the alliance might not have surprised people acquainted with the politics of Kashmir. The reason being the very nature of the alliance in the political landscape of Kashmir.
While the alliance initially hinted at boycotting the District Development Elections saying they never accepted the August 5 decision, they ultimately participated in the election and secured the most number of seats. Their proper course is not clear even yet, but one gets an idea as to how such a front is going to move forward in Kashmir. The very basic nature of the alliance and what it has vowed to achieve makes it very vulnerable especially in the political atmosphere of Kashmir. This became evident when one of its constituent members announced to exit the alliance.
While understanding this alliance and aforementioned problems surrounding it, one has to look into the history of Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front, which was something similar and equally important in the history of the former state might be helpful to a great extent. Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front, which was formed following the ouster of then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, demanded a plebiscite in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both the J&K Plebiscite Front and People’s Alliance for the Gupkar declaration have a lot in common, especially the situations and circumstances in which they were formed and how they operated and would operate amid the political realities of the region.
Following Sheikh Abdullah‘s ouster as Prime Minister of J&K in 1953, with the Centre beginning to interfere in the internal matters of the then more autonomous state, major political players under the patronage of Sheikh Abdullah formed the Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front.
As Sheikh Abdullah was in prison, the Plebiscite Front led by Afzal Beg led the opposition. Their stance led them to boycott the elections which in turn resulted in easy victories for the pro-Centre faction. It was with the help of these governments that all the changes in the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 were made. Most notable being the changing of nomenclatures of heads of state, bringing the state under the jurisdiction of the central election commission and the Supreme Court of India, etc.
The formation of the Plebiscite Front was a direct result of the increasing interference of the centre in the internal matters of the state and its reluctance in fulfilling its hard-pressed promise of conducting a plebiscite in J&K. It began with the ouster and subsequent arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, under whose leadership J&K rejected two-nation theory in the much-polarized sub-continent. Following his arrest as sweeping changes were being made in the state, Sheikh Abdullah now decided to fight for the plebiscite to decide the state’s future course. But this hard stance of the Plebiscite Front, which it carried for almost two decades, changed following the Indira-Sheikh accord. With this accord, Sheikh finally gave up his fight for the plebiscite and returned to power as Chief Minister of the State.
The Plebiscite Front had been raising the banner of “Raai-Shumari” (Plebiscite) for over two decades. But now plebiscite was not an easy task to achieve. It was not acceptable to anyone in the political corridors of India, even though it is a historic fact that India had itself promised the same to Kashmiris at different platforms. It was even more difficult in the post-1971 war situation as the political balance in the subcontinent heavily tilted towards India. And within India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was ever powerful and bargaining with her was next to impossible. Finally, seeing no other option Sheikh Abdullah reached an agreement with the Centre on Centre’s terms and returned to power betraying his two decades-old fight for a plebiscite. It was a complete U-turn on Sheikh’s part from the road he had been travelling on for almost 20 years. All he got was what had remained of Article 370 by then with Indra Gandhi famously saying the clock hands could not be reversed.
The trajectory of the People’s Alliance is somewhat similar to that of the Plebiscite Front in terms of the circumstances in which both were formed. Ironically, the People’s Alliance is fighting for what the Plebiscite Front received after 20 years of fighting for something else, Article 370. The People’s Alliance, much like the Plebiscite Front, came into existence after a decision by the Centre against the will of the people of the state.
Following the August 5 decision of the Centre, the political room in Jammu & Kashmir is to a large extent left for either separatists or pro-centre politics. As such, the alliance seems to be in limbo. Even though the future course is not clear, it was anticipated that the alliance in the current situation might not contest elections. This, however, did not turn out to be the case as they ended up contesting the DDC elections, which was unlike Plebiscite Front which by boycotting the elections gave free road to the opposition. It’s not just about elections but one has to understand what the People’s Alliance has vowed to fight for is not coming and hence sticking to their stance in their framework is going to lead them nowhere.
What comes out of the Supreme Court is to be seen but it is very hard to expect the revocation of the August 5 decision. The hard truth for the alliance is that no government from now on will be willing to reinstate the special status to the former state, notwithstanding that many political parties were against the decision to revoke it in the first place. The probability of revoking the decision seems to be minimal given the increasing populist narrative built around it. Moreover, the alliance is currently dealing with very strong leadership at the centre which happens to be too firm on its stand and not even ready to entertain any dialogue on the matter. As such, laden with empty promises and wishful aspirations, the alliance seems to be walking towards a dead end. They will either crash at the end of the road or will have to make a U-turn to keep going just like the Plebiscite Front.
One can also not turn a blind eye to the fact that unlike the Plebiscite Front this alliance does not have much public support on the ground. Nonetheless, pretty much like the Plebiscite Front, the People’s Alliance also happens to be on the same page with the Centre regarding the conflict-torn region’s relation with India. The same concern has been expressed by the alliance leaders, lamenting that through thick and thin they had stuck with the union and this was not how they expected to be treated.
One will have to wait to see how things unfold for this gutsy alliance in the erstwhile state. While the separatist leaders might continue to remain under restrictions, it will be worth waiting to see how the future assembly of the former state will look like.
Hamaad Habibullah is currently pursuing masters in Development Communications from the Mass Communications department at Jamia Millia Islamia.