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Gupkar Alliance in J&K is as good as dead

‘Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD) comprising an amalgam of five regional and two national mainstream parties—including the Congress party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) appears to have crumbled.

The alliance’s ebullient spokesperson, Sajad Lone, is now out. Its youth icon and intellectual face, Shah Faesal, is now praising and promoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anti-Covid vaccination programme on Twitter. Patron Farooq Abdullah is reclaiming his secular credentials in Jammu’s temples and Gurudwaras. Omar Abdullah is seen either re-tweeting others or posting about mundane bailey bridges.

Those visiting Raj Bhawan and meeting with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha early this month included two delegations of the NC leaders.

Even the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti at the weekend jumped onto Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s interview to Times Now TV, asserting that the return and rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits was a part of her father, PDP founder Mufti Sayeed’s political agenda.

This illustrates a sharp contrast between the alliance’s rhetorical outpourings over ‘protection of Article 370’ when it assembled first on 4 August 2019, affirmation and commitment to get restored ‘what has been snatched away on 5 August 2019’ when the PAGD was formalised after Mehbooba Mufti’s release, on 20 October 2020, and the political scenario emerging after the recent District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mehbooba’s uncompromising daughter has stopped comparing post-2018 Kashmir with ‘Orwellian dystopia’.

Political alliances have a traumatic history in Kashmir. Even the so-called All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which had its remote control with just one person or agency across the border, lasted for only 10 years. All the militant alliances too burst like air bubbles.

The valley has come a long way since the day it was put under lockdown after the abrogation of Article 350 and 35-A and the State’s division into the two union territories on 5 August 2019.

The international media has extensively reported the valley’s ‘militarisation’ and ‘lockdown’ post-August 2019 but none of the changes unfolding every day in the last 18 months. A massive voter turnout in the District Development Council (DDC) elections was an indicator of the change.

Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) as well as Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP participated in the DDC elections even after some senior leaders in both the parties had vowed not to contest any elections until total retrieval of Article 370, 35-A and the Statehood. Nothing has been conceded by the Centre.

The euphoria of ‘identity and special status’, sought to be created by the heads of the Gupkar Alliance in August 2019, died down with their detention. When months later they were released, one after another, there was no excitement in Kashmir.

The IAS-topper-turned-politician, Shah Faesal, was the first to resign, not only from his one-year-old J&K Political Movement (JKPM) but also from the entire course of the politics that the valley’s mainstream politicians were chasing ‘like a mirage’. His exit rendered a PAGD constituent defunct. It’s now a one-man party comprising former PDP leader and an ex-Minister Javed Mustafa Mir.

Months later, Faesal’s exit was followed by Lone’s resignation from the PAGD over the issue of infighting and proxy candidates in the DDC elections. In the electoral domain, it was a major setback for the PAGD as Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) has influence in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara and parts of Baramulla district.

Even as Lone in a letter blamed the NC for having fielded ‘proxy candidates’ against the PC nominees, it is an open secret that all the PAGD constituents were working against each other.

Candidates of the NC and the PDP—the key constituents of the Gupkar Alliance—were seen pitted against each other in many segments. In Jammu, there was no existence of the alliance or its counter-BJP campaign.

While the CPI (M) was just a filler, the Congress party ditched the Gupkar Alliance in the very beginning of the DDC elections when it fielded its candidates independently. Some of the Congress leaders have said publicly that the party’s alignment with the pro-370 Gupkar Alliance would harm its poll prospects in any election outside J&K.

There have been two significant political observations in the last one month. First, not one meeting of the Gupkar Alliance has been held after the DDC election results were out on 22 December 2020—and no statements challenging the Centre like those in August 2019 and October 2020. Second: no reaction to Lone’s allegations of infighting and deceit within the PAGD.

“Actually the NC alone is the biggest victim of the internal intrigue and contesting of the proxy candidates. We have data of all the proxies who contested against our candidates, contrary to the PAGD mandate. But we are silent in the larger interests of the Kashmir sentiment. The day we will speak out, the alliance (PAGD) will crumble”, said a senior NC leader. According to him, Farooq himself was in the eye of the storm within the NC for having ceded “so much of space to PDP and PC.”

“Our cadres are hugely upset and angry with Dr (Farooq) Sahab. Even Omar Sahab did not favour seat sharing with PDP, PC and others.”

In the days to come, J&K could witness more of the Kashmiri politicians’ public and secret visits to the Raj Bhawan in Jammu and the residences of the BJP leaders in New Delhi. In just three months of its formation, the PAGD has reached the point of inflection where the people are watching whether the NC would quit first or the PDP. All the three—the NC, the PDP and the PC—have been part of the governments with the BJP in the past.