Sajad Lone talks to the media after the first meeting of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) in Srinagar last month (IANS)
Farooq Abdullah-led conglomerate of the Kashmir-based mainstream political parties, Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), suffered yet another major setback on Tuesday as its spokesperson and chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference, Sajad Gani Lone, tendered his resignation. Lone quit the coalition a day before it would complete three months of its formation.
Five Kashmir-based opposition parties—Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC), Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference (PC), Awami National Conference (ANC) and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM)—formed the anti-BJP alliance on 20 October 2020, days after the PDP President and the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was released from her 14-month-long incarceration.
The PAGD was also joined by Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) over the slogan of restoration of Article 370 and 35-A and Statehood. However, in the very beginning of the District Development Council (DDC) elections, Congress ditched Farooq Abdullah’s alliance and fielded its candidates independently.
While ANC, JKPM and CPI(M) are simply the fillers, the PAGD comprised NC, PDP and PC. After Lone’s exit, it is left with two major constituents—the NC and the PDP. Lone’s influence is limited to the valley’s Kupwara and parts of Baramulla district but he remains important becuase of the fact that his PC was the BJP’s only pre-poll ally in the Assembly elections of 2014 and Lone served as a Cabinet Minister in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s and Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP coalition from the BJP’s quota.
At one point, after Mehbooba Mufti’s dismissal, Lone was projected as a claimant for the Chief Minister’s chair during the Governor’s rule in 2018 with the support of his friends in the BJP. Then Governor Satya Pal Malik turned down his claim, dissolved the Assembly and recommended President’s rule.
On the eve of 5 August 2019, Lone sided with the NC, the PDP and other valley-based parties as he signed the Gupkar Declaration, seeking continuation and protection of Article 370 and 35-A and Jammu and Kashmir’s Statehood.
Consequently, he was among the mainstream politicians who were arrested and detained for several months under Public Safety Act (PSA) when the Centre withdrew J&K’s special status and Statehood the next day. In 2014, he was among the two PC candidates who won the Assembly election from Handwara and Kupwara.
Significantly, the PC’s Vice President, Abdul Gani Vakil, and General Secretary, Imran Reza Ansari—both ex-Ministers—had separately raised questions during the last month over the PAGD’s ‘infighting’ during the DDC elections. They had sought answers from Lone as to how the NC had fielded ‘proxy candidates’ against the PAGD’s official candidates, particularly the PC activists, in Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora districts in northern Kashmir.
In his letter dated 19 January 2021, to Farooq Abdullah, Lone has mentioned the same ‘infighting’ as the raison d’etre of his resignation. “I am writing to you in reference to the recently held DDC elections and a spate of statements issued by leaders belonging to our party. The recurring theme of the statements was the fielding of proxy candidates by constituent parties against the officially mandated candidates of the PAGD”, he has written.
“We convened a meeting of our leaders yesterday and deliberated on the issue in detail. The predominant feeling in the meeting was that the PAGD sentiment at top was not emulated on the ground. It was felt that the results of a sincere alliance should have meant that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Instead, ‘the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts, sadly not even equal to the sum of parts’, but much lesser and equal to just one part of the many parts.”
“The sad reality that emerges is that in a majority of 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 worst compounded the problem by fielding proxy candidates''.
“DDC elections per se may not matter institutionally. But these elections were distinctive by virtue of the timing. Firstly, the context of these DDC elections was politically very important. It was the first election post August 5. And secondly it was a combined show of strength of a majority of the J & K political mainstream. It was less of an election more of an opportunity to send a strong unanimous political message”.
“On the face of it, PAGD won these elections unambiguously having won the maximum number of seats. We can’t hide statistics and apart from the number of seats that PAGD won, other important statistical variable in the context of August 5 is the number of votes polled against the PAGD. We believe that the votes polled against the PAGD are majorly the votes cast by proxies of PAGD constituent parties against official PAGD candidates. And the net outcome of selectively voting for and against PAGD is a very poor vote share. This is certainly not the vote share that people of J and K deserved post August 5”.
“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. We fought against each other in Kashmir province not against the perpetrators of August 5. And those who perpetrated August 5 and their minions are now vocally gleeful,” the letter states.
“It is difficult for us to stay on and pretend as if nothing has happened. There has been a breach of trust between partners which we believe is beyond remedy. The majoritarian view in our party is that we should pull out of the alliance in an amicable manner rather than waiting for things to get messier. And I am confirming that we will no longer be a part of the PAGD alliance”.
“I would however want to add that we are divorcing from the alliance not its objectives. We will continue to adhere to the objectives that we set out when this alliance was made. And the PAGD leadership should be assured that we will extend support on all issues which fall within the ambit of stated objectives. We have issued clear instructions to all party leaders not to issue any statements against PAGD alliance or its leaders”, Lone has clarified and asserted in his letter.