It was a loaded question posed to Farooq Abdullah, patriarch of Kashmir politics, “ Why is there mushrooming of new political parties in Kashmir and why it is not so in Jammu? Farooq has his own style of answering such ticklish queries. His responses, most of the times, not only pick up references but also offer a context which leave a debate and thought process in their wake.
“They want to divide Muslims ( in Kashmir) , so that they can rule over us. They have been pursuing divide and rule policy and that they would continue to do so in future too.” This was a stunning comment. Its extraordinariness lay in two reasons: one, Farooq underlined that Muslims in the Valley were getting divided on the political lines. Second, it sought to dilute the primary position of his party National Conference in Kashmir that has a long history before and after the end of monarchy in Jammu and Kashmir. At times, it was at the forefront of the Kashmir politics, and on other occasions, it was victimized.
The immediate concern, as it is drawn from the ground situation in Kashmir, is that the National Conference knows what lies ahead. It will have to share its votes with other parties, something that has been happening in a more pronounced manner since the emergence of People’s Democratic Party. It could not get the majority in 2002 Assembly polls. it ended with 28 seats, and the same outcome was there in 2008 polls. The 2014 polls left it the historically low number of seats – 15. Farooq was unwell and that made a lot of difference to the campaign and the result.
The assertion of the Muslim unity at this point in time, and the suggestion mooted by Sajad Gani Lone, chairman of People’s Conference that if “Dr. Abdullah is so much interested in the Muslim unity, let him and his party support us in the elections, and give a chance to poor man’s son to become Chief Minister,” is not new. Kashmir has been a strong votary of the Muslim identity politics for decades. After all, NC’s origins lay in Muslim Conference. And, the generations that have watched the polls since 1970s know that how this religion-based politics has dominated the scene in Kashmir.
There is nothing wrong in pursuing a religion-based politics. Many countries across the world do so. Kashmir being what it is, has always feared about its Muslim identity. Sheikh Abdullah’s election in 1977, and double Farooq unity ( Farooq Abdullah and late Mirwaiz Moulvi Mohammad Farooq burying the decades old Sher-Bakra conflict ) on the eve of 1983 elections. The emergence of the Muslim United Front ( MUF) in 1986 and its participation in the 1987 elections is another classing example. And, at that time Sajad Gani Lone’s father Abdul Gani Lone, an astute politician and a man of conviction, had rejected joining MUF, saying that he doesn’t want to be aligned with “ political lumpens.” The MUF was founded to fight National Conference. History has left its footprints and it is getting repeated.
Kashmir politics has crashed many a time. But there are risks involved in this kind of politics being played in Kashmir – it has spoken of Muslims, absolutely nothing wrong in it, but it has given a justification to others who are pursuing their religion-based politics and also those surviving on the slogan of a Hindu chief minister. It is this clash of visions that became inevitable in 2014 polls that messages were sent to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed by almost all non- BJP parties that he should form a secular government, but the late leader engineered his own theory of regional and communal harmony in seeking to bring North-Pole- South-Pole coming together in the middle to change the political environment. His daughter Mehbooba Mufti, who succeeded him as Chief Minister, had to witness the collapse of the dream of her father in June 2018.
Two things are clear: NC and PC leaders have forsaken plains of Jammu – they are more interested in the Muslim identity politics that travels beyond the Vale into the Muslim dominated areas of Jammu, which will strengthen the voices in south of Pir Panjal that they have no option but to go with the saffron party. There is all likelihood that the 2014 may be repeated and there may be some other party straddling both the regions that may occupy the top slot in the next government.