Between a rock and a hard place: Cong in dilemma over Gupkar Declaration

National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti and other leaders during an all-party meet of the signatories of the Gupkar declaration, at the residence of NC President Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar, last week

Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC), the J&K unit of Congress party, along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), were signatories to the ‘Gupkar Declaration’ on August 4, 2019, warning the Centre against the then perceived abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A and the division or trifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Initiated by six valley-based mainstream political parties, it pledged a fight for protection of J&K’s special status and statehood.

Kashmir’s principal mainstream parties, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were — and still are — at the forefront of the amalgam named as ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD). The initiative to unite and revive the struggle of sub-national aspiration was taken after more than one year as most of the leaders of this conglomerate, with the exception of Congress, remained under detention for several months after the Centre withdrew J&K’s special status and divided it into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh, on August 5, 2019.

In a significant development, Congress has been absent at the conglomerate’s two important meetings in the current year. On October 15, Congress claimed that the JKPCC President Ghulam Ahmad Mir had failed to attend the rendezvous at the NC President Dr Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road residence due to a ‘medical emergency’. Soon it became public that Mir had on the same day travelled all the way from Srinagar to Doda to attend a condolence meeting for the departed party colleague Mohammad Sharief Niaz.

No justification was given with regard to the Congress party’s absence on October 23 at Dr Abdullah’s residence, when the erstwhile J&K state flag was adopted as the emblem for PAGD, and on October 24 at Mehbooba’s house, when an organizational structure was drafted for the alliance. While Dr Abdullah was unanimously appointed as the President and Mehbooba as the Vice President, the Peoples Conference (PC) chairman Sajad Lone took over as the spokesperson. The CPI (M) State Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami assumed the portfolio of the Convenor.

It was around this time that Mehbooba issued a controversial statement that has all the potential of benefitting the BJP and damaging the Congress in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Bihar. She asserted that PDP would struggle for restoration of the statehood and Article 370 but added that it would also emphasize the “resolution of the Kashmir issue”.

This phrase adds a new dimension not only to PDP’s political ambition but also to PAGD’s relevance and acceptability across the country. As if it was not sufficient to embarrass the Congress, Mehbooba thundered that nobody in Kashmir would pick up the tricolour until J&K’s “own flag” and the statehood would be restored.

BJP lost no time to make Mehbooba’s statement as an issue in the Bihar elections. It explained to its constituency that the “anti-national” statement had come from the Congress party’s partner in the PAGD. BJP’s activists and supporters held demonstrations at several places and forced their entry into the PDP office premises in Jammu to install the tricolour. More organised attempts were made, but foiled by the police, in Jammu on Saturday.

In a quick damage-control exercise, JKPCC spokesman Ravinder Sharma asserted, “The tricolour is the symbol of honor for the country and it reminds us of the sacrifices of crores of Indians to achieve freedom. Such statements will defeat the democratic and constitutional struggle for achieving any just right. She (Mehbooba) should desist from making such outrageous utterances.” According to knowledgeable sources, the Congress high command had already directed JKPCC to stay away from Farooq-led PAGD. “It has been explained to the J&K leaders that even the phrase ‘restoration of Article 370’, let alone Mehbooba’s tantrums on the flag, would be deleterious for the Congress throughout the country. It would potentially harm us and benefit our electoral rivals in Bihar,” said an insider.