Breaking Political Silence In Jammu and Kashmir

Political activities have broken over a year-long silence in J&K with the announcement of District Development Council, Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies elections. The formation of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has emerged as a grand alliance of opposition political parties in Kashmir Valley. While Jammu region is preparing to go for DDC polls, Kashmir valley lacks such political activism even as independents and BJP candidates have begun campaigning amid threat from militancy.

The election campaigns for the scheduled DDCs, vacant Panchayat and ULBs have garnered support in Jammu with the involvement of all Jammu based parties, Apni Party, and both National Political parties – BJP and Congress Party. On the other hand, the counter meetings of PAGD in both the capital cities of the erstwhile State, has infused some momentum in the mainstream politics.

Till now, many in Kashmir Valley have mutely observed the political situation when most of the mainstream politicians remained in detention in view of the last year’s August 5 constitutional changes. However, these detained political leaders were set free one-by-one, recently. As the political activities were permitted by the Government, the mainstream leaders, soon after their release from detention, adopted the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019 as ‘People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD) which ultimately emerged as major front to counter the constitutional changes.

The Congress leadership of J&K had attended the first meeting in Gupkar on August 4, but gradually they distanced themselves from PAGD after the party faced criticism for being part of the Gupkar declaration which was targeted as ‘anti-national’. Facing challenges from BJP leadership at national level, the Congress Party started maintaining political distance from Gupkar declaration by not attending their meetings. Anyhow, Congress opposed the abrogation of special status and demanded “safeguards of jobs and land besides restoration of statehood to J&K.”

In a changed political situation, Congress Party is finding itself between the devil and the deep sea, and the party’s leadership is trying to maintain a balance in politics of Kashmir and national policies so that they do not fall in the trap of BJP while contesting elections in other states like Bihar.

Focus of J&K based political parties has shifted to regaining what has been ‘snatched’ and therefore, they have concentrated on achieving what was lost by both Jammu as well as Kashmir. The people in Kashmir Valley find it interesting to see the political parties fighting for restoration of the lost “glory.” The interest of J&K restored in the political happening in Kashmir especially when PDP President Mehbooba Mufti recently addressed a press conference and demanded restoration of “State Flag” while making a reference to the tricolour.

The former Chief Minister’s remarks were strongly objected to in Jammu, and suddenly it infused a new life in politics of J&K, especially in Jammu region where some Jammu based political parties, and BJP condemned her statement.      

The PDP, which had lost its leaders after most of them joined the newly formed Apni Party, again came to limelight. Several groups of youth started marching towards PDP’s Jammu office, in protest against Mehbooba Mufti’s remarks, holding tricolour and hoisting the national flags outside the Kashmir based political party office at Gandhi Nagar amid scuffle with the police force.

Unfortunately, the Jammu ‘versus’ Kashmir politics which had stopped for some time resurfaced. Jammu based leaders, not all, trained their guns towards Kashmir to hit at the People’s Alliance while terming them as ‘anti-nationals’.

Political tensions ran high again even as Jammu was already simmering with anger over the  apprehensions of losing “land and jobs” to outsiders, though assurances were given to them that their jobs and land will be protected. Already there was anguish in Jammu regarding installation of Toll Plazas and a local level agitation was also going on in Lakhanpur (Kathua)which was led by the youth leaders.

It is not that all the political parties in Jammu are against Kashmir. But the thrust is that Jammu’s rights have been snatched by the Kashmiri leaderships from the last 70-years and it is time for Jammu to get back their rights, especially in jobs. However, the political parties like J&K National Panthers Party, Congress Party, National Conference, PDP and Apni Party raised alarm and apprehended that ‘J&K has been put on sale while protesting against new land laws’.

These political parties issued numerous statements and some of them organised protest demonstrations in Jammu compelling the J&K Govt to come-up with the clarification that “no outsider can buy agricultural land in the UT, only J&K’s farmers can purchase the agriculture land and there is protection to over 90% of land.” However, the assurances were again questioned by the political parties jointly in Jammu as well as in Kashmir. And, it once again became a common cause for the politicians of both regions – protect land rights and jobs. Hence, voices calling for unity among people from both regions again emerged louder than the divisive regional politics.

The  political leaders and social activities from both the sensitive regions have again advocated unity among the people to achieve a common goal. It indicates that J&K needs wining of confidence of both regions. It is the sense of insecurity that people in both regions have demanded and advocated “safeguard of jobs, land and restoration of statehood.” The developmental works of lanes, drains and roads is not a matter of concern for the people. There is a growing demand for holding assembly elections in J&K as officials fail to win the confidence of people. A local leader from Jammu district’s West Assembly, Sunil Dimple –president of West Assembly Movement – became popular on social media and his emotional message was appreciated by all the people across board when he appealed for unity among all the leaders of J&K. The local leader from New Plot, Dimple advocated restoration of royal Dogra state and glory of J&K like it was being ruled by Maharaja Ghulab Singh and Dogra Rulers of J&K.

An effort was made in Jammu to form a platform to counter PAGD. However, they could not succeed in bringing to one  platform the 20 organisations that had met at Sainik Colony, few weeks back. They had demanded ‘separate statehood to Jammu.’

Since all the main political parties stayed away from the Sainik Colony’s meeting, the attempt to unite all the political and social groups allegedly failed in the first attempt. Politically, it is a challenge for any political party to unite the entire Jammu region.

With the scheduled PAGD meeting in Jammu on November 7, the political activities are bound to increase in coming days since many Jammu based political leaders, irrespective of their political affiliations have been in touch with the leadership of People’s Alliance. On the other hand, the campaigns for DDC elections have geared-up across Jammu division.

As the political activities have started there is a common understanding among the people of both the regions that they should remove barriers to improve understanding and unite people for the common causes i.e. “restoration of statehood, safeguard to land and jobs.” The J&K’s BJP Unit is also prepared to counter the People’s Alliance.

With the shift to winter capital, political and administrative activities are likely to heat-up in Jammu after a long lull whereas markets are waiting for Kashmiri families to shop and businessmen expecting good days ahead from a business point of view.

Politics has often divided both the regions but economic activities have kept people of two regions united and intact. Unfortunately, politics and J&K are inseparable from each other in the Union Territory. In the prevailing circumstances, it is imperative for the people in Jammu as well as Kashmir to understand each other and speak out what they feel. The job and land insecurity has united both the regions again without the involvement of any political parties and the youth is taking to social media to express their apprehensions which needs to be addressed by the Government. The common interest of both regions should be protected amid growing feelings of alienation among the people particularly in Jammu in reference to unemployed educated youth. Exchange of ideas and developing more interdependence which will make their bond unbreakable.