The resolution adopted by the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) came across as not being exactly thought through. What exactly is being said? That the PAGD will fight a constitutional battle to restore the rights of the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Isn't that already being done?
There are scores of petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the abrogation on a wide variety of grounds. That the Supreme Court has not even listed it for hearing in the last 300 odd days should tell the PAGD where the constitutional battle is headed. Of course it is a constitutional battle but it has to be fought politically. That is what will make PAGD relevant.
Further, in seeking the restoration of pre-August 5, 2019 position, isn't the PAGD undermining its two core constituents; the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party? On the eve of abrogation of the special status, Omar Abdullah asserted that "should Article 370 be abrogated, it will "call in to question the very accession of the state to India". This was endorsed by Mehbooba Mufti, in a more evocative and strident tone.
Till not so long ago, the same leadership, was individually, seeking either a pre-1953 position or an even more autonomous political super structure. Now, collectively, they are seeing the restoration a disempowered position. What is one to make of the PAGD which united to be stronger, but is sounding weaker?
Indeed, it may well be the PAGD is ideally suited for these leaders to huddle and ponder over a few questions.
First, why should any way-forward have to be located in the past? In other words, why should a solution for the present and the future, always have to be status quo ante? Of course, it should be informed by the past. Indeed, any formulation or thinking towards a resolution, has to draw upon learnings from the struggle and failures; and even successes, if any.
It seems to have been forgotten that every political landmark, be in 1952, or 1975, has been, with the benefit of hind sight, seen as a compromise, if not a sell-out. Also, all these have been the outcomes of a certain political context, and of a set of compulsions at that point of time.
It is also important to recognise that these frameworks of engagement are loaded with excess baggage of their time. All the accords or agreements emerged out of the concerns, compulsions and even convictions of the leadership that time on both sides time. Also, there was a specific ideological context. Is that ideological context still relevant? Doesn't appear to be; on either side. Can then these pre-defined positions be made more meaningful and relevant to the present and future?
Had the pre-1953 arrangement, been a workable political model, it would not have collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions within 18 months of it being agreed upon. True, it was a political betrayal in 1953, but the chinks in the arrangement were revealed on May 14th, 1954 when the first and most debilitating Constitutional Application order was issued. The creativity of the constitutionalists, as was seen once again in August of 2019, hadn't been anticipated. Neither then, nor now. All the more reason to think it through.
At inception, the legislative relationship was designed to prevent Indian laws from directly applying to J&K. Yet, over the last seventy years, even before the abrogation, all laws had been extended. And post 2019, all these have been now repealed and homogenised. In view of this erosion and subsequent abrogation, is it better to seek a repeal which has been sought for the better part of 68 years now with no avail? Or is it more meaningful to propose a new robust system of protection for Kashmir region, and its people. Not that any of it will mean much after the manner in which the special status was abrogated.
Third, post 2019, is there need to revisit the concept of Jammu & Kashmir including Ladakh. While its many distinct and distinctly different parts have shared history, treacherous and tortuous as it was, the geographical expanse of the state was a geo-political compulsion. The three regions are as disparate and different as there can be; geographically, ethnically, linguistically, or in terms of religion and social composition. Shouldn't the logic of bifurcation be extended to trifurcation of the erstwhile state of J&K? It will make life simpler for everybody. Even as a Union Territory. Once there is clarity about such issues, the PAGD may well discover that they are a happy motley of ideological triplets, separated only by the leadership!
On a more serious note, when a group of politicians with close to 200 years of collective political experience come together on a political platform, introspect, and discuss the future that they want, rather than the past that they had, a number of possibilities will open up which can have many takers locally, if not nationally.
As of now there is no political party, except those in Kashmir, which have direct stakes in the restoration of Art 370. In the process of dismembering J&K, there has been a huge collateral damage to federalism. This is not being adequately recognised, and it needs to be articulated. In fact the centre-states relationship is at its lowest ebb since 1980.
The well-established politics of democratic accommodation in India has now been denigrated as electoral appeasement. This has changed the political management of sub-national issues in the country. The new realty has not only to be comprehended and then contended with. There are few takers for the Nehruvian utopia of "unity in diversity". From the Gandhian axiom of "appreciating and accepting diversity" it has now become "acknowledging and tolerating" minorities, be these religious, ideological or political.
The special status of Kashmir, even in its weakest form, was a symbol of accommodation. Its abrogation is the assertion of the assimilation. On top of this is the reality that for the last 70 years in the Indian democratic system, Kashmir is a problematic space where democratic politics is always pitted against national security. So the former has been sacrificed at the altar of the latter many times. This binary has to be addressed by the mainstream.
The PAGD, needs to function like a political platform — a new age organizational structure with greater interaction, influence, and control — than an alliance bound by a common minimum programme. Interestingly, PAGD has emerged in very similar circumstances to the Plebiscite Front which was set up in 1955, also a single agenda formation. Both have come into existence a year or so after the Constitutional (Application to J&K) Order, 1954 and a similar one in 2019.
The difference however, is that unlike the Front's politics which was regarded as the politics of service and sacrifice, the PAGD is yet seen as politics of power. The other difference being that back then, even the pro-Pakistan parties like the Mirwaiz group, Political Conference, Jamaat-e-Islami and other joined the Plebiscite Front. This time around while the Hurriyat has stayed out, but lines can blur quick and fast.
To conclude, the present has to be structured based on not what it was in the past but what we want in the future. The road ahead doesn't lie in the past; future has to be renegotiated. Here, diverse and conflicting ideologies will come into play. But that is also fine as long as they are conscious that they are trying to work towards an acceptable future and not to recreate the past only to set a historical wrong right.