Renewed political churning breaks ‘chill’ in J&K during 2021

Lull was first one on the account of developments that unfolded after August 5, 2019 and secondly it was enforced by the COVID pandemic.
Renewed political churning breaks ‘chill’ in J&K during 2021
People attending a political rally in Khour area of Jammu. [File] Mir Imran for Greater Kashmir

Jammu: As J&K will ‘ring out the old’ and “ring in the new’ (2022), a cursory glance on the developments in the year 2021, brings to the fore a new churning, if not upheaval, dominating its political-scape after an extended ‘hibernation.’

Political upheavals or churning has been synonymous to the erstwhile state, always known to be among the most politically awakened states of the country.

Curious aspect was an unusual quiet- a period spanning around two years, which saw the politics and politicians taking a backstage (though not literally).

Lull was first one on the account of developments that unfolded after August 5, 2019 and secondly it was enforced by the COVID pandemic.

Year-2021, as a positive development, broke that chill.

For naysayers, this will not be a significant development but for all those, who can see a small opening as a big opportunity, scenario is not so dismal.

Slowly and steadily, local politics is at play, the politicians are regaining ‘voice’ reassuring that J&K is returning and will return to its usual self – vivacious, enlightened and an awakened political stimulant for the entire country.

After all, hope and not despondency makes the life to move on with a reinvigorating spirit. J&K is on a steady course in this direction, may be not freewheeling, but certainly taking baby-steps in the year 2021.

Chronologically in terms of significance, the All Party Meet (APM) convened by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 24 was the most important development of the year. The meeting was crucial as it was a major attempt by the Centre to reach out to J&K’s mainstream political parties, particularly the constituents of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), after its harsh arm-twisting methods, post August 5, 2019 developments.

In all, 14 leaders of eight main-stream political parties of J&K, including National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), People’s Conference and newly floated Apni Party took part in the deliberations with the Prime Minister. Though Congress and BJP, perceived to be major stakeholders in Jammu politics, too were part of the meeting yet their voices remained insignificant as both, being national parties had no choice but to play second fiddle to their respective central leadership. Another invitee from Jammu based party was JKNPP’s Prof Bhim Singh. Given the scenario, Jammu region did not mince words in sharing its grouse that it remained unrepresented in this major reach-out initiative of the Centre. “Those, who could effectively, present Jammu’s view point and a counter to the Kashmir-centric narrative in the meeting, were not invited,” many in the Jammu had rued.

Nevertheless the meeting, also participated by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Union Minister of State in PMO Dr Jitendra Singh and the Lieutenant Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha, ended at a positive note for both the sides. J&K politicians got a solace in the fact that finally New Delhi had realised that it would have to deal with them to arrive at any solution to the tangle. Centre too seemed to be in a reconciliatory mode to repair and remove fault-lines.

Major highlight of the meeting was the Prime Minister’s assertion to remove “Dilli Ki Doori” and “Dil Ki Doori” also. PM had reiterated his commitment to strengthen democracy in J&K through first completing delimitation exercise, to be followed by elections. While all the parties, but BJP, in unison demanded statehood before elections, restoration of Article 370 and 35-A too found its resonance there, mainly raked up by PDP president.

They say – dialogue never goes waste, this meeting paved way for resumption of hectic political activities in the truncated J&K’s landscape.

Meeting was followed by two other interesting developments and one of them dominated the political discourse in the Union Territory, throughout the year. First development was – Delimitation Commission got a renewed focus and it was seen in a proactive mode. It visited J&K on its 4-day maiden visit from July 6-9.

The Commission, since its inception, continued to face criticism or more appropriately “credibility crisis” among the political parties of J&K. Amid concerns, the political parties kept on casting aspersions on its functioning while accusing it of working in a partisan manner at the behest of some political leaders and a party.

During the commission’s visit, its chairperson Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai had sought to allay apprehensions saying that the entire exercise would be “transparent by the letter of the law and nobody should have any fears.” But even that did not allay apprehensions of J&K’s political parties, mainly those from PAGD.

The issues related to further extension to Commission, which was constituted on March 6, 2020 and its latest interim draft shared with its five Associate Members on December 20 in New Delhi proposing increase of six seats in Jammu region and one seat in Kashmir have further grown the clamour against it and the Centre. Year is ending at a discordant note with the Commission, as the Associate Members of NC, which has consistently made its stance that the delimitation “exercise in its entirety offends the constitution”, will submit its objections to interim draft on December 31.

NC had earlier challenged the constitution of Commission which was created under “The Reorganisation Act.” “This Act has already been under challenge in the Supreme Court of India. Its constitutional validity was challenged,” NC MP and one of Associate Members Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi asserts.

Interim draft issue came as a handy tool for of UT politicians to beat the Centre and keep the “political pot boiling.”

Second interesting development related to All Party Meeting convened by PM was a “challenging note” of (the then) provincial president of National Conference from Jammu Devender Singh Rana against the “Kashmir centric policies of his own party (NC).”

Rana, joining the murmurs from Jammu following the declaration of All Party Meeting by the PM, had declared – There would be no compromise on Jammu’s interests. He had come out with his ‘Jammu Declaration’ as a counter to “Kashmir-centric (People’s Alliance for) Gupkar Declaration.”

That time, many would have dismissed it as just a “politically correct” statement from a regional leader to keep intact his interests as well as that of his party. However, political ramifications of his rumbling were clear on October 10 after weeks of speculations when he along with the former minister and party colleague S S Slathia quit the National Conference and joined BJP.

Though NC leadership tried to downplay the development yet the subsequent quivers in the form of string of resignations and frequent visits of party president to the region to boost morale of its (NC’s) cadre proved it otherwise. Indirect digs of the NC leadership at Rana were enough to suggest that the development had shaken the party, at least in Jammu plains.

“Jammu Declaration will be the bed-rock of my political philosophy and I’m ready to make any sacrifices whatever for it (Declaration) to uphold the voice of the people of Jammu. It was propounded by me about a year back. It is the political narrative of Jammu; from Jammu; by Jammu for the inclusive Jammu and Kashmir,” Rana maintained this stance since then.

Year also witnessed quirky developments across J&K with the politicians of all mainstream political parties enjoying “merry-go-round” and “hopscotch” with full vigour, switching sides; shifting loyalties and in some cases making ‘home-coming’ also. Irritating for many, the moves also added a “zing” to otherwise a dreary political scenario. Name a party and none of them was unscathed. However, BJP, People’s Conference and Apni Party gained more than what they lost. However, whether it will add to their political kitty during election season or not, years to come will tell.

Amusingly, the grand old party of Indian politics, Congress, like other parts of the country, found itself on a sticky wicket in J&K also, battling internal wrangling. One of its stalwarts and the former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad remained engaged in shadow-boxing with the central leadership as G-23 leader. No wonder, the fault-lines appeared in fragile J&K unit also, however, earlier than expected much to the glee of its political detractors.

In the second week of November, scores of Azad loyalists including former ministers and legislators viz., G M Saroori, Jugal Kishore, Vikar Rasool, Dr Manohar Lal, Ghulam Nabi Monga, Naresh Gupta, Mohammad Amin Bhat resigned from the party posts seeking change of leadership in J&K. However, the central leadership this time refused to bow down and accepted resignations of few including three JKPCC vice-presidents. Rest were left wondering about their fate. Congress president also appointed former minister and a heavy-weight from Jammu Raman Bhalla as the new working president of JKPCC. Seemingly, the crisis is still far from over.

Azad has become pro-active crisscrossing entire Jammu region adding to the worries of party, though he has declared himself to be a “24-Carat Congressman.” Meanwhile, NC and PDP too have started active campaigning in Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley sub-regions of Jammu region when BJP is desperately making attempts to make inroads in Kashmir.

In case of campaigning, which they are trying to describe as “re-establishing connect” with the masses, PDP president set the tone for political war-cry revolving around Article 370 also as vociferously as on statehood restoration in the past two months or so, even in Jammu province. Others from mainstream political parties of Kashmir also followed suit yet cautiously. Only NC’s Omar Abdullah, again the former Chief Minister recently started raking up this issue vociferously to blunt Mehbooba’s politics.

Azad, fully aware of sensibilities of his mass-following in Jammu, chose a cautious path, focussing more on statehood and governance issues. BJP too had its share of worrying moments in 2021 when it feared that it could lose its mass base in Jammu due to some ‘unpopular decisions.’

Hurly-burly, witnessed in the past two months, indicated that the mainstream political parties had caught a whiff of (prospective) elections, which still seemed to be a far-cry.

Major local issues that dominated the political discourse throughout the year revolved around “abandoning Darbar Move exercise”; “dismissal of employees”; “rising unemployment”; “surrendering locals’ jobs and land to outsiders”; “Real Estate initiatives creating apprehensions of demographic change” and muzzling freedom of press and politicians.

In mid-September, Centre tried yet another major reach-out initiative of 70 Union Ministers’ tour to J&K to review status of development projects and connect to people here. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman too visited the UT in this connection. But political detractors remained unimpressive and dubbed this exercise as a “sabbatical at the expense of people’s money."