People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti (left) and National Conference (NC) chief Omar Abdullah (right).
Owing their relevance largely to their irrefutable familial affiliations, Jammu and Kashmir’s four powerful dynastic families are engaged in a serious verbal altercation blaming one another for being the real dynasts.
Four political families of the Kashmir Valley—the Abdullahs, Muftis, Lones and Ansaris—are trying hard to prove to each other, and possibly to the people too, that they have risen on Kashmir’s political landscape without a godfather.
National Conference is Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest political party. It was formed as J&K Muslim Conference in the 1930s. The party’s name was rechristened as National Conference by the late 1930s.
Since its inception, the party’s tallest leader and former Prime Minister late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah spearheaded the political campaigns. On 9 August 1953, he was unceremoniously dismissed as Prime Minister on the directions of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and thrown into jail for years.
Finally, after spending over two decades in prison in various spells, the Sheikh abandoned pro-plebiscite politics. After a compromise he made a political comeback in 1975 and had a ‘change of heart’, which the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi welcomed.
Like Kashmir’s influential socio-political and religious group Jamaat-e-Islami, the National Conference too has its cadres spread across the length and breadth of the state.
Later, his son Dr. Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah ruled the state as Chief Ministers in the 1980s, 1990s and from 2009 till 2014.
Dr. Abdullah is currently the party’s president while the junior Abdullah functions as vice-president.
The case is no different for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which was founded by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in the late 1990s. Ironically, the party wields influence in the four districts of south Kashmir viz. Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag and Kulgam, which are also known as strongholds of Kashmir’s new-age of armed rebellion.
Mr. Saeed became the face of the party with an interesting party symbol (pen and inkpot), green cloth, and a soft-resistance ‘self-rule’ slogan, all helped him to gain a foothold in governance politics and he became Chief Minister of the state twice (from 2002 to 2005, and 2015 to 2016).
After Saeed’s passing away in January 2016, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti took over as the state’s Chief Minister. She is currently the president of her party after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) broke its alliance with the PDP in June 2018 after three years and three months.
The BJP, which campaigned in Kashmir during 2014 Assembly elections, would often take a dig at both the NC and PDP for being dynastic political families like the Congress party.
Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned this a few times in his public speeches to make a point that the people of Kashmir deserved a change.
And this ‘change’ turned out to be yet another dynastic family of Kashmir—the Lones. Sajad Gani Lone’s father Khwaja Abdul Gani Lone was first part of the pro-India politics in Jammu and Kashmir and later joined the resistance politics and the Hurriyat Conference in the 1990s. Late Gani Lone was assassinated in May 2002.
After bidding adieu to resistance politics, former pro-independence leader Sajad Lone became the ‘poster boy’ of the BJP in Kashmir. His brother Bilal Lone continues to be part of the Hurriyat amalgam led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Mr. Lone began talking about the ‘change’ that Jammu and Kashmir needed from the two dynastic families, forgetting the fact he too belongs to the same elite club.
In an interview with The Economic Times, published 10 November 2018, Mr. Lone claimed “We have gone through the grind and struggled and are still in a state of struggle. The distinctiveness will be reflected by a desire to liberalise and decentralize. Overt centralization of powers is the signature hallmark of all dynasties, as they are mired in insecurity,” adding that “I am proud to be my father’s son. But I am not a ‘dynast-dynast’. I have struggled since 2002, when I joined politics. I have been able to cross a lot of visible and invisible barriers and am still in the process of crossing them. I had not it handed over to me on a platter.”
He does not mince words while showering heaps of praise on the BJP.
“The BJP is more accessible to people while the Congress was more accessible to the dynasties,” he said in the same interview.
Another politician who has deserted the PDP and joined Mr. Lone’s Peoples Conference is an influential Shia leader, Imran Raza Ansari.
Interestingly, Mr. Ansari too belongs to an elite dynastic political family of Kashmir. His father late Maulvi Iftikhar Ansari had been affiliated with the PDP, NC and Congress party at various junctures in his political career.
The Lones and Ansaris wield influence in pockets of north Kashmir’s frontier district Kupwara, Handwara and Baramullah.
Flanked by Mr. Lone, Mr. Ansari, in a recent press conference in Srinagar, levelled charges of corruption of scandals against the National Conference.
In turn, another Shia leader Mr. Agha Ruhullah of the NC accused Mr. Ansari of being a ‘poster boy of the RSS’ in Kashmir.
On 2 December, Dr. Farooq Abdullah launched a scathing attack on the Lone family, alleging that it were late Khwaja Abdul Gani Lone who brought guns to Kashmir.
During an interaction with media Mr. Abdullah revealed that he had requested Sajjad’s father to “drop the idea of gun”, but “it all went in vain”.
“His (Sajjad Lone’s) father came to me when the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Jagmohan Malhotra dismissed my government (in 1984). He (Abdul Gani Lone) said ‘I am going to Pakistan, I am going to get the gun’,” Mr. Abdullah said.
Almost immediately, Mr. Lone shot back at Mr. Abdullah in equal measure.
In his counter attack, Sajad Lone said “his (Farooq Abdullah’s) hands were drenched with blood of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, who have lost their lives due to NC’s opportunistic politics and the party’s insatiable thirst for power at any cost.”
The war of words among Kashmir’s four dynastic families is expected to intensify as the Assembly elections inch closer in Jammu and Kashmir.
Be that as it may, it is rather interesting how four powerful political dynasties are denying their familial affiliation and also how Delhi has invested in families instead of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir!
A version of this piece first appeared in News18.