The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been emboldened by the overwhelming mandate it received from Indian voters in the 2019 general elections. Since then, the Modi government has unilaterally imposed, despite protests, some major decisions on the country, drawing widespread criticism from across the country and even the world.
The BJP passed a controversial bill banning the Muslim Triple Talaq, despite concerns from Muslim groups that the law was misguided. Then, it did away with the so-called special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 and months later passed the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Registry of Citizens bill that led to widespread protests across India for months, subsiding only due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
A section of the Indian population—proponents of Hindutva, the ideology being implemented by the BJP—rejoiced over the increasing authoritarianism. However, among all the things that the Modi government did, what stood out though was the way it treated the unionist politicians in the erstwhile state of J-K and dissidents in rest of the country, the “anti-nationals” who disagree with Hindutva—by jailing them and ensuring that they remain there.
In Kashmir, the BJP ally and last chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, was detained and placed under house arrest. The three-time chief minister of J-K and former union minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, also a former chief minister and minister of state in the Centre, were booked under a stringent Public Safety Act. The detained did not include just the Kashmiri dynastic parties but also included the People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone, the pro-freedom leader who turned unionist.
The foot soldiers of the Indian Union who, for decades, risked their lives to the strength of its rule in Kashmir were treated as criminals as many among them were jailed or left with no option but to stay mum. As days went by and the leaders were gradually released, in anticipation people waited for them to speak out and more importantly fulfill the promise of fighting till the end for their identity. While the silence of those released deepened under one garb or the other, the questions on the intentions of unionists increased with every passing day.
Barring a little criticism of the Centre, no unionist politicians have come out in the open to speak of a roadmap to resist the Modi government’s policies which tend to add to the anxieties of the masses with every passing order. Speculation of a compromise was fuelled by the emergence of a new party, the Altaf Bukhari led Apni Party.
There is a single question on the mind of people in Kashmir—have the unionists sold Kashmir once again?
These queries dominated every conversation, whether on shop fronts or during family meals. What makes Kashmiris firm in their skepticism is the fact that they have proven right upon every climax to high drama in the region. The history of being stabbed in the back by the unionists has also given the ordinary Kashmiri reason enough to be a sceptic.
Come the anniversary of 5 August, the leaders started to break their silence in New Delhi based newspapers. Among the first was Omar Abdullah, known for his contempt for the Kashmiri press, wrote an article in the Indian Express expressing that he would not contest elections to an assembly whose powers were downgraded.
“I simply cannot and will not be a member of a House that has been disempowered the way ours has,” he wrote in a column for the Indian Express. He also demanded the restoration of statehood but later reneged from his statements in a series of angry tweets.
The statement was welcomed by BJP who distributed sweets over the announcement of vice president of NC. The party that is seen monopolising the politics in Kashmir has welcomed the demand of restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir by the leader stating that he has accepted the abrogation of Article 370 and integration of J-K with India.
While the BJP was in a celebratory mode, Mr. Omar had come under fire for his views, prompting him to talk to various other media outlets where he categorically mentioned that the demand was the restoration of article-370. Meanwhile, former parliamentarian and senior Congress leader Tariq Hameed Karra while taking a dig at NC, in a tweet said that timeline has already been fixed for initiating the process for restoration of statehood as well as the restoration of high-speed mobile data services in Jammu and Kashmir.
Seeing the battering as an opportunity to gain political space, the People’s Democratic Party—the former ally of the BJP—came up with a statement reiterating its “commitment to fight for the restoration of honour and dignity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. The PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti, continues to remain under detention.
Senior party leaders in a statement on its foundation day said that 5 August marked a “black day” in the constitutional history of J-K, when “solemn commitments made by the same Parliament and in the Constitution of India were annulled for a majoritarian goal of bulldozing the country into one saffron colour”.
They said the unconstitutional measures had had an impact on J-K worse than that of the worst natural calamity. The party leaders like Naeem Akhtar also talked freely with the media, albeit New Delhi based media, made public their resentment at the policies of the central government.
While the recent happenings have certainly started the political bells ringing in the valley of uncertainty, it remains to be seen whether the parties will unite against what they call aggression by the ruling BJP or will the history repeat itself again?