In Kashmir, alliance politics has been for power

In 1939, when the Muslim Conference was divided and the National Conference (NC) was formed, it was under the influence of Jawahar Lal Nehru of the Indian National Congress, who had a close relationship with the NC founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The newly-formed NC was then shaped into a more secular socialist and nationalist party. This was the first time when the majority Muslim population was ignored by New Delhi. It could be seen as the first coalition effect on Kashmir’s political landscape, keeping the majority viewpoint aside. 

Coalition governments in Kashmir are imposed upon people; never been by the will of the people. In 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed as Prime Minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was installed, it was also with the backing of the Congress government in New Delhi. With support, Bakshi ran the government only to be jailed in 1964 for opposing the G. M. Sadiq’s government. 

In 1975, after twenty-two years of jail term, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah sealed an accord with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This coalition was seen as the abandonment of the decades-old independence movement by Sheikh. It was an arrangement when J-K lost to New Delhi once again. Until 1982, Sheikh remained at the top position in what was now a state running on New Delhi’s instructions. 

A few years later, G. M. Shah, son-in-law of Sheikh, formed a new government with NC defectors and Congress support. He remained chief minister until Farooq Abdullah formed an accord with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in November 1986 that reinstated Farooq as chief minister. This was yet another such accord between New Delhi and NC. These accords or coalitions, however, didn’t stabilize Kashmir. 

When the 1987 elections were rigged by New Delhi, to keep Muslim United Front (MUF) away from power, a full-blown armed militancy erupted in the region, which continues even today. But the coalitions, parties joining hands to remain in power, still is a thing and continues to fail after a point.

In 1998 also, the NC was an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi. Farooq’s son, Omar Abdullah was a junior cabinet minister. Despite the Gujarat riots in 2002 that killed more than a thousand people, the majority of them Muslims, the NC didn’t quit the alliance.

In the coming years, coalition governments were formed between Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2002, NC and Congress in 2008, PDP and the BJP in 2014. The 2002 coalition government fell after PDP pulled out of the coalition just six months before the term ended. The 2008 government completed its term but with a major civilian uprising in 2010, in which more than 120 civilians were killed on the streets. The last one in 2014 ended when the BJP pulled out of the coalition in 2018, citing “deteriorating law and order” in the region. 

However, none of these coalitions was able to build trust, confidence, or stabilization of the region’s growing conflict. 

In Jammu and Kashmir, history shows that coalitions have not really turned out to be game-changers but only power-grabbing opportunities for the two sides. 

When the PDP chose to be an ally of the BJP, it claims that the aim was to bridge the divide between New Delhi and Srinagar. However, it turned out the opposite. Kashmir and Jammu division continued to be divided along communal lines and the divide between Kashmir and all other states only grew further. One would call it PDP’s shortsightedness to realize what was BJP’s plan all along. It is not wrong to say that the PDP also chose to come into power despite losing space to BJP at multiple levels, which was proven by August 2019.  

The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A didn’t happen in just one day. The BJP’s stint in government with the PDP was all part of this preparation. The coalition, which effectively kept NC and PDP apart, was an easy entry into the ground level politics and state administration to prepare the path for the abrogation, and the changes that we see now. 

From land laws to domicile and everything else, it was all studied, researched, and well prepared in the post-2014 era, while the PDP was in power. The PDP hadn’t learned any lessons from previous accords or coalitions and chose to blindside itself. Yes, the 2014 mandate was divided but then was it worth it to pay such a huge price for forming a coalition government. The answers are out there, playing. 

The latest coalition was now formed to fight against an old ally – the BJP. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) formed by six political parties of Jammu and Kashmir last October promised to bring back “lost autonomy”. The NC, PDP, and PC – all been allies to the BJP in the past, came together to fight the BJP. 

When the PAGD decided to fight the District Development Council elections as a joint force, it shook some quarters in New Delhi. Some people didn’t want the PAGD to fight elections. However, people remained quiet; they chose to see how far will the PAGD go. It was not that far, though. It took only four months for the PC to quit the PAGD, reasons: fielding proxy candidates in the local elections. 

It would seem quite a good decision but doing so over a month after the DDC election results have come out doesn’t fit well. In the end, this alliance too proved to be for power and not for “bringing back lost autonomy”. It was only a matter of time who would blink first to call off from the alliance. This time it was the PC, not PDP or NC. One has to see whether the PAGD remains on its goal of “bringing back lost autonomy” or uses it to conveniently find some relevance in the region’s politics. 


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Fahad Shah
Fahad Shah is a journalist and writer. He is the founder and editor of The Kashmir Walla magazine and has written extensively on politics, human rights, culture, and media for various international publications. In 2020, he was nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Courage and in 2021 he won the Human Rights Press Award.