Following the revocation of the limited autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) on 5 August 2019, much water has flown under the bridge in Kashmir politics, but one thing hasn’t changed in the past two years: the unionists in the valley remain divided.
In December last year after the delimitation commission proposed six additional seats for Jammu and one for Kashmir — a process mandated after August 2019 developments — all the political parties termed the recommendation “unacceptable”. However, the unionists continue to pass the buck to each other for the current situation in J-K.
The National Conference (NC) had earlier boycotted the meeting of the panel held in February last year terming its participation endorsing the August 2019 decision. However, later its three Members of Parliament — Farooq Abdullah, retired Justice Hasnain Masoodi, and Akbar Lone — participated in the commission’s meeting that was held in New Delhi in December last year.
Disgruntled Peoples’ Conference (PC) chief Sajad Lone termed the commission’s recommendation “slur” to the people of Kashmir and accused the NC of legitimizing the “grossly unfair” proposal of delimitation commission by participating in the commission’s meeting.
“Don’t the people of Kashmir deserve that 3 MPs should have known that they will be legitimizing the delimitation commission, a document which cannot be legally challenged,” Lone had said in a statement. “Legal legitimacy is constitutionally innate. Political legitimacy [was] bestowed by NC.”
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) Altaf Bukhari also criticised the NC for participating in the meeting and endorsing the work of the delimitation commission. Talking to The Kashmir Walla, Bukhari blamed the NC participation in the commission as yet another betrayal from the party to Kashmiris.
On the other hand, NC has maintained that both PC and JKAP are working on the behest of the BJP to disintegrate J-K.
As per the proposal, nine seats have been proposed for Scheduled Tribe (ST) and seven for Scheduled Caste (SC) in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the first time that seats have been proposed for STs in Jammu and Kashmir.
But this is not the first time that the political parties in Kashmir have resorted to mud-slinging at each other.
In October 2020, all the major regional political parties gathered at a one platform and formed a united People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to fight for the restoration of the limited-autonomy of J-K following its abrogation in August 2019.
The gesture of unity, however, was short-lived. The PC quit the amalgam and blamed the NC and PDP for fielding “proxy-candidates” in the District Development Council (DDC).
While the murmur over the assembly elections in J-K are making rounds, the PAGD seems to be struggling to hold its ground as internal differences and mounting pressures have put a big question mark on the survival of the alliance.
Both the main constituents of the alliance — NC and PDP — are also finding it hard to be on the same page when it comes to confronting the current regime in New Delhi. Two days ahead of the delimitation commission meeting in which NC participated, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti labeled the commission as “BJP’s commission”.
To a question about participation of NC MPs in the meeting, Mufti said it is their “own decision.”
Earlier, NC had filed a 16-page reply to the commission questioning its rationality behind increasing six seats in Jammu against one in the Kashmir region.
On 14 March, the delimitation commission put its report in the public domain and invited objections and suggestions from people. According to the notification, any objections and suggestions regarding the proposals should reach the secretary, delimitation commission office on or before 21 March. These suggestions will be considered by the commission during public sittings in the Union Territory on 28 and 29 March.
Contrary to Kashmir where political parties seem to be divided and have failed to be on the same page, Ladakh region has shown a united front to press for their demands.
On 1 August 2021, putting aside their ideologically differences two organisations — Apex Body Leh and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) — joined hands to advocate for constitutional safeguard and statehood for the region.
On 13 December 2021, a complete shutdown was observed in Ladakh to press for constitutional safeguard and statehood for the region. The bandh call was given by Apex Body Leh and KDA against the Government of India (GOI) for not initiating the process of talks with the regional leaders of Ladakh.
In January this year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced the formation of a committee to look into the possibilities of Ladakh in the 6th schedule. The MHA later called KDA for talks in June and assured that a joint committee will be formed to hold further deliberations regarding the constitutional safeguard of the region.
A day after the shutdown, Ladakh’s Member of Parliament Jamyang Tsering Namgyal while speaking in Lok Sabha also demanded the safeguards for land, employment, and cultural identity provided for by the Sixth Schedule of the constitution.
Namgyal, who is a BJP MP, said during Zero Hour: “I urge the government to amend the Ladakh Hill Development Council Act, passed in 1997. It needs to be defined what will be the role and responsibility of the central government, the Union Territory administration and the Lieutenant-Governor. Along with this, [it needs to define] how the roles of gram panchayats and town councils will be streamlined.”
“The LAHDC Act also needs to be amended to grant constitutional safeguards with regard to land, employment and cultural identity on the lines of certain regions in the North-East under the sixth schedule,” he said.
Political experts believe that given the history of unionist parties in Kashmir, it is very unlikely for them to stand united for a common cause.
“I don’t think that the mainstream political parties will ever rise above their own interest. Just a few months after the formation of the PAGD, we witnessed a major divide among the parties,” said Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political observer who retired as head of the Department of Law in the Central University of Kashmir. “It will be very hard for these political parties to be on the same page once the assembly polls are declared.”
“On the contrary,” he added, “[People of Ladakh] have put their region’s interest first before their personal gains, which is paying dividends for them.”