Democratic politics in Jammu and Kashmir was shunned by New Delhi on the intervening night of 4 and 5 August 2019 when it clamped down in the Valley and abrogated the Articles 370 and 35-A, which had granted semi-autonomy to the erstwhile state for decades, and broke down the region into federally-governed territories. All prominent mainstream political leaders, including three former chief ministers, were detained. New Delhi blurred the lines between pro-freedom parties, like factions of Hurriyat, and the unionists that had fought for India’s idea for decades.
Since then, the politics have been absent as representatives of two major political parties — National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — remained under arbitrary detention. New Delhi’s authoritarian moves, in turn, united regional unionists that had been at the loggerheads for decades. The recent release of Mehbooba Mufti, the supremo of the PDP, brought their efforts to restore the pre-August 2019 status of the region — termed as Gupkar Declaration from an all-party meeting convened a day before the clampdown in August 2019 — into headlines again. This week the two parties once again met to discuss the abrogation and how to go ahead with a different political atmosphere in the region.
In the last 14 months, during the time when Ms. Mufti has been in detention, other political parties have also been largely quiet, except for statements on restoring Article 370 — demanding a pre-August 2019 position for Jammu and Kashmir. In this latest all-party meeting this week, a new political front called People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration was formed with a demand for restoration of Article 370, a move which is seen as to revive their political activities.
However, in the union territory without any election insight, there are limited options for these unionist politicians. But it is high time for New Delhi to listen to the mood of people in Jammu and Kashmir and let politics — as it is supposed to function in a democratic setup of governance — take its own course, without any detrimental steps to abuse a normal political process. With Pakistan also sending signals of possible dialogue, it is time for petty politics to satisfy voters in domestic politics to stop and let Jammu and Kashmir come back on track, where people can find some semblance — at least within the existing narrow space.
The editorial originally appeared in our 19-25 October 2020 print edition.