As the murmur over the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is making rounds, the People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) seems to be struggling to hold its ground as internal differences and mounting external pressures have put a big question mark on the survival of the alliance.
More than a week ago, one more important member bid adieu to the PAGD and joined the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), leaving the alliance on a shaky ground.
With the exit of J-K Peoples Movement (JKPM) former president and legislator from Chadoora, Javaid Mustafa Mir, the PAGD which initially was the coalition of seven parties, has reduced to a four party alliance, with CPI (M) and Jammu and Kashmir Awami National Conference (JKNC) being a single member party without much visibility at the grassroots level.
The only two major two political parties that have remained in the alliance since its formation in October 2020 are Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC).
The PAGD came into existence to fight for the restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, after the Government of India (GoI) through a presidential order unilaterally removed the Article 370 and divided the state into two Union Territories (UT) – Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.
The first major setback to the coalition came in January this year, when Sajad Lone led Peoples Conference (PC) withdrew from the PAGD, accusing the alliance for fielding the proxy candidates in the District Development Council (DDC) elections, after agreeing to unitely contest the polls.
Since, it’s break up with the alliance, PC is strengthening its foothold in north Kashmir as many senior leaders have joined the party lately. In the past eight months, prominent politicians like PDP senior leader Nizamuddin Bhat, Basharat Bukhari from NC have joined the party ranks to consolidate its position in north Kashmir.
Earlier, the Congress, which during PAGD formation was party to it, soon after distanced itself from the coalition, though the party joined the hands with alliance to fight the DDC polls, to keep the BJP at bay.
A senior leader, who is a part of the coalition, said there is a “tremendous pressure” on the parties associated with the PAGD to end the alliance, “so that the last resentment for the restoration of Article 370 will die down”.
“New Delhi is leaving no stone unturned to break this alliance. Every now and then, the PAGD members are being approached to give up on Article 370 and settle for statehood,” sources said.
Apart from the external pressure, both NC and PDP are finding it hard to be on the same page when it comes to confronting the current regime in New Delhi.
A highly placed source in the PAGD said that the “hard stance” taken by the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti post abrogation of Article 370, doesn’t suit the NC’s brand of politics, which believes in keeping a “cordial relationship” with New Delhi for better future deals.
“The top brass in the NC are not very fond of PDP president’s frequent jibes against the current dispensation. She speaks randomly about everything while on the other NC leadership gives a measured response on the issues,” the source said.
On 10 October, the NC patron and Member of Parliament (MP) from Srinagar Lok Sabha Dr Farooq Abdullah distanced himself from the PDP’s demand for resignation of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha over civilian killings in Kashmir valley, saying “they have no stand over the demand made by his ally.”
In the past also NC has distanced itself from Mufti’s statements. In June this year, soon after Mufti made a remark about New Delhi resuming talks with Pakistan, Farooq Abdullah was quick in saying that they are concerned only with their country.
Earlier also NC didn’t endorse her statement about not unfurling the Indian flag till GoI restores Jammu and Kashmir’s own state flag.
Political experts believe that it would be hard for the PAGD to keep its flock intact ahead of the assembly polls.
“The mainstream political parties have always been after the power in Jammu and Kashmir. It will be very hard for the PAGD to remain intact once the assembly polls are declared,” Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a renowned Kashmiri political analyst, said.
Hussain said the internal bickering in the PAGD during the recently held DDC polls is the clear indication that it would be against the characteristics of the mainstream political parties to fight the assembly elections jointly.
Though PDP and NC have said that they would be contesting the upcoming assembly elections, both are tight-lipped on whether they would fight it jointly under the PAGD coalition.
On 15 August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that elections would be held in Jammu and Kashmir as soon as the delimitation process in the union territory gets over.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 25 September hinted that assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held at the beginning of 2022.
“We are confident that assembly elections will be held at the beginning of the next year because the Union Government has repeatedly assured to install a democratic government in J-K”, Ravinder Raina, president of J-K BJP, had said.
Meanwhile, senior NC leader Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi, who is coordinator of the alliance, said that fighting elections was not the aim of the PAGD formation, as it was formed on principles to achieve a particular goal.
“PAGD is not a conventional alliance but is based on achieving a goal. And as long as we are sincere towards that goal, the alliance will continue,” said Masoodi.
Masoodi said that the JKPM as a party is still a part of the PAGD and people exiting from the coalition won’t deter its resolve to fight for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
Masoodi said that the PAGD is working on many fronts to make the case for the restoration of Article 370 stronger.
“Many voices from Jammu are now joining us. People who welcomed the abrogation of Article 370 are today agitated by the decision,” he said.
Masoodi said that the alliance is also coming up with a comprehensive report about the developmental work that has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir before and after the abrogation of Article 370.
“Our petition against the removal of Article 370 is also pending in the Supreme Court. So, we are also looking to expedite its hearing as well,” he said.