In a first, the four regional unionist parties in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on 22 August joined hands in Srinagar to unanimously reject the “unilateral and unconstitutional” abrogation of the Articles 370 and 35-A of Indian Constitution and downgrading of the restive region into two federally-administered territories.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) took a surprising decision to revoke J-K’s semi-autonomy and statehood on 5 August, last year.
Meanwhile, top leaders of the National Conference (JKNC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), People’s Conference (PC), Awami National Conference (ANC), PCC, and CPI (M) unanimously described the events of 5 August 2019 as “unfortunate” and said that these “have unrecognizably changed the relationship between Jammu [and] Kashmir and New Delhi.”
“We want to assure the people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J-K as it existed on 4th August 2019,” they added.
Invoking the Gupkar Declaration of 4 August 2019, the signatories reiterated that “we are bound, wholly, by the contents of the Gupkar Declaration and will unwaveringly adhere to it. We are committed to strive for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, the Constitution of J&K and the restoration of the State and any division of the State is unacceptable to us. We unanimously reiterate that there can be ‘nothing about us without us'”.
The joint statement was signed by the two former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), and other unionists like Sajad Lone (PC), Muzaffar Shah (ANC), Ghulam Ahmad Mir (PCC) and Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami (CPI(M)). It said that the BJP “in a spitefully short-sighted and unconstitutional move” abrogated Articles 370 and 35A and “the State was bifurcated and relegated to the status of two Union Territories and its Constitution tried to be made unenforceable”.
What are the possible factors that led to this rare show of unity among and political resistance by the unionists?
On Kashmir’s turf, there is palpable anger and hurt due to the 5 August decision. The unionists are finding it almost impossible to operate in the old avatar. They realise that they are at the precipice of complete irrelevance if they reconcile with New Delhi. Many former legislators acknowledge that the new generation of Kashmir is politically conscious, educated, articulate, aspirational, and believe in concrete action, not political rhetoric, verbal gymnastics, and posturing.
Significantly, the six parties put up a united face and made their political position known on last year’s events a day after the foreign ministers of China and Pakistan met in Beijing. They also issued a joint statement, restating that “China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation.”
According to the statement made by the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, “…the Kashmir issue is a dispute left over from history between India and Pakistan, which is an objective fact, and that dispute should be resolved peacefully and properly through the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”
That is perhaps why J-K leaders have urged the leadership of the subcontinent to take note of the “ever-increasing skirmishes at the LAC and LOC resulting in casualties on both sides and unabated violent incidents in J&K and work for enduring peace in the region.”
One of the leaders involved in key negotiations that eventually resulted in the joint statement remarked that “the politics in Kashmir has actually just begun.” According to him, the joint statement is “historic in Kashmir’s politics as all major political forces have come together to fight for the peoples’ political rights.”
Sajad Lone, the chairperson of PC, tweeted: “A very satisfying day. We firmly believe that a collective mechanism is the only way out. It is no longer about power. It is about a struggle to get back what rightfully belongs to us. Thanks, Dr Farooq sahib Mehbooba Ji and Tarigami sahib.”
Importantly, all six leaders unanimously rejected the Government of India’s move to alter the status quo in J-K.
“The series of measures undertaken on 5th August 2019 were grossly unconstitutional and in reality measures of disempowerment and a challenge to the basic identity of the people of J&K. The measures attempt to redefine who we are. These changes were accompanied by repressive measures meant to silence people and coerce them into submission, and continue unabated,” reads the joint statement.
The leaders also said that they “have barely managed to establish a basic level of communication with each other in the face of a series of prohibitive and punitive curbs imposed by the government, aimed at impeding all social and political interactions. The limited confabulations held within the constraints imposed have resulted in this unanimous resolution.”
The resolution further noted that “we all reiterate our commitment to collectively fight to restore the Special Status of J&K as guaranteed under the Constitution and the commitments made from time to time. There is unanimity amongst us that collective institution is the effective way to fight for these rights and tirelessly struggle to get back the special status and restore the Constitutional guarantees forcibly taken away, against our will.”
Some in Kashmir have hailed the coming together of the unionists but critics say that the joint resolution is actually a “climb down” from the unionists’ earlier held political stances. The NC has fought to turn the clock back to the pre-1953 position when J-K had its own Prime Minister and Sadr-e-Riyasat (President) and GoI only controlled defence, foreign policy, currency, and communications–as per the conditional Instrument of Accession (IoA) signed by then Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh, which has since remained contentious.
On the other hand, the PDP’s political agenda is Self-Rule and a “Joint Mechanism” for both sides of the disputed region divided by the Line of Control (LoC). Now why ask and settle for less?
Others ask that the joint resolution should have mentioned that pending the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute, the six parties want the restoration of the 4 August 2019 status as a confidence building measure to pave the way for fruitful negotiations.
For the six diverse parties, it would not have been trouble-free to have an agreement on issues pertaining to Kashmir’s pre-1953 status or Self-Rule, especially when two of the six parties involved in the joint resolution are regional chapters of parties based in New Delhi.
Also, the political space that the unionists operate in Kashmir is distinct and has its many limitations. The unionists cannot occupy the space left vacant by the absence of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The Hurriyat does not believe in electoral politics and favours a political solution of Kashmir outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution.
The dilemma for the unionists in Kashmir is that if they had surrendered, not done anything, and accepted the 5 August 2019 decision, they would be loathed by Kashmiris. Now that they have shown some form of resistance, there are trust issues. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! For this situation, the unionists have only themselves to blame.
That said, choosing political resistance with a united face is not a cakewalk for them. They understand that their resistance has a cost and it appears that at least some of them are ready to pay it for their own political survival on the slippery turf of Kashmir. After all, Kashmir is a graveyard of reputations.
THE GUPKAR DECLARATION
On August 4, 2019, in a meeting presided over by Dr. Abdullah, political leaders of various ideological hues in J-K had unanimously resolved:
“1. That all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy, and special status of J&K against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever.
- That modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the State would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
- That the parties participating in the meeting resolved to seek [an] audience with the President and Prime Minister of India and the leaders of other political parties to apprise them of the current situation and make an appeal to them to safeguard the legitimate interests of the people of the State with regard to the guarantees given to the State by the Constitution.”
The Gupkar Declaration is now a red line!