All party meeting at the residence of Farooq Abdullah, the premier of National Conference on 4 August 2019.

Last Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference announced that Junaid Azim Mattu, the former Mayor of Srinagar and the party’s chief spokesperson, was no longer associated with the party.

In a tweet, the Sajad Lone led party said, “J-K Peoples Conference would like to confirm that Mr. Junaid Mattu is no longer associated with the party. The party’s association with Mr. Mattu has ended weeks back.”

Mr. Mattu reacted to the expulsion by saying: “I’m glad the speculations have ended and there is a confirmation from both sides today that my association with Peoples’ Conference has come to an end.”

Differences with the party leadership, Mr. Mattu wrote on Twitter, had “evolved over the last couple of months due to my differences on certain stands and issues.”

Detailing his association with the chairperson of the party, Mr. Lone, and on the differences with the party, Mr. Mattu said that “This is something that has evolved over the last couple of months due to my differences on certain stands and issues. In Mr. Sajad Lone I have always sought and found an elder brother and a mentor and I will continue to cherish my personal bond and association with him. I respect him and hold him in high esteem and that will remain unchanged.”

Adding that he, however, strongly believed that the party’s commitment to the Gupkar Declaration is and will be reciprocated only by “insincerity and disingenuity” by the National Conference (NC)–and that time would prove this. 

“NC’s blatant insincerity started with SMC but won’t end there,” he said. “Mark my words. I am of the firm opinion that we can’t allow 5th August to whitewash history and assume our history starts here. The complicity of today’s vanguards who were yesteryear’s facilitators of erosion and disempowerment – that can’t be erased or wished away. That’s the limited point.” concluded Mr. Mattu.

This comes only days after Mr. Lone had declared: “We will not allow our differences to facilitate non Kashmiris coming to rule us, to slander us, to humiliate our people.” Mr. Lone had said that the Gupkar Declaration is the declaration of six political parties of J-K to collectively fight for the restoration of Article 370 as the only way out. “The issue at hand is bigger than me and bigger than all of us collectively,” Mr. Lone had said. “There is no way that we can individually strive and struggle to espouse the cause of the people of J-K. It has to be a collective effort.”

The six political parties include, besides Mr. Lone’s party, the NC, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Indian National Congress, the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPI-M), and the Awami National Conference (ANC).

In an interview with a local news gathering agency, Kashmir News Service, Mr. Lone further said: “We have all consciously decided to work together. I can assure you that my politics will henceforth be irreversibly wedded to a collective cause and collective efforts.”

He further said that “we have all unconditionally agreed that we will work under the leadership of Dr. Farooq Abdullah sahib. He has the stature and the experience to lead us all.” Mr. Lone’s interview came shortly after Dr. Abdullah’s interview with the New Delhi based news portal The Wire where he said that Kashmiris would rather be ruled by the Chinese instead of India.

A three-time chief minister of J-K, Dr. Abdullah said: “We have to move forward. Divided we cannot win our battle. Unitedly we have to fight – all of us. It is the unity that will give us strength, division never give us our strength. For the sake of Kashmir, the two families are putting their differences aside? 

That Mr. Mattu was expelled from the party over his disagreements with PC’s commitment to this collective resolve–in the Gupkar Declaration–is, perhaps, the first sign of the unionists of Kashmir not being able to form a united front. Already, the Altaf Bukhari led Apni Party has dismissed the Gupkar Declaration as a “smokescreen” to “hoodwink” the public.

If the grapevine is to be believed, two more senior leaders of Mr. Lone’s party would similarly be expelled from the party over similar reasons or will leave the party voluntarily to form another political grouping. 

These developments have come at a time when the central government is paying heed to the demands of Ladakhis, whose leadership threatened to boycott the upcoming hill development elections. 

Not only did the unity of leaders in Ladakh result in the Narendra Modi led government in New Delhi to consider the demands of the region that welcomed the decision to scrap J-K’s semi-autonomy–which ironically, had already guaranteed all the protections from their fears–last year, but the central government also announced that it would consider all “issues related to language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs” for which the Ladakhi people have demanded constitutional protection. 

The People’s Movement for Constitutional Safeguard, an umbrella body of Ladakhi leadership, agreed to call off its boycott of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections scheduled for 16 October, reported the Indian Express.

The contours of a broad understanding were reached at a meeting of three senior Ladakhi leaders with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday. The announcement was made by Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Kishan Reddy, and the Ladakhi leaders on Sunday morning.

“The Government of India is open to discuss protection available under the 6th Schedule of Constitution of India while looking into issues related to Ladakhi people. The delegation has agreed to withdraw its call for the boycott of the ensuing LAHDC Leh elections and promised its wholesome support to the smooth conduct of these elections,” the statement said.

While the government has assured that it would safeguard the identity of Ladakhis after they formed a united front to push for their demands, in Kashmir the division among the leaders is only worsening the situation that is already under assault.

The victory of Ladakhis has a lesson for the politicians in Kashmir, given they want to see it. Only time will decide where the politics of the Valley is headed to.

The comment originally appeared in our 28 September – 4 October 2020 print edition.

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