Jammu and Kashmir

Gupkar alliance demands restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood in strongly worded resolution

Print edition : September 24, 2021

M.Y. Tarigami, PAGD spokesman and senior CPI(M) leader, flanked by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and N.C. chairman Farooq Abdullah, addressing a press conference after a PAGD convention, in Srinagar on August 24. Photo: S. Irfan/PTI

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat with Admiral John C. Aquilino, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, in New Delhi on August 25. General Rawat said that with the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan, terror activity from that country could spill over into India. Photo: PTI/Twitter image posted by @adgpi

Hasnain Masoodi (right), N.C. Member of Parliament from Anantnag, outside Parliament on August 5, during the Lok Sabha’s monsoon session, demanding restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: Arun Sharma/PTI

The Gupkar alliance’s August 24 resolution demanding restoration of the special status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir and the sudden assertiveness of its leaders are significant indicators of the politics ahead in Jammu and Kashmir against the backdrop of the Taliban’s ascent in Afghanistan.

ON August 24, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) passed a resolution reiterating its demand for restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir along with its statehood, both of which were revoked on August 5, 2019. Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, PAGD spokesman and senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, said: “The constitutional position as it existed on 4th August 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh must be restored.”

The resolution was adopted at a PAGD convention, the first one to be convened since the formation of the alliance on October 15, 2020, at the Gupkar Road residence of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, chairman of the National Conference (N.C.). Among the participants along with Tarigami were Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti, Awami National Conference leader Muzaffar Hussain Shah and People’s Movement leader Javaid Mustafa Mir. Although the PAGD’s resolution is in sync with its stated objective, it can hardly be seen as a ritualistic gesture. The timing of the resolution and the very assertiveness of the Gupkar leaders, who so far seemed to be keen on repairing ties with New Delhi (save Mehbooba Mufti), are significant indicators of the politics ahead in Jammu and Kashmir.

After Omar Abdullah and his father, Farooq Abdullah, were released from detention in March 2020, they had mostly been politically quiescent, posting combative tweets against the Centre once in a while but avoiding any form of protest, even symbolic ones, on the ground. That changed temporarily in October 2020 when Mehbooba Mufti was released and when the PAGD was formed. By January 2021, with the exit of Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference from the PAGD and the Congress’ reluctance to take on the Centre vis-a-vis its political incursions of August 5, 2019, the PAGD had been reduced to a non-functioning body. However, privately its leaders maintained that they were waiting for the right time. A conversation with the leaders of the N.C. and the PDP, the PAGD’s two principal constituents, gave one the sense that if and when the geopolitical contours changed to New Delhi’s disadvantage, they would be willing to initiate a belligerent line of politics.

The Taliban factor

Against this backdrop, the timing of the PAGD resolution is impossible to miss. With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, India is faced with hard choices. The perception among a section of foreign policy experts is that India betted on the wrong horse in Kabul, namely, the Ashraf Ghani regime, and now, with its ouster, is left to deal with the Taliban, whom it has refrained from talking with publicly thus far.

Also read: Taliban spokesperson says India should ‘have a positive approach’ to issues in Kashmir Valley

There is also a sense, though debatable, that India might be faced with a China-Pakistan-Taliban axis in the foreseeable future with Kashmir as the chessboard of that power play. Such speculation has spawned steadily, with anxious proclamations being made by a range of people who have an understanding of geopolitics. No less a person than Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said on August 25 that with the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan, terror activity from that country could spill over into India. “It is the same Taliban that was there 20 years ago,” he said at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, a private think tank. Admiral John C. Aquilino, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, attended the event. General Rawat was forthcoming on how the state viewed the Taliban. “News reports and reports from expats who have come from there are all telling us the kind of activities that the Taliban are into. All that has happened is that the partners have now changed. It is the same Taliban with different partners.”

In Kashmir, people are anticipating that the Taliban’s ascent could give militancy a boost and pressure the Government of India to shed its muscular politics. The PAGD’s expansive, hard-hitting resolution suggests that it is among those who believe this hypothesis. The resolution read: “Unconstitutional decisions of August 5, 2019 taken in the Parliament to nullify Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India and the damaging legislation which dismembered the historic State and created two Union Territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh—has created a big political void and deep uncertainty in the erstwhile State. It is most unfortunate that the judicial challenges against this abrogation as a violation of the Constitution continue to remain pending before the Supreme Court even after two years.”

The resolution tore into the government’s development and good governance narrative in Kashmir and underlined that the claims the government was making on investments, development and job avenues in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of new land and domicile laws were a hoax. “Instead of creating new employment opportunities, daily-wagers, casual labourers, scheme workers and other contractual employees are either not getting wages regularly or are being altogether denied their wages. Agriculture and horticulture, tourism, handicrafts, transport and other sectors are in deep crisis,” the resolution stated.

It said that the successive executive orders post August 2019 such as the domicile laws; the curbs on the media; the “intimidation” of government employees; and the “discriminatory” rules on employment were some of the “authoritarian diktats” that had been imposed on the people of Jammu and Kashmir. “Termination of some employees without giving them a chance to be heard has created a fear psychosis among the employees in general. Local officers are being sidelined and the abolition of state cadre is one more step towards disempowerment of the people,” the resolution said.

On the sidelines of the convention, Tarigami stressed the PAGD’s commitment to take New Delhi on over its arbitrary policies and actions in Jammu and Kashmir. Briefing the media, Tarigami said: “In the meeting [Jammu and Kashmir leaders’ meeting with the Prime Minister on June 24], we had demanded that confidence-building measures be taken. We had highlighted how jails were witnessing occupancy beyond capacity in Jammu and Kashmir and outside. At that point in time, they had said that they would review and make an assessment, but we must be told how many people have been released since then. A senior administrator recently made a statement that no political person is in detention. But recently many youths from Jammu and Kashmir were freed from long detention after being proven innocent by the courts. An attempt is being made to destroy the political workers here as if they are thieves.”

Also read: CPI(M) leader Yousuf Tarigami approaches SC for early hearing of petitions against revocation of J&K’s special status

Tarigami underlined the human rights violations unfolding in Kashmir on the Narendra Modi government’s watch. “The suppression of civil liberties and democratic rights continues unabated. The attack on democratic rights under draconian laws like UAPA/PSA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Public Safety Act] continues as hundreds of people remain under detention without even charges being framed. New orders are being passed like non-clearance for passports and government services to anyone involved in ‘law and order’ or ‘stone pelting cases’,” he said.

Legal challenge

On August 27, Tarigami filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking early hearing of writ petitions challenging the Government of India’s unilateral revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which guaranteed special status to the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. The writ petitions the N.C. and other political parties and interest groups filed in 2019 had sought that the apex court do away with the presidential orders from August 5 and 6, 2019, that ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and that the subsequent Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act be declared “unconstitutional, void and inoperative”.

It is difficult to imagine that the PAGD spokesperson could have acted in isolation or randomly chosen the timing to move the court. The power-packed PAGD convention three days earlier and the sudden vociferousness of the PAGD leaders are strong indicators of a sequence of events that they may have chalked out to rattle New Delhi even though their execution is designed to make them look like disconnected developments. In his petition, Tarigami noted that in spite of the fact that the presidential orders of August 5 and 6 are sub judice, “the Central government has, inter alia, taken the following reversible actions…”: constituted a delimitation commission to mark boundaries in the territory for all the constituencies before an Assembly election can be held; amended the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act to allow persons who are not permanent residents to buy land in the territory; and closed down institutions such as the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Women, the Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission and the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission.

The petition argued that in light of the Centre’s detrimental measures in Jammu and Kashmir, the writ petitions of 2019 “ought to be heard on an expedited basis, otherwise the petition itself would be rendered infructuous”.

Also read: National Conference wants government to restore J&K’s special status to avoid spillover of Afghan crisis into region

Only a day before, on August 26, the N.C. lambasted the government for its foreign policy failures in Afghanistan, while also subtly cautioning it of the consequences of its hard-fisted policies in Kashmir at a time when the power arithmetic was quickly changing in India’s western neighbourhood. In no vague terms, it asked the Central government to undo its unilateral actions of August 5, 2019, in order to avert the spillover of the Afghanistan crisis into Jammu and Kashmir. Hasnain Masoodi, N.C. Member of Parliament from Anantnag, made a statement to this effect during a Ministry of External Affairs briefing on Afghanistan for parliamentary floor leaders. The government organised the briefing to deliberate on the change of guard in Afghanistan and on how the ascent of the Taliban might impact India’s geopolitics. In the briefing, the Ministry said that the government was carefully observing the developments in Afghanistan, with its main focus being on ensuring the security of Indian nationals and their repatriation.

Masoodi shared the concerns of MPs about the fallout of the changing situation in Afghanistan on the region, particularly on Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Expressing dissatisfaction over the government’s “wait and watch” policy, he said that the situation called for playing a more assertive and proactive role in order to protect India’s interests. He further added that India’s policy limbo could have serious ramifications for the entire region. Masoodi said: “To ensure that the anticipated spillover doesn’t play out in a manner that affects peace and stability in the region, the GOI must restore August 4, 2019, position to ease out the situation and generate goodwill among the populace of JK[Jammu and Kashmir].”

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