The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the representatives of the Gupkar alliance consisting of 14 political parties of Jammu and Kashmir on June 24, which was hyped in the media as a turning point in Jammu and Kashmir’s chequered history, did not translate into concrete assurances on either restoration of Statehood or the holding of the Assembly elections. Worse still, as a tweet by Home Minister Amit Shah amply indicated, the Centre is preparing to complete the delimitation exercise before the Union Territory goes to the hustings.
“The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in Parliament,” Amit Shah tweeted after the meeting concluded. This rider of “election first, Statehood later” points to the Centre’s reluctance to concede anything meaningful to the mainstream players of Jammu and Kashmir—a fact that they realised belatedly, given the talk about supposed “foreign pressure” in the days ahead of the meeting.
From June 18, when the Union Home Secretary sent formal invites to Jammu and Kashmir leaders for the meeting, until June 24, the overriding perception in Srinagar was that the Modi government was “under pressure” from back-channel diplomatic quarters to make peace with Pakistan, for which shedding its hard-fisted policies on Kashmir would be a political imperative. However, this reporter had quoted a Washington-based source, who is tasked with monitoring the India-Pakistan bilateral relations and the developments in Kashmir, to underscore the point that the notion of foreign pressure was being blown out of proportion.
This source said categorically, “There is no pressure.” According to this source, the Indian Prime Minister’s recalibration in Kashmir was a prudent choice anybody in his place would make. “When the Pulwama terror attack took place and the Balakot strikes followed, the U.S. was keenly monitoring the situation. We wanted de-escalation then, we want stability [between India and Pakistan] now, as that is essential for a more conducive security environment in the region,” the source said. The source confirmed that there was a United States interest in India-Pakistan dialogue but cautioned against any sweeping inference that projected the U.S. as “interventionist” in Kashmir.
The Gupkar allies seem to have realised this. On July 5, as it became clear that the Centre was trying to push the delimitation exercise ahead of elections, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) formally expressed its disappointment with the June 24 meeting with the Prime Minister. PAGD spokesperson Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) averred in a press statement: “All the members of the PAGD expressed their disappointment at the outcome of the Delhi meeting especially at the absence of any substantial confidence building measures such as releasing political and other prisoners from jails and taking concrete steps to end the siege and atmosphere of suppression that has choked J&K since [August 5] 2019. This would have initiated the much-needed process of reaching out to the people of J&K who are the biggest stakeholders and sufferers of the J&K problem.”
Cracks in PAGD despite show of unity
The PAGD also pledged to fight unitedly for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and Statehood. Tarigami stated: “As far as restoration of Statehood is concerned, it has been BJPs commitment on the floor of the Parliament & they must honour their word. So any Assembly election must be held only after restoration of full statehood for J&K. To this end the PAGD has decided to reach out to other political parties in J&K with a view to take a common position on the issue.
“The PAGD reiterated its commitment to fighting together to reverse the unconstitutional and unacceptable changes foisted on the people of J&K on 5th August 2019 using all constitutional, legal and political means at its disposal. PAGD’s struggle for undoing these changes will continue as long as it takes while striving to achieve this objective as early as possible.”
However, cracks within the PAGD have been apparent for some time now. The National Conference (N.C.) was perceived to be softening its stand towards New Delhi, with its leaders avoiding any bitter tweet directed against it and building a consensus in the PAGD’s internal meetings to accept and attend the June 24 meeting with the Prime Minister. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti initially wanted Farooq Abdullah, president of the five-party amalgam, to represent it in New Delhi.
Hours ahead of the meeting, Farooq Abdullah even snubbed Mehbooba Mufti publicly as he distanced himself from her exhortation to include Pakistan in the talks over Kashmir. “Mehbooba Mufti has her own agenda, we have our own agenda. We do not want to talk about Pakistan. We will talk to our own Prime Minister,” he remarked curtly. A day earlier, the PDP leader had said: “If India can talk to the Taliban, why can’t it talk to Pakistan?”
Mehbooba Mufti paid back the N.C. patron in his own coin. On June 28, the PAGD scheduled a meeting for the next day to deliberate on the developments following the June 24 meeting. By this time, the N.C. had begun to sense that its hope of New Delhi engaging with it and discarding its Hindutva project in order to restore the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir was wholly misplaced.
But the proposed meeting did not take place on June 29. This reporter learnt from a senior PAGD leader that when Farooq Abdullah sent a message to the PDP president, she refused to attend it citing “personal engagement”. This was her way of communicating to the Abdullahs that any see-saw position on their part would not be acceptable to her. The meeting eventually took place on July 4; the July 5 press statement was an attempt at damage-control.
It is becoming clear now that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains committed to delimitation ahead of elections, as part of its perceived design to draw up a winning electoral map and thereby instal a Hindu Chief Minister. The question to ask is whether the PAGD will jointly resist such machination.
Different strategies on delimitation
So far, the PDP has refused to be a part of discussions with the Delimitation Commission, which arrived in Srinagar on July 6 to hold deliberations with representatives of political parties, district officials and other stakeholders and gain “first-hand information” as it began the exercise of redrawing the Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. On July 5, the PAGD said that it was up to individual political parties to decide whether they wanted to meet the Commission or not. Tarigami said: “As far as the PAGD is concerned, our stand is that these are autonomous bodies and the respective political parties will decide about it. Whatever the parties think is suitable for them, they will take steps accordingly.” The PDP on July 6 ruled out participating in the delimitation exercise and refused to meet the Commission members. The N.C., on the other hand, decided to meet the Commission. A five-member delegation of the party met the Commission on July 6.
Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, PDP general secretary, said in a letter addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer, Jammu and Kashmir: “Leave aside acting on suggested confidence-building measures, the Government of India has continued with its daily dictates to the people of J&K, including the recent amendments and orders including those making every person a suspect and deepening the divide between the two regions.” The letter alleged that the outcome of the delimitation exercise was pre-planned.
The PDP’s apprehensions are in sync with the public perception in the Kashmir Valley that there is a design to allocate a disproportionate number of constituencies to Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu. The PDP letter stated that the outcome of the delimitation exercise “may further hurt the interests of the people”. It added, too, that the June 24 meeting was merely a photo opportunity since “no effort has been made to ease the lives of the people”.
New Delhi was quick to show that such ‘belligerence’ would be rebuffed with an iron hand. On July 6, the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.) summoned Gulshan Ara, Mehbooba Mufti’s mother. Mehbooba Mufti called it a vindictive move. “On the day PDP chose not to meet the Delimitation Commission, E.D. sent a summon to my mother to appear in person for unknown charges. In its attempt to intimidate political opponents, the government of India doesn’t even spare senior citizens. Agencies like the National Investigation Agency and E.D. are now its tools to settle scores,” she tweeted.
The N.C. has taken a more nuanced position in its dealings with New Delhi. Its members met the Delimitation Commission, but a party memorandum to the Commission reiterated its rejection of the Centre’s unilateral actions of August 5, 2019: “In our view, the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, is palpably unconstitutional and was enacted in disregard and violation of mandate and the spirit of constitution of India and therefore not to be acted upon. We have thrown challenge to constitutional validity of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.” The memorandum also explained why any delimitation exercise done without consultation with an elected State Assembly would be legally untenable. “Under the constitutional scheme, delimitation of Assembly constituencies fell within powers of the State of J&K and under the second proviso to Sec 47 of the Constitution of J&K, the delimitation of constituencies is to be undertaken once the figures of the first census after the year 2026 are published. The Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People’s Act, 1957 Part II dealt with the constitution of Delimitation Commission and the procedure to be followed by the Commission. The proviso to Section 3 of the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People’s Act, 1957 inserted by Act XXXIII of 2002 provided for delimitation of Assembly Constituencies after the relevant figures for the first census taken after the year 2026 were published. The amendment was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in J&K National Panthers Party vs. Union of India & Ors 2010 (6) JKJ SC-917 . We very humbly and respectfully submit that Jammu and Kashmir Constitution subsists notwithstanding enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 and C.O. 272 and C.O. 273 as the Constitution being outcome of exercise of constituent power cannot be abrogated or annulled by the Parliament or any other authority… The above submissions apart, delimitation exercise would be a credible effort in strengthening democracy only after full statehood is restored to J&K.”
However, what is bothering many people in Kashmir is that despite making its reservations known, the N.C. is stopping short of denouncing the exercise. The party’s memorandum stated: “While reiterating our stand and without prejudice to the submissions made above, we request you and other Hon’ble members of the Commission to carry out the delimitation exercise in a free, fair and transparent manner so that the unity and integrity of the State is safeguarded. Population has to be the only norm as has been the practice here in the past in J&K and elsewhere in the country.”
There are widespread apprehensions that New Delhi is planning to redraw the constituencies in such a way that the geographical spread of the region rather than population becomes the criterion for determining the number of constituencies to be allotted to Kashmir valley and Jammu. It is feared that participation in the exercise by any party will give a sheen of legitimacy to the Centre’s actions.