To be or not to be? Hamlet haunts Kashmir’s regional political parties

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Kashmir: Way Forward. (IANS Infographics)

Srinagar After the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, politics in the state is set to metamorphose into a new avatar.

The major regional political parties, which have used the plank of special status for most of the last 72 years, will now need to rediscover their strategies, while saving their credibility.

Their leaders must be reassessing their strategies while being under detention and would possibly unveil their plans once freed from custody.

All these decades, these parties, mainly National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have played the protectors of the special status of the state and tried to outsmart each other on the issue.

They even stretched the issue of special status to the respective demands for ‘greater autonomy’ and ‘self-rule’.

The contest between them was about who would strengthen the special status more. In the process, the developmental issues like employment, infrastructure, healthcare and education never found prominence in the electoral discourse.

With the abolition of the special status altogether, the Modi-led central government has said it intends to bring development into the prime focus and make Jammu and Kashmir one of the top developed places in the next 10 years.

Now, it is to be seen whether the main regional players play ball or chart out some other course.

For most of the period from 1947 till August 2019, the National Conference has been the biggest sheet anchor for Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. It has, hence, also been its biggest beneficiary.

The NC, first headed by its founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, then by son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah, has remained in power for most of these 72 years.

In between, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, G.M. Sadiq, Mir Qasim, G.M. Shah, Mufti Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mehbooba Mufti were in power for brief periods.

Whether or not the ruling party in power belonged to the centric Congress or the two regional parties, the main electoral agenda remained the special status and its preservation.

When the PDP, led by late Mufti Sayeed, challenged the political might of the NC, a fierce battle for more internal independence for the state started between the two parties.

The NC called it the demand for ‘greater autonomy’ while the PDP named it as ‘self-rule’.

The Congress, finding itself uncomfortably placed between the two regional parties, also vowed to support the special status of the state.

After August 6 this year, when Parliament abrogated applicability of Article 370 and Article 35A in the state, the genesis of both the mainstream as well as the separatist politics has changed in Jammu and Kashmir.

The separatists, demanding either complete independence or merger of the state with Pakistan, are still unable to calibrate their stance to the new development.

“The separatists sought ‘azadi’ (freedom) and in the process, we lost whatever was left of the state’s internal autonomy,” said a middle-rung leader of the NC.

After losing their most precious political card of preserving and even furthering the special status of the state, the arch political rivals in the NC, PDP, Peoples Conference, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement etc. have little options other than the talk of the developmental agenda or at best, reversion from the union territory status to the original status of Jammu and Kashmir as a separate state, but without Article 370 and Article 35A.

Would the people of the state trust these regional political parties who have fed them on the special status euphoria for 72 years?

If they do, it would be a miracle. If they do not, that would be the end of the regional politics in Jammu and Kashmir.