By Praveen Swami
Can Kashmir’s major political parties rebuild a relationship with their secessionist adversaries?
Back in the summer of 1986, the Lions and the Goats met at Srinagar’s Jama Masjid, and vowed to work together to secure Kashmir’s future.
National Conference president Farooq Abdullah was the heir to the legacy of Shér-i-Kashmir [‘the Lion of Kashmir’], his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. His new-found ally, the powerful Srinagar cleric Maulvi Mohamm ad Farooq, led the Bakras, or goats, derisively nicknamed so for their long beards. Much of modern Kashmir’s history was shaped by the often-violent clashes between the Shér and the Bakra: between the radical party of the peasants and workers and the cleric-led pious, often pro-Pakistan urban petit bourgeoisie.
But the improbable ‘Double-Farooq’ alliance flourished. It helped both the National Conference and the traditionalist clergy ward off competition from Islamist groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami. Despite intense pressure from jihadists, Maulvi Farooq never repudiated his alliance with Farooq Abdullah, nor called for the secession of Jammu and Kashmir — decisions that led to the cleric’s assassination in May 1990 at the hands of a Hizb ul-Mujahideen terrorist.
Last month, Abdullah invited his secessionist adversaries to rebuild that improbable alliance. “You have seen the Double-Farooq accord”, he told journalists, few of whom were in fact old enough to have done so, “and I hope Allah will let me live long enough to see the Double-Omar accord.”
Abdullah’s reference to the prospect of a future alliance between his son, Omar Abdullah, now Chief Minister, and Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq’s son, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, raised derisive chuckles. But the proposition isn’t, it is turning out, quite as bizarre as it seemed at first.
Lessons from the elections
Days after Abdullah’s announcement, People’s Conference leader Sajjad Gani Lone — the son of the third major politician present on the stage in 1986 — broke with the secessionist fiat, and decided to contest the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat. Lone’s father, Abdul Gani Lone, was a key figure on the Double-Farooq platform. In an act of tragic irony, he was assassinated by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad in 2002, at a function held to commemorate the anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq’s killing.
Sajjad Lone’s fate, like that of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, shows that secessionists could prove key to determine electoral outcomes in Jammu and Kashmir. But, it is also starting to become clear, they desperately need partners from among the pro-India parties to secure their own survival.
Despite the fawning media commentary he succeeded in generating, Lone didn’t come first even in his home Assembly segment of Kupwara — a fact which underlines the limited on-ground support most secessionist leaders in fact enjoy in Jammu and Kashmir. But the 65,637 votes Lone polled likely cost the PDP’s Dilawar Mir the election. Mir polled 1,37,504 votes compared to 1,85,732 recorded by the winner, the National Conference’s Sharifuddin Shariq.
In the PDP’s south Kashmir heartland, too, secessionists played key role — but by boycotting the elections. Jamaat-e-Islami cadre defied the secessionists to vote in last year’s Assembly elections, hoping to put a party responsive to their concerns in power. With the not-so-tacit support of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the PDP succeeded in driving up its share of votes polled in the Kashmir Valley’s 46 Assembly segments from 25.23 per cent in 2002 to 27.55 per cent. By contrast, a poorly-led National Conference saw its vote share dramatically decline from 35.65 to 25.23 per cent, even though the party won 20 seats, one more than the PDP’s 19.
But this time around, the Jamaat cadre chose to stay away from the elections. Few believed that the PDP had a real chance of winning, and saw no reason to antagonise the National Conference-Congress alliance government.
For all practical purposes, therefore, the Jamaat-e-Islami ensured the victory of the National Conference’s Mehboob Beig, who polled 148,317 votes — just 5,224 more than his PDP adversary, Peer Mohammad Husain. In several key south Kashmir Assembly segments, the PDP fell to the second place. Last year, PDP chief and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed polled 12,439 votes in the Anantnag Assembly constituency to Beig’s 7,548; this time, Beig secured 8,620 votes to Husain’s 8,550. Saeed’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti won 12,810 votes from Wachi last year; now, the PDP could secure only 5,624 votes to the National Conference’s 6,677.
Pro-India parties, therefore, have real political equities in bringing their secessionist adversaries on board. Is such an alliance ideologically conceivable?
Both pro-India formations and secessionists have cast themselves as implacable ideological adversaries. In fact, the divide between the two is less marked than either likes to imagine. Lone’s 2006 manifesto, Achievable Nationhood, is a case in point. Achievable Nationhood calls for a sharing of sovereignty between India and a quasi-independent Jammu and Kashmir: an arrangement in which the Government of India would exercise authority over the State’s defence and external affairs alone. Among other things, Jammu and Kashmir would no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India, and all-India institutions like the Indian Administrative Services.
Back in 2000, the Assembly asked for almost exactly the same things. Based on a report by the State Autonomy Commission, the Assembly called on the Government of India to restore of the State’s pre-1953 constitutional position, which would have restricted the Union Government’s role in Jammu and Kashmir to managing defence and external affairs.
Achievable Nationhood also anticipated key elements of the PDP’s platform — for example, the creation of a customs union between both Indian and Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir, in which both states’ currencies would be used. Both Achievable Nationhood and the PDP’s October 2008 position paper, Jammu & Kashmir: The Self-Rule Framework for Resolution, also call for the creation of trans-Line of Control political and administrative institutions. All of this suggests that there is enough common ground between the secessionists and pro-India unionists to build tactical alliances. Electoral common sense makes it clear they have good reason to do so. But do they have the desire — and will — to transfigure Kashmir politics?
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has so far shown no inclination to bite into the forbidden fruit of democratic politics. “If we contest elections”, he candidly stated at a May 19 seminar in Srinagar, “people will not vote for us.” “We want the Kashmir problem to be resolved first,” the cleric explained, “elections can be held later”.
But others in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) realise that they cannot keep treading water for much longer, waiting endlessly for an India-Pakistan agreement on Jammu and Kashmir to materialise. Last month, APHC leaders Mohammad Abbas Ansari and Abdul Gani Butt announced that their organisation would not initiate an election-boycott campaign. Many, including the leadership of the United Jihad Council, correctly saw this as a first step by the APHC’s doves towards participation in elections. Irate reaction from the UJC and pressure from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are thought to have compelled Mirwaiz Farooq to reverse the APHC’s agreed-upon decision.
How might realists within the APHC now be encouraged to participate in the transfiguration of Jammu and Kashmir’s politics?
For years, India has engaged the secessionists through its covert services and specially-designated interlocutors. Both the National Conference and the PDP want New Delhi to use instruments like these to engage Mirwaiz Farooq. But the experience of years of secret dialogue, as well as two rounds of public talks, has not been encouraging. Mirwaiz Farooq failed to bring a road map for negotiations to the table in 2006, backtracked on subsequent promises to participate in all-party negotiations, and joined hands with Islamist hardliner Syed Ali Geelani during last year’s communally-charged conflict over the grant of land use rights to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.
Political actors have proved more successful in bringing about the engagement of the secessionists with the political system, witness the PDP’s successes in recruiting the Jamaat-e-Islami vote in southern Kashmir during last year’s Assembly elections or the relentless pressures which compelled Sajjad Lone to contest in Baramulla. Like their fathers before them, Jammu and Kashmir politicians are being compelled to learn that lions and goats must co-exist.
New Delhi must support the transformational effect of democracy by engaging Jammu and Kashmir’s elected politicians on the issues of identity and agency for which the secessionists have so far been allowed to be the sole spokespersons. During his first term in office, Prime Minister Singh initiated the Round Table Dialogue process, which involved a wide section of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. Among other things, the dialogue led to the setting up of a working group chaired by the retired Supreme Court judge, Saghir Ahmed, to discuss the shape of Jammu and Kashmir’s future. Justice Ahmed’s group must now be pushed to complete its work — and its findings used as the foundation for an inclusive dialogue in which both pro-India and secessionist political groupings are invited to participate.
Courtesy: The Hindu, New Delhi