The abode of some of the most powerful, wealthiest and most heavily guarded in Kashmir, Gupkar Road in Srinagar will host a summit meeting in the afternoon today. Farooq Abdullah, chief of the National Conference (NC), Mehbooba Mufti, chief of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and four other smaller groups will discuss ways to give effect to the Gupkar Declaration. The meeting follows Mufti’s release from detention earlier this week. For obvious reasons, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not an invitee.
Signed on 4 August, 2019, a day before the Centre announced its decision of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's special status and split it into two Union territories, it said the signatories “unanimously resolved that they would be united in their effort to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir against all attacks and onslaughts”. It had resolved to meet in August this year, but most leaders were still in detention at that time.
A Gupkar Declaration II followed on 22 August. “We want to assure the people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J&K as it existed on 4th August 2019,” it said. It pledged to set up a ‘collective mechanism’ to fight for the goal.
The Gupkar declarations represent the resolve of pro-India, overground political groups to assert themselves, even as among the signatories there is considerable confusion about exactly what they want the union government to do now, after the revocation of Article 370 is an established fact.
There are many keywords in this declaration which need to be questioned closely: ‘united’, ‘identity’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘special status’ of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Unanimously resolved that they would be united…”
Consider the signatories. The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party are bitter electoral rivals in the Valley. The Awami National Conference was formed by Farooq Abdullah’s brother-in-law, Ghulam Muhammad Shah, who agreed to be used by Delhi to topple the National Conference government in 1984. The party, however, has never had much political influence in the Valley. The People’s Conference, formed by the former separatist leader Sajjad Lone, was once touted to be the third front in Kashmir. Both the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have tied up with the Congress from time to time while Lone was once close to the BJP. Obviously, Jammu is not even represented in the set-up.
As and when assembly elections are held (with local body elections before that) will the Gupkar Declaration still hold, as leaders jockey to take part in the polls?
“….Protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir”
Besides, there is extensive confusion within the parties on how they view Article 370 and whether its revocation is even worth fighting for. For instance, in an interview granted to Pradeep Chibber and Harsh Shah, two US-based social science academics, NC vice President, Omar Abdullah (while he was in detention) said: "...why would I ask Mr Modi to reverse what Mr Modi has done? It's stupid. It's pointless. It's just tokenism. It's the worst form of politics because all I'd be doing is trying to appease the voters, knowing full well that nothing will come out of it. And I don't want to do that. I think the politics of appeasement is the worst thing I can do to people here". Many in the state wonder about the legitimacy and the credibility of the Gupkar Declaration when it is not clear what the signatories are fighting for.
The Congress too, is divided on whether the central move on Article 370 can be reversed. In a resolution, it criticised the “undemocratic manner” in which special status had been revoked but was noncommittal about restoring it, a position that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seized upon eagerly in claiming that all mainstream political parties had backed the revocation of Article 370.
There are other fault lines and contradictions. Will boycott of elections be an option? Can a political movement even be revived in the valley?
Top government sources concede that two politicians continued to be extremely influential and wield powerful appeal in the state: one even after he was dead; the other even as he is alive. Atal Behari Vajpayee is still regarded as a prime minister who showed humaneness and understanding in resolving Kashmir’s problems. And Farooq Abdullah still had a special place in people’s hearts as the man who repeatedly went to prison but protected the identity of the state – even though when his party shared power at the centre, very little was done to resolve the livelihood, employment and security challenges that beset the state.
So while the traditional political elite in the state seek to revive themselves via decisions this afternoon on whether they will take part in upcoming elections or not; and which elections, there is furious political activity on as central representatives try to suss out individuals and organisations who are ready to become a bridge between the centre and the Union Territory, displacing the old elite..
Today’s Gupkar Road deliberations will be followed closely but are unlikely to yield spectacular political results.