Restoration of Article 370 as it applied to Jammu & Kashmir prior to August 5, 2019, is the principal demand of representatives of six J&K political parties — bitter adversaries on the ground — who met at former chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s residence in Srinagar on Thursday and announced the formation the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to start a movement towards that aim.
“We will meet again” was Abdullah’s promise as he made a short but terse statement, with Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by his side.
People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Lone, People’s Movement leader Javaid Mir, and CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami were among those who attended. The state unit of the Congress announced it could not be present because of a medical emergency.
Abdullah said the signatories will also fight for the rights of Ladakh. “We also want that the steps be taken for the resolution of Kashmir issue and all the stakeholders should be taken on board.”
The meeting was a follow-up of the Gupkar declaration — so called because it was signed by six mainstream parties at the Abdullah residence on Srinagar’s Gupkar Road on August 4 last year, a day before Article 370 was revoked. The declaration “unanimously resolved that signatories would be united in their effort to protect and defend the identity, autonomy, and special status of J&K against all attacks”.
The group made no comment about the nature of further participation in the political process: neither about the possibility of taking part in local body elections that are likely to be held first; nor, significantly issuing a boycott call.
Former central interlocutor Radha Kumar said the coming together of the group itself was a major step forward. “As far as restoration of Article 370 is concerned, I don’t think the central government will be inclined towards it. On the other hand, some people have floated the idea of adding another section to Article 371 of the constitution by which some rights that J&K enjoyed might be restored,” Kumar said.
Given the divergence within the group about the feasibility of restoring Article 370, getting the parties to speak from the same script itself will be difficult. Former Union minister Omar Abdullah has said he believes promising restoration of status quo would be “tokenism” and “appeasement”. Congress, too, is divided on whether it can be reversed.
The biggest challenge before the overground political forces is to organise themselves in protests. The second challenge is to decide whether to participate in elections, at whatever level they are held.
“The one big point that emerges from Thursday’s meeting is this. Those who said that the presidential order of hollowing out Article 370 would be met with universal anger and a sense of humiliation in the valley were not wrong,” Kumar said.
Several civil rights groups are in Supreme Court, which is hearing cases on the legality of the revocation itself. Most of these groups believe that the formation of an alliance, however loose, to demand restoration of Article 370 will strengthen their case in court.