Gupkaris sound dubious sometimes. The senior leader Farooq Abdullah had stirred a hornet’s nest recently by hinting that the Kashmiris were looking at China as their redeemer. Insisting that China “never accepted” the revocation of Art 370, Farooq told India Today TV that “They (the Chinese) said till you restore Article 370, we won’t stop”. Leaders of his party and the Gupkar group attempted a feeble defence by claiming that he only made a matter-of-fact statement but never invited China to support the Kashmiris. Yet, his hasty statement led to further stereotyping of the Kashmiri leaders as ‘anti-nationals’.
Denials apart, Dr. Abdullah appeared to be carried away by the street-side talk about China in the Valley. There is a widely circulated myth among the Kashmiris about a breed of people – yojujg and mojujg – who broadly fit the description of the Chinese. Those mythical people were supposed to be invincible because of their sheer numbers. If they get after somebody, he is doomed by the sheer nuisance they cause. The separatist circles in Kashmir are agog with the whispers that the Chinese (a la yojujg and mojujg) have gotten after India and will make life miserable for it. It is even seen as a divine intercession to help the Kashmiris. It is intriguing that a leader of Farooq Abdullah’s stature could be influenced by such separatist fake myths.
Mehbooba Mufti, the other senior leader of the group, held a press conference to dare the Indian state that she would not hold up the Indian flag until the Jammu & Kashmir flag has been restored. “Jo haath 35A ke saath ched chaad karne ke liye uthenge, wo haath hi nahi wo saara jism jal ke raakh ho jaega (Not only the hand, which will raise to tamper with 35A, but the whole body will burn to ashes),” she once reportedly threatened at a party meeting. When the Articles 370 and 35 A were revoked by the Indian Parliament in August last year, she argued that there would not be a single Kashmiri left to uphold the national Tricolor in the Valley. Ironically, one year down the line, while the national flag flutters in many hands, she remained the only person to hold up the Kashmiri flag, displaying it on the table during that press conference.
Kashmiri leaders are prone to such provocations and subsequent somersaults. The popular caricature in Kashmir about Sheik Abdullah was that he would be a separatist in the Valley, regionalist in Jammu and nationalist in Delhi. Dr Farooq too inherited it. He would sing Ram Dhun in Delhi and separatist Dhun in Srinagar. Mehbooba is no exception either. She can be her rhetorical best in hardline harangue on the Valley streets. But just a couple of years ago at a party convention, she was also heard telling her party-men that “If there is anyone with the mandate to heal the wounds of people of Jammu and Kashmir, take the state out of the morass, it is only Narendra Modiji and no one else”. A senior Kashmir leader pointedly told her recently about the hollowness of her national flag rhetoric. The national flag was not just a piece of cloth, he reprimanded her, reminding that it is in the official bungalow that she lives in, the official bullet-proof car that she travels by and the security cover that she enjoys.
It is no surprise that the Gupkar leaders face a major credibility challenge in the eyes of the people of Kashmir. Their continued rhetoric about revocation of Articles 370 and 35 A and the accompanying hardline statements are meant only to mislead the innocent Kashmiris. History is witness to the campaign in 1950s and 60s by Sheik Abdullah and others about ‘pre-1947 status’. But after the Delhi Agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheik Abdullah in 1975, the goalpost was shifted to ‘pre-1953 status’. Some Gupkar leaders now talk about restoration of statehood as the central issue, thus shifting the goalpost further to ‘pre-2019 status’.
In fact, it is a good sign that the Gupkar leaders realize the futility of the separatist politics of poll boycotts and autonomy demands. They should now stick firmly to the constitutional methods. Their decision to participate in the District Development Council elections and making restoration of statehood as the main plank should be welcomed. In a way they are paving the way for constitutional governance in the state.
After the Panchayat and Block Committee elections, the DDC elections in J&K will create popularly elected government at the district level also. The Union Government’s commitment to handover power to the people of the region will be furthered by the conduct of these elections before the end of this year.
After that, the government will be left with the final obligation of conducting elections to the UT Legislature, which is a federal mandate of our constitution.
(The article was originally published in Deccan Herald on November 22, 2020. Views expressed are personal.)