As we mark two years since August 5, 2019, there will be a cacophony of condemnations, rejections and rhetorical outbursts from Jammu & Kashmir-based parties against the abrogation of Article 370. At the same time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their affiliates will celebrate the anniversary with much fanfare. The saffron party and its ideological apparatus will go to town over their list of hollow achievements and nauseating promises of development. Polarised discourse on August 5 has left little room for introspection on why the step was taken and what has been achieved from it.
For the regional parties of Jammu & Kashmir, many questions remain unanswered: could they have stalled the decisions of August 5? Were they fully or partially responsible for the momentous decision taken by the government of India? Did they provide the necessary alibi and ammunition to legitimise these constitutional changes among the people of the rest of India? Had they lost the faith the people had in them or were the people tired of their lies and rhetoric?
Leaders Were Overconfident On Special Status
The key to answering these questions lies in the faltered engagement that the people of Jammu & Kashmir had with the rest of India, the absent dialogue between Valley-based parties and the ruling party in Delhi, and a lack of engagement with the right-wing ideological spectrum. Truth be told, the former Chief Ministers of Jammu & Kashmir and other senior political functionaries were overconfident about their position on the special status.
They were deluded to believe that no power on earth can undo Article 370 and the special status of Jammu & Kashmir — to the point that they openly challenged the Modi government to remove Article 370 and threatened it with dire consequences.
Their delusions were so magnificent that they thought removing Article 370 will lead to the secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the Union of India.
Take, for instance, the statement of Mehbooba Mufti issued in February 2019, where she said: “Article 370 is the constitutional connection between J&K & Indian union. The instrument of accession is contingent on Article 370 which is inextricably linked to Article 35A. Any tampering will render Treaty of Accession null & void.”
Similarly, Omar Abdullah in April 2019, while campaigning for the general election, said: “After 70 years, you (Centre) are telling us we will withdraw Article 370 and Article 35A. If you speak of removing these articles, then you will have to revisit the entire issue of state’s accession to India.”
Provocations And Threats Backfired
Such provocations and threats provided much-needed justification to do away with the special status of Jammu & Kashmir. More importantly, the rhetorical utterances made in support of militancy, violence and separatism by these leaders were used by the national media and the BJP to fuel the resentment in the rest of India against the regional parties and to dent their credibility in the country, to the effect that these parties have become untouchable for the Congress, the Left and other regional parties that do not want to publicly engage or associate with Valley-centric discourse and grievances. That explains why in the aftermath of August 5, even known supporters of Kashmir’s autonomous status supported the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill and other Bills in Parliament. Through silence and lack of condemnation, they gave tacit approval to illegal detentions of leaders.
It is important to realise that the channel for engagement with New Delhi broke after the fall of the alliance of the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Until then, the BJP government had maintained that the special status of Jammu & Kashmir will not be tinkered with — this was one of the conditions of the agenda of alliance that guided the coming together of the “north pole and south pole”. It was only after the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government that senior RSS and BJP leaders made public statements demanding the fulfilment of the long-standing ideological agenda.
Almost all mainstream parties of Jammu & Kashmir failed to read the tea leaves. Instead of engaging with New Delhi on the issue, they chose to provoke the Modi-Shah duo with challenges and dire consequences. In April 2019, Mehbooba Mufti said, “As such I warn the BJP to stop playing with fire. J&K is explosive. If you ignite it, neither J&K would remain nor India.”
A Critical Moment In History
August 5, 2019, was a critical moment in the turbulent history of the Delhi-Srinagar relationship, a crucial juncture that could positively or negatively shape the future of the erstwhile state. The people of Kashmir, and most importantly, the political leaders, must engage with this critical juncture to ensure that the rights of people are protected, and that the political and economic institutions are protected from the onslaught of disempowerment.
There is a need to introspect as to how this campaign of disempowerment can be halted. Will it be stopped through provocations and rhetorical statements? Or will it be stalled by engaging with an all-powerful government at the Centre?
Perhaps the first lesson for mainstream parties and the people of Kashmir lies in the political vision of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Instead of colliding with the BJP after the Assembly election of 2014, he chose to ally with the saffron party. That gave much-needed protection to the constitutional and political rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The agenda of the alliance of the PDP-BJP government can be a starter to create a meaningful dialogue. This can help realise the restoration of statehood for Jammu & Kashmir and protect the identity of its people, as well as secure land and job rights for them.
A positive and result-oriented engagement is needed now more than at any moment in the history of the erstwhile state. The reset can become an important cornerstone for a more inclusive and progressive social contract between the people and the state, between Srinagar and New Delhi, and between the political realities of the rest of India and that of Jammu & Kashmir.
Opposition to engagement is shaped by the weight of history. The ideological differences among the negotiating parties are massive in perception but insignificant in reality. When these differences take shape of dogmatic ideologies, only destruction ensues.
Take, for instance, how the Hurriyat Conference scuttled many initiatives of engagement and dialogue. It is because the Conference failed to grapple with changed political realities in New Delhi that they chose a hardline stance to achieve their political objectives.
The Hurriyat scuttled the possibility of any engagement in 2016, when, in an act of hubris, they publicly snubbed the all-party delegation visiting Jammu & Kashmir. Today, the mighty Hurriyat stands defeated. Their statement doesn’t even find a few column-inches in local and national newspapers.
The current predicament of Hurriyat should serve as a moment of reckoning for the mainstream parties of Jammu & Kashmir. The existence and the future of traditional mainstream parties are solely dependent upon how they reckon with the changed realities after August 5.
If the mainstream parties shun away from engagement, their future may not be much different from today’s Hurriyat Conference. Politics abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of traditional parties, new players will take their space without any chaos.
(Khalid Shah is an Associate Fellow at ORF. His research focuses on Kashmir conflict, Pakistan and terrorism. Khalid was previously associated with leading news channels of India and did a brief stint as a correspondent in Srinagar with WION News, reporting extensively on the conflict. He tweets @khalidbshah. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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