Srinagar: Three years after they were last heard, pro-freedom statements and rallying calls to stop the BJP-RSS from coming into Kashmir are back in the election campaigning of mainstream political parties. The roles of champion and challenger, though, have been reversed.
If in the 2014 elections it was the Peoples Democratic Party that made pro-freedom noises and claimed to be the only force that could stop the “BJP wave”, this time it is the National Conference that has taken on the mantle.
Despite winning all the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir in 2014, the PDP instead of stopping the BJP wave was swept along with it. The NC has been reminding people of that betrayal, as if it needs reminding, and is trying to make even more populist statements than the PDP made in the last election.
Recently in Budgam, NC president Farooq Abdullah said, “Our hearts bleed when the blood of young people is spilled in broad daylight by the security forces. If New Delhi thinks that use of pellet guns would help restore peace, they are living in a fool’s world.”
Farooq Abdullah even went to the extent of seeking support of the Jamaat-e-Islami to “fight the RSS” and to “protect the identity of Kashmiris.”
The Congress, which is still recovering from the shock of the UP elections’ verdict, has been asking for votes to save “secularism in India”. Senior Congress leader and former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in an election rally asked Kashmiris to “unite against the divisive forces” and added, “Our secular credentials are at stake. Elements inimical to amity and tranquility have taken centre-stage.”
The PDP has restricted itself to promises of development and its candidate in Anantnag, Mehbooba Mufti’s brother Tasadduq Hussain who is fighting his first election, is talking of preserving ecology and increasing the greenery in Kashmir.
The voters of Kashmir, on their part, are not really buying any of this stuff. At a low-key PDP election convention in Awantipora, a 30-year-old teacher from Pampore told Kashmir Reader, “In 2010 we thought the NC committed excesses. We were also really scared that the BJP will rule over us. We bought the PDP’s statements and voted for it. But the PDP acted completely opposite to its promise. During the repression in 2016, the PDP appeared to us as more ruthless than the NC. I believe that people have lost faith in pro-Indian parties. We do not believe anything they say now, whether it is the NC or the PDP. They are two faces of the same coin.”
Why, then, was he attending the PDP convention? Self-interest, he said. “I want to be transferred from my posting in a far-flung area. I want to keep myself in their (PDP’s) good books to get my job done,” he told Reader.
Ismaeel Ahmad, a student from Ompura area, attended a recent rally organised by the NC in Budgam. He told Reader that he did not believe one bit the “separatist agenda” taken up by the NC in this election. “Nor do I believe that they can do anything as far as Kashmiri political aspirations are concerned,” the young man said. “I am here only so that these people can hear our personal grievances. I believe their role is only to provide water and roads, nothing else.”
Politics science professor Noor Baba agrees with Ahmad. “I would say that anyone who knows the mainstream politicians knows that separatist idioms employed by them are an electoral tactic. It is not to be taken seriously. Such idioms will not work anymore. The PDP exhausted that rhetoric to the full before it came to power. Now the PDP, too, has lost credibility, like the other mainstream parties,” Baba said.
Political commentator Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain said that people were fed up with mainstream politicians. “After the successive unrest in 2008, 2010, and 2016, it has become clear that pro-Indian parties cannot do anything. There is now complete alienation, hopelessness and indifference towards New Delhi,” Hussain said.
Historian Ashiq Hussain said that the PDP hijacked the Hurriyat agenda but failed to keep it for long. “Pro-Indian parties stand exposed before people. The PDP was an alternative to the NC, but it failed. Now all the parties have lost credibility,” Hussain said.
“Sheikh Abdullah gained credibility when he took an anti-Delhi stance after 1952. He gained acceptance despite supporting the accession in 1947. In 1984, his son became popular due to his anti-Delhi stand. People were with him after he was deposed by Delhi. But the moment he joined hands with the Congress in 1986, he lost the support of people. He was seen as a traitor. That was the main reason why the Muslim United Front sprang up in 1986 and received widespread support of people,” Hussain added.
Hussain said that the NC may be claiming to stop the BJP and RSS, but in 2002 it played an instrumental role in saving the Narendra Modi-led Gujrat government when a censure motion was moved by the Opposition in Parliament. “The five-member National Conference, a constituent of the BJP-led NDA alliance then, abstained from voting,” Hussain said. “This was done to save Omar Abdullah’s ministry in the central government.”