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Rumblings Within PAGD

The grouping’s unity has come under fresh strain following apprehensions voiced about its functioning by some of the senior leaders, reports Yawar Hussain

Three former Chief Ministers’ who have cumulatively ruled Jammu and Kashmir for almost a quarter-century are leading the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Even as the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) swept the recently concluded District Development Council (DDC) elections, the six-month-old political grouping’s unity and future is being questioned by those who constituted it.

The political bickering is out in the open. The second rung leadership of the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the People’s Conference (PC) are openly voicing concerns against one another – while everything at the top is being portrayed as hunky-dory.

First, it was senior National Conference leader and former minister Syed Basharat Bukhari who asked the leadership to offer a clear roadmap for the restoration of pre-August 5 status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Bukhari’s comments led to questions also being raised by the other PAGD leaders. Bukhari was also conspicuous by his absence in the top-level meeting of his party, the National Conference last Wednesday. Bukhari had migrated to NC months ahead of the August 5, decision-making. “If they don’t have a roadmap then they should tell the people that as well,” he said.

Bukhari’s Start

It was followed by Bukhari’s erstwhile party colleague, PDP leader and the DDC member Syed Bari Andrabi who said the PAGD needs to devise a roadmap that will respond to the situation as it emerges.

“Politics is a dynamic process. We can’t reach a set goal by just democratically protesting or organizing hartals (shutdowns). We need to devise a roadmap which will respond to the situation as it emerges,” he said, adding that the PAGD did well in DDC polls but the alliance couldn’t connect with the people.

Andrabi said the PAGD was formed by the people on the ground and that the parties came together because of that.

Former minister and senior PDP leader Basharat Bukhari formally join National conference in presence of Chief Patron of NC Dr Farooq Abdullah and NC vice president Omar Abdullah on December 19, 2018.

“The PAGD leadership does need to come together to address the workers across parties at the grassroots level,” he said. “If the unity doesn’t stand this alliance would fall apart but to those questioning it I say that there should be sincerity in heart, mind, and action of every constituent”.

With every passing day, the ring expanded with more hats being thrown into it. Another PDP leader and Rajya Sabha member Mir Mohammad Fayaz also questioned the PAGD stating that the alliance hasn’t done anything great till now.

“PAGD is a failure till it doesn’t come up with a roadmap. They should make it clear as to what they want to do in the coming future. In Kupwara district, there was lack of unity during the recent District Development Council (DDC) polls. If the present state of affairs persists, the PAGD would not be taken seriously by the people. The PAGD needs to be truthful,” he told Kashmir Life last week. “It might take years for the Supreme Court to decide on the case. Till then what will the PAGD do.”

Follow Up

Peoples Conference (PC) Vice President Abdul Gani Vakeel also cast aspersions on the alliance by writing a letter to People’s Conference Chairman and the PAGD spokesperson Sajad Gani Lone stating that the party needs to review its association with the alliance.

“The PAGD till now has put the restoration of Article 370 on the Supreme Court. Even the BJP and all those who abrogated it say the same. What is the difference then between us?” Vakeel told Kashmir Life. He said the PAGD should tell people how they will fight for the restoration of Article 370. “I have in my letter said that the PC needs to be cautious as it seems some people who were corrupt are trying to save themselves through this alliance.” Vakeel insisted that the PC will be with the BJP led central government if it nabs “corrupt” people but not for political reasons.

Ansari’s Critique

The major criticism of the PAGD, however, came from the PC General Secretary Imran Reza Ansari through his letter to his party chief Sajad Lone.

Sajad Lone and Imran Raza Ansari in a press conference in Srinagar.

“In the wake of deceitful behaviour shown by our allies by fielding proxy candidates in almost all DDC constituencies, we need to seriously think about whether PAGD collectively possesses the sincerity that the people of J&K deserve,” Ansari wrote in the letter that appeared on social media minutes after it was delivered to Lone.

Questioning the NC and the CPIM’s recent meeting with the Lieutenant Governor, Ansari said, “You (Sajad Lone) served notice to me when I met the Lieutenant Governor. Why was I prohibited from going when today an official delegation of the NC and Mr Yousuf Tarigami have gone to meet the Lieutenant Governor. I don’t for a moment challenge your authority and your leadership but I am saying that too much of simplicity and taking people on face value may do a lot of damage to the party.”

Ansari in his letter has gone on to provide instances of constituency-wise proxy candidates in the DDC elections fielded by PAGD constituent parties suggesting that the PC has been at a “loss” due to the alliance.

“I want you to introspect. I want our party to be at the forefront fighting for the cause of the people in a transparent manner. I am in no way against the stated objectives of PAGD. People have asked me that if you PAGD guys cannot be trusted with cheating each other during DDC elections how can we trust you with bigger objectives,” the letter reads. “The collective action will work if there is sincerity. But the past two months have shown that there is no sincerity in this alliance.”

What Is Gupkar Declaration?

Amid chaos, Mehbooba holds all party meet at Dr Farooq’s Gupkar Road residence on August 4, 2019

The Gupkar Declaration, which isn’t being talked about much now amid the political infighting in the PAGD, was issued on August 4, 2019, a day ahead of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A by the Parliament and subsequent restructuring of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir in the West and Ladakh in the east.

The Gupkar Declaration was unanimously passed by all present as a baseline:

“It was unanimously resolved:

  1. That all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of J&K against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever.
  2. That modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the State would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
  3. That the parties participating in the meeting resolved to seek an audience with the President and Prime Minister of India and the leaders of other political parties to apprise them of the current situation and make an appeal to them to safeguard the legitimate interests of the people of the State with regard to the guarantees given to the State by the Constitution of our country.”

Gupkar Declaration 2.0, was signed on August 22, 2020, by seven political parties, including National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, Communist Party of India (M), Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, Awami National Conference, Indian National Congress and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement. The signatories once again asserted that they were bound by the status quo of August 4, 2019. The Gupkar declaration and parties would strive for the restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A.

On November 17, 2020, the Indian National Congress denied their involvement with the PAGD. Their Jammu and Kashmir leadership claimed that they may pursue a state-level electoral alliance but denied that they are signatories of the proclamations.

“The members would strive for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, the Constitution of J&K, and the restoration of the State. Any division of the state is unacceptable to us. We unanimously reiterate that there can be nothing about us without us,” the PAGD in its August’s statement had said.

“The unfortunate events of 5th August 2019 have unrecognizably changed the relationship between J&K and New Delhi. In a spitefully shortsighted and unconstitutional move, Articles 370 and 35A were abrogated and the State was bifurcated and relegated to the status of two Union Territories and its Constitution tried to be made unenforceable.”

With silence and no meetings, it remains to be seen how many DDC’s will be controlled by the PAGD as the election for DDC chairman and vice chairman is slated in the coming days. These elections are to be held through a secret ballot.

The Leader Response

However, the PDP President and PAGD Vice President Mehbooba Mufti has strongly defended the alliance.

“Amidst all the unnecessary speculation about PAGD, I would like to make a few things absolutely clear. The purpose of this grand alliance is not for petty electoral gains. It exists for a much larger cause and purpose that is to restore J&K’s special status,” Mehbooba said. “A lot of baseless theories are being deliberately floated to discredit the PAGD amongst masses since they overwhelmingly voted for us in the DDC elections. Regardless of who fought how many seats, our purpose to deny BJP & its proxies democratic space has been achieved (sic).”

A cartoon by Kashmir’s legendary cartoonist BAB saying the PADG would fight for 370, then will fight elections and will eventually fight within.

Saying the objections against the PAGD were a part of the campaign by New Delhi to discredit the grouping, Mehbooba said: “Delhi is deeply rattled by PAGD so I expect this false campaign to intensify in the coming days. Many PDP leaders are already arrested & I expect the situation to worsen. But this will not break our resolve to stand united & fight for what is rightfully ours.” She was referring to the arrest of Naeem Akhter, Sartaj Madni and Pir Mansoor. Akhter was hospitalised last week after he fell unconscious after dinner in MLA Hostel, now a sub-jail.

However, Mehbooba’s statement was discredited by PC General Secretary Imran Reza Ansari who in a statement said that she (Mehbooba) was hiding the problems within the PAGD.

“Yes. The cause of the PAGD is sacred. I agree. But why did you (Mehbooba) boycott the meeting called by the PAGD president after the third list of mandates was out and had to be personally telephoned to attend. Why were you sulking?  Why were your representatives walking out of the mandatory meetings? Please don’t pretend to be what you are not,” Ansari said.

PDP General Secretary and former minister Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura said those questioning the PAGD’s unity shouldn’t do so publicly but should rather come to the “appropriate” forum to discuss. “Elections don’t matter for the PDP in comparison to the cause we are fighting for,” he said. He claims there is no rift in the PAGD as all its constituent parties are still part of it. He said the PAGD is soon going to come out with a roadmap about the restoration of Articles 370 and 35-A.

Husnain Speaks

Lok Sabha member and the PAGD Coordinator Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi said that there is no infighting in the alliance. “We are all united and determined to get back what was unconstitutionally taken away from us on August 5, 2019,” he said. He said those questioning the PAGD have their own “perceptions” but the PAGD has a clear legal and political roadmap.

PAGD, a cartoon by legendary news cartoonist BAB

“Our case in Supreme Court has been formally accepted which means that the court believes that this matter needs to be heard. That is our first achievement because in many instances the court doesn’t entertain matters,” Husnain said, asserting that on the political front the PAGD responded to sudden announcement of DDC elections by unitedly contesting the polls. “DDC isn’t the end game. Though we made it a referendum on August 5 it was just one facet of it. We unnerved those who thought we won’t contest. Everyone should appreciate that for the first time all the mainstream forces have come together.”

Enigmatic Silence

While Mehbooba Mufti has spoken about denying any rift in the alliance, the silence of Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah along with Sajad Gani Lone is adding to the perception that things are not hunky-dory.

In a recent party meeting, Farooq Abdullah tried dousing the fire in the PAGD by stating that the DDC election and its politics was trivial in comparison to the cause for which the alliance was formed. Meanwhile, a senior PDP leader, wishing anonymity said the party’s main focus is on rebuilding itself by championing the cause of Jammu and Kashmir through the PAGD.

“We have been dented the most since our government with BJP fell in 2018. The party’s main focus is to revive its image which has suffered post-2016 Kashmir unrest,” he said adding the PAGD’s future and sincerity isn’t in the hands of the PDP alone.

Another senior leader from the NC said off the record that the PAGD might crumble under its own weight with NC being the major gainer in terms of the seats won in the DDC elections. Many other PAGD leaders say that the grouping is a “façade which will soon slip”.

Apni Party Response

The situation within PAGD was so interesting that the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party President Syed Altaf Bukhari decided to talk publicly. He said the “so-called unity” of the PAGD “alliance members will degenerate to name-calling” as soon as assembly polls are announced in the UT

Retired Deputy Director, Indian System Medicine (ISM), Dr Rohit Gupta joined Apni Party in presence of Altaf Bukhari and other senior leaders.

“The delimitation exercise will be completed soon and we will have the assembly polls. In the first place, why did they boycott the delimitation exercise when even that could mean that they are taking sides. Now let assembly polls be announced and we will get to see what happens to their so-called unity. It is then that we will get to see the name-calling they indulge in,” Bukhari said.

DDC Campaigning

Even though the PAGD won the highest number of seats collectively (110 seats) across Jammu and Kashmir, the alliance’s bigwigs were missing from the campaign trail primarily because of the proxy candidates put up by every party against one another.

NC’s President Farooq Abdullah and Vice President Omar Abdullah didn’t campaign at all while the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti along with Vice President Abdul Rehman Veeri were also missing on the ground. However, the Peoples Conference Chairman Sajad Gani Lone did some campaigning for the PAGD candidates but it was nothing like the 2019 parliament election campaign in which the party was pitted against the NC and PDP. The party’s Vice President Abdul Gani Vakeel didn’t campaign for any PAGD candidate like other party leaders.

The fault lines were visible on the ground with proxy candidates against official PAGD candidates leading to 50 independent winners mainly in the Kashmir.

On the ground, the PAGD leadership didn’t woo the voters with joint campaigning leading to losses on some seats, a fact admitted by the PAGD members. “We could have won much more seats if there would have been more unity,” ANC Vice-President Muzaffar Shah told Kashmir Life. His party lost all the seats assigned to him.

PDP’s General Secretary Hanjura said the PAGD did very well but it would have won more seats, had there been no “proxy” candidates on some seats.

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