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Twin narratives from Kashmir

The Muslim-majority region wedded to its centuries-old ethos and political aspirations
12:35 AM Apr 30, 2024 IST | Arun Joshi
twin narratives from kashmir
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Perhaps Kashmir is unaware that what kind of political narrative it is sending across the country and to itself. This is a paradox of the situation, as a stark fact has emerged that national parties of significance have absented themselves from the poll race in the Valley.

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Congress has an excuse of being in alliance with National Conference, the first and almost century-old political party of Kashmir, while BJP is engaged in what it calls “winning hearts of the people” in Kashmir as it refuses to impose any particular symbol or perception on the land and the minds of the residents of crown of India- that is Kashmir.

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Two fundamental narratives are going out of Kashmir; the Muslim-majority region wedded to its centuries-old ethos and political aspirations rooted in history is waiting for its dignity and identity to be restored. The idea is that these have been bruised by the actions of the Government of India, particularly after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. There are some genuine fears, others are inflated.

Second narrative is that the Government of India, for the first time in the history since 1947 has given a firm footing to the idea of India as against the separatist mindset cultivated by the two regional parties -National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party .

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A glance at the history reveals that these groups clubbed as “ traditional parties” of Kashmir will reveal were partners in negating the two-nation theory but at the same time did not settle for that in all its entirety. Time and again they, despite suffering from the cycles of violence and counter-narratives and making sacrifices, were also responsible for many ills that plagued the land and the people. National Conference is yet to shed off its 22 years of Plebiscite Front, despite the U-turn in 1975, it continues to relish the Plebiscite days.

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This U-turn was not possible had the Centre been fair to itself and its policies on Kashmir. It’s not that you commit a mistake, then when consequences become unbearable, you seek to rectify the mistake, which, in fact was a blunder. The 22 years of Congress rule in Delhi - from 1953 to 1975 - from Jawaharlal Nehru- Indira Gandhi era were as much responsible for creating a wall of mistrust between Kashmir and the rest of India as the Plebiscite Front.

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The current NC-Congress alliance is as temporary as it was in the past – recall 1953, 1977, and 2014. PDP too had its bitter experience in 2008. These calendar years have ruined Kashmir politics. The bitter truth is that the regional parties were as much responsible as the national parties – BJP-PDP alliance was set to collapse from the day one and it did in 2018.

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In Lok Sabha polls, there is a question that begets answer, why BJP , which has set target of winning 370 seats because that target is a tribute to the abrogation of Article 370 which was specific to Jammu and Kashmir, did not field its candidates on the three Lok Sabha seats in the Valley.

BJP was the first party to support fresh delimitation, and hail Delimitation Commission’s report, in which the population was rejected as the sole criteria for delimitation, and still it opted out of the contest to see how far its actions have been accepted by the people.

This was a grand opportunity. This will not be the same story in the Assembly elections, which have been promised before September 30th as per the Supreme Court directions of December 11, 2023 to the Election Commission, or five years later in 2029. And how would convince the nation that why it is not contesting at “Karam Bhoomi” of abrogation of Article 370 – Kashmir .

There has to be some reason which the party might have thought of before deciding not to contest the three-seats which were so critical for its narrative of Article 370 and wining 370 seats to drive home the point to the nation that it has rewritten history and brought closure to all the questions regarding status of Kashmir. What is the difference between its past ventures into the parliamentary polls in Kashmir and now?

This question can be best answered, until 2019, it had no burden of explaining to the people in Kashmir of abrogating Article 370 and the benefits that flowed into the Valley, especially tourism and normalcy, but now it has no other option. It did a lot of administrative work- launched anti-terrorism operations, brought comparative normalcy, got ST status for Paharis.

But it did not do political work on the ground. Its party apparatus in Kashmir, is built more on the artificial commitments rather than by heart. Had that been the case, party workers would have gone door to door to explain what all has changed. The party workers appeared in hordes in rallies of the top leaders, but were shy of taking the narrative of abrogation of Article 370 to homes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, in their rallies asked voters to “vote for anyone but not for the dynastic parties, NV, PDP and Congress” . That clearly meant that BJP has other parties in mind.

BJP, as its leaders claim, is looking at a long-term perspective on Kashmir with an aim to assure and reassure Kashmiris that it’s not interested in imposing itself on the political space of the Valley. It is waiting for the emotional connect.

Till then, or may be later, it would support the parties that believe in full sovereignty and integrity of the country. In that context, Apni Party has made its stand clear that “J&K’s fate was decided in 1947 when the state acceded to India”.

Altaf Bukhari has repeated this, time and again, in his rallies. This unequivocal assertion has political risks for him and his party, but he has done so. Now it’s time to watch where he stands.

In the past four years, he has worked, along with his colleagues, most of whom have come together from other parties, in cementing the idea of regional conciliation and no two narratives about Kashmir. This is his claim and it has worked for him.

The real theatre would unfold when the campaign will pick up in Kashmir and the way the people will vote. There are many slips between the cup and the lip. It is a wait and watch situation, any conclusion, no matter what the claims are, will be premature.

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