In Depth

As Raj Bhavan plays ‘bandmaster’, New Delhi’s old Kashmiri loyalists feel ‘cheated’

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Amid New Delhi’s unyielding Kashmir policy, the regional unionist camp—especially GoI’s traditional diehards—are decrying the denied electoral space and ‘split mandate’ with the emergence of the new front in the Valley.

A lot has changed for Peoples Democratic Party’s Waheed Ur Rahman Para. Until last month, he had been scratching his boots day in and out—mapping Mehbooba Mufti’s parliamentary campaigns, as much that I had to pursue him for about a week to catch hold of him for an interview.

Considering so, when I happened to ring him on Tuesday, late evening, I supposed it would be better to get his comment on phone, however, once busy Waheed was available to meet the very next hour.

Then high-on-horse, he and his lady leader have now been gathering themselves from the horrors of general election, where PDP lost all its three seats, including the south bastion.

“We feel cheated,” Waheed says, summing up the silence inside the camp.

Not because all the hard work he had put to get Mehbooba through, crashed miserably, but that he, individually as a politician, and as the party representative, feels alone and out; thanks to the long-distanced ears in New Delhi that barely pay heed.

By-and-large, this has as well been the case at the National Conference camp despite having a clean-sweep in Kashmir, as party’s chief spokesman Aga Ruhullah himself puts in words: “We almost feel like shouting to the desert, where there is no one to hear us.”

Never had the regional parties—who bled for upholding Indian constitution in Kashmir—felt so alienated in the valley, as presently.

Long demanding the assembly elections in J&K, the local outfits – particularly the NC and PDP – look clearly annoyed with New Delhi’s ‘arrogant’ approach.

In fact, according to a valley-based political analyst, Dr Irshad Shah, one doesn’t see any voting exercise at least until Mid-2020.

With presidential rule in the state entering its second term on July 3, citing ‘national security’, the state elections will be at least delayed until Amarnath Yatra, as decided by the government in New Delhi – the BJP – in a union cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, himself.

“Post-Amarnath, it will be winters and that will be a strong enough reason to delay elections at least until March. I strongly believe the state will witness the voting only after May,” Shah says. “And by then, you never know what the situation here would turn into.”

Perhaps, just like one had never predicted: The ‘south pole-north pole’ alliance between BJP and PDP, then it’s breaking up after two years of miserable governance, followed by the arrival of a new governor and the controversial dissolving of 87-member J&K assembly – heralding the longest presidential rule in the state since 1990-1996.

The prevailing situation in the state was reasoned for the prolonging of the presidential administration, with governor Satya Pal Malik, himself, ‘recommending’ so.

Waheed Para, however, believes this to be ‘the part of a larger outcome’, as he restlessly ‘foresees something bigger being conspired.’

“The mainstream flag bearers in Kashmir were always seen by the New Delhi with high regards,” he says.

So is not the case anymore!

The regional parties have been pushed to walls, where their voices go unheard.

Under the garb of ‘national security’ and ‘safe’ Amarnath Yatra, the cry of the time amongst the regional parties is the ‘arrogant’ denial of ‘deserving’ political space.

But do these narratives hold any strong ground to justify the extension of Governor’s administrations?

“Baseless!” Aijaz Wani, a faculty of Political Science at Kashmir University, denies at once.

“Yatra has never been a concern. If you see, it has always by-and-large concluded peacefully, barring 2016 when the BJP government was in power. And as far as the security apparatus is concerned, that anyway falls under the governor’s administration, regardless of the popular government in place.”

Notably, violence has remained unhurt under governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration. Only last week it witnessed a fidayeen attack in Anantnag where a Station House Officer and five CRPF men were killed; to add to it, the Pulwama suicide blast.

Interestingly, although Kashmir witnessed violence-free parliamentary polls, the state elections, however, all of a sudden seems like an ‘impossible’ task for Raj Bhavan.

Since assuming the post in August last year, governor Malik has taken contemptuous decisions compared to his predecessor, NN Vohra. These decisions, Wani suspects, have ‘obvious influence from the Centre’.

Be it the recent J&K Bank fiasco, or attempting to abolish the state-sacred Roshni Act (a law giving land ownership to occupants), or it be approving the bill to set up Special Security Force for his protection – Wani says, “Certainly, plenty of these testify the kind of implications the BJP is trying to do under the shadow of governor’s administrations.”

All this makes Malik another controversial governor of J&K. Even before he took charge, BJP party’s state president, Ravinder Raina was seen boasting on-camera claiming the ‘new governor to be (their) man’.

And since taking charge, rightly, he has been looked upon as saffron party’s ‘mouthpiece’ in the valley.

Time-and-again, Malik is seen attending events and inviting controversies with his statements, especially on the local parties, so much so, that has an article dedicating him, titled: ‘Does J&K Governor Malik talk too much?’

His comments have in the past irked the parties to an extent that both NC and PDP had threatened an agitation if Malik continued ‘crossing the red line’.

But Malik is Malik, after all, he has the ruling party’s back, the BJP, who furthermore counter-slammed the regional parties for ‘criticising the honourable governor’.

The pro-BJP stance is definitely helping Malik, and while the saffron party, experts say, is striking just the right set of tunes.

“BJP clearly doesn’t want elections in J&K. They waited to see the outcome of the parliamentary polls, particularly in Kashmir, ascertain the results and then hold the elections when the time would be right,” Aijaz Wani notes. And well, the time doesn’t look right for the BJP, who continue to maintain the losing streak in Kashmir.

For BJP to make inroads in the valley, the open secret has been the number of MLAs coming under the banner of ‘Third front’, headed by Peoples Conference’s Sajad Lone. And that is why, perhaps, NC’s chief spokesman Aga Ruhullah believes the denial of political space to them is because ‘BJP’s proxies needed more time to strengthen their grounds in the valley’.

For the National Conference, the small-time parties have been long hurting them. Until the emergence of PDP in 1999, they were the prime outfit with a cadre across Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. But with time, more and more politicians emerged and so did their individual parties, particularly in the valley.

Quite arguably, one can say NC has been scrutinised to only the central part of Kashmir with competitions from PDP in the south, and the ‘proxies of BJP’ in the north – with the pre-poll alliance of Shah Faesal and Engineer Rashid being the latest among all. “Although,” Ruhullah stresses, “I don’t know if they (Rashid-Faesal) have been plotted by BJP, but they are only going to divide the vote bank – a secular and an anti-BJP vote bank. So intentionally or unintentionally, they are playing in the hands of New Delhi.”

Rashid, in-return, has a straightforward reply for Ruhullah, as he ridicules: “Yaha ki siyasat koi unke baap ki jaagir nahi” (Kashmir’s politics isn’t someone’s ancestral property.)

“I can guarantee you that Engineer Rashid and Dr. Shah Faesal’s alliance will gain an absolute majority. Why? Why can’t we? What’s so special about PDP or NC? Are we any less?” Rashid further boasts.

Only this week Rashid and Shah Faesal announced the pre-poll alliance coming under the banner of ‘Peoples United Front’. Rashid, in the parliamentary elections, recorded a lead from five assembly segments – such has been his political evolvement. In fact, he was offended when this reporter called him a leader from north, as he corrects: “I take strong exception that I am a politician from north, give me a level battlefield. My party is everywhere.”

And furthermore, joining the IAS-turned-politician, experts predict, is going to benefit Rashid in the long run.

When I had last seen him about four months back, Rashid was bed-ridden, but today, he is seen confidently plotting the roadmap for the assembly elections. Also for Rashid, more the delay, better for him and his counterpart to outreach it’s voters.

That is why, Rashid seems to ‘not have any problem’ with the delay in state elections.

When asked why, he reasoned: “There are two sets of politicians in Kashmir. NC and PDP come in the first set where they only crave for power, power, and power. I am sorry to say that. But for me, it’s not a big deal. Engineer Rashid isn’t bothered about elections.”

Further taking a jibe on NC and the PDP, he blamed the ‘so-called regional parties’ for all the ‘misdoings’ in Kashmir.

“They have represented New Delhi in Kashmir, but had they represented Kashmir in New Delhi, things wouldn’t have been what it is right now. They have been used and now thrown into the dustbin. This should serve them as a lesson,” Rashid says, in a harsher tone.

When NC’s spokesman Ruhullah time-and-again stresses on Shah Faesal and Rashid, ‘intentionally or unintentionally’, playing in the hands of New Delhi – it makes way for the argument, whether down the line, the two allies from the north would find themselves in the same agony as their rivals are today?


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