Never thought that flaunting Indianness could be a politically correct move for a mainstream party in the Kashmir Valley? Well, get ready to change your opinion. After years of disingenuous rhetoric geared to project themselves as disguised separatist outfits, mainstream political parties in the Valley are becoming less shy about parading their pro-India credentials.
Forget the once-shrill rhetoric about autonomy and self-rule, and the soft separatist narratives that the ruling NC and the Opposition PDP plied to mobilise people with an eye on the 2014 elections. Now the competition between the two regional parties is about which outfit is more Indian by conviction and that too at a time when both the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls are in the offing.
In the recently concluded Assembly session, when former army chief Gen (retd) VK Singh’s revelations that all politicians in J&K have been taking money from the army since 1947 came up for debate, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti tried her best to avoid the topic of discussion and instead focussed on her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s commitment to the idea of India.
“My father was called ‘Hindustani’ in Kashmir. It did not bother him,” recalled Mehbooba. “This forced him to fight elections in Muzaffarnagar in the 1980s, but he did not change his ideology.”
Mehbooba targeted J&K’s first prime minister Sheikh Abdullah — the grandfather of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah — for starting the separatist movement in Kashmir in 1953, following his dismissal and subsequent arrest. “If Sheikh saheb had facilitated the accession with India in 1947, why did he go back on his decision in 1953?” questioned Mehbooba.
The speech was seen by NC leaders as a move to appease New Delhi and the Congress.
Not to be outdone, Omar has also made pro-New Delhi noises, which he earlier eschewed for fear of alienating his core constituency in the Valley. In a recent statement on LOC violations, he called for a tougher response to Pakistan, something that he often avoided doing.
“The Centre should explore other options if Pakistan continues to violate ceasefire along the LOC,” thundered Omar. “It cannot be a one-sided affair. We can’t be at the receiving end without giving any response.”
Similarly, Omar has been at pains to explain that Kashmir belonged to India, and that his occasional reference to Kashmir’s accession to India being limited to the four subjects of currency, communication, foreign affairs and defence didn’t make the state any less a part of India.
“J&K has acceded to India,” he said. “If we acceded to India, are we not an integral part of India? Of course, we are. Please do not put your words in my mouth. I never used the word ‘conditional’ nor the word ‘incomplete’. I have not used such words. You look at the Assembly record and see what I had said.”
What explains this change? None, so far as the aspirations of a large section of the population is concerned. Despite some disillusionment with the Azadi movement, separatism continues to be the reigning creed in the Valley. The shift is borne out of rank political considerations and has a lot to do with the advent of the Congress as a necessary alliance partner for both the NC and the PDP .
Neither party can hope to form the government without the Congress’ support and the latter wouldn’t approve of an overtly separatist stance.
In the 87-member Assembly, the NC has 28 seats, followed by the PDP with 21 seats and the Congress with 17 seats.
In its five years in power in coalition with the Congress, the NC has all but shelved its vaunted autonomy agenda. And the Opposition PDP , which privileged self-rule for Kashmir over and above its other party planks, has now steadily moved to a reluctant embrace of India to curry favour with the Congress, which is so vital to its chances of forming the next state government.
“Like their soft-separatist postures, the current espousal of India is an electoral gambit for the two parties (NC and PDP ),” says a senior Congress politician. “On the other hand, the Congress seeks to focus on good governance in the state and we would expect our partners to follow the same policy.”