At history’s crossroad: An alliance of unwilling

It is their moment to decide whether they want history to absolve them or not. It is their choice whether the alliance leaders want to be in the footnotes of history or otherwise.

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They had many chances to forge an alliance but their rivalries were too deep.

The National Conference (NC) had lost its position as the premier political party of Kashmir to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), just three years after the latter’s formation in 1999.

The PDP, which had found a voter haven in south Kashmir’s four districts that guided its repeated path to power, always struggled to make inroads into pockets elsewhere where the NC had generations of loyalists.

The dramatic change of fortunes in 2014 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which had remained a fringe on India’s political landscape, however, changed the political arithmetic in Kashmir; initially slowly, but later at such a rapid pace that even the political veterans failed to cope and understand.

When the chances were to shake hands and save the state’s nominal autonomy, the NC and the PDP had looked for other options.

In 2015, when the voting results for Jammu and Kashmir’s Assembly of Legislators threw a hung house, it eventually led to the entry of the BJP into corridors of power.

In 2018, when the erstwhile state was without an elected government as the BJP pulled the rug underneath its coalition partner PDP, the regional political parties remained indecisive for months. When they finally became decisive, they were cheated by an allegedly faulty fax machine.

The events that followed — the events of 5 August 2019 — were cataclysmic for Kashmir’s political class, the leaders, and the parties. The detentions were unprecedented and it was a show of no mercy. The former chief ministers and the entourage of former ministers, legislators, and speakers lost decades of meticulously built clout.

The arithmetic that changed within hours on 5 August eventually led to the alliance of the unwilling, named after a road which has been the address of the powerful: Gupkar.

When six political parties — including the NC and the PDP — came together to form this alliance, it was happening in a different political realm. It was the alliance of the destitute; their powers lost in a quiet coup.

The People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) was formed in October 2020 with a mission to restore J-K’s special status and Articles 370 and 35A – the provisions, which had protected the erstwhile state’s demography.

The mission that the alliance has assigned to itself, however, hangs between the definitions of the quixotic expedition and the tryst with heroics. If the alliance fails to deliver, it will be the former. If it succeeds, it will be the latter.

The alliance is pitched in a battle that has no clear precedents and it has to wade through an uncharted sea with the BJP government mounting a blitz against it on multiple fronts; the ghosts of the past being dug out to haunt and subdue the leaders of the alliance.

Farooq Abdullah, the chairperson of the alliance, was sent a summon by the Enforcement Directorate within days of the alliance’s formation. “We have a long way to go,” he told reporters, in response to the Directorate’s summon in October last year.

“A long political battle that will continue whether Farooq Abdullah is alive or dead, on the stage or not on the stage,” he said as Abdullah, a three-time Chief Minister vowed to fight for the restoration of Article 370. “Our resolve will never change even if I’ve to be hanged.”

The challenges for the alliance are not limited to pressures and pulls from New Delhi, but it also faces an internal question of people’s trust for which there are no short-cuts for it to achieve.

Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP president and vice-president of the alliance, has her own ghosts in the closet; she and her party changed tracks when in power and when out of power; she and her party has lost her voter haven in south Kashmir after what she herself described as “suicidal” alliance with the BJP, which marked the entry of the Hindu right-wing party into the corridors.

For the Abdullahs, the struggle for acceptance is equally tough. Its politics over the decades has earned it more enemies than the friends and, for many in Kashmir, it is blamed for allowing past governments in New Delhi to make the inroads before the BJP’s eventual demolition of the state’s structures on 5 August.

The two parties, and their leaders, also face the blame for not being on the people’s side and for whitewashing the potential crimes and human rights violations. The case of Tufail Mattoo is Omar Abdullah’s moment of shame. The apathy of 2016 and the toffee remark is Mufti’s perpetual sin.

The alliance also needs to come clear on its roadmap. The mere rhetoric will not work and there are lessons for it to learn from Supreme Court hearings of petitions with regard to Article 370 and other recent judgments.

The alliance has a window that is fast narrowing down. The thinking, shared by some backstage characters of the alliance, that they will outlive the BJP government in New Delhi may not help them in undoing 5 August. The alliance is in a race against time. It can play relaxed but then there may be nothing to salvage; nothing to undo.

The monumental events of 5 August and what followed it are presenting a chance to the alliance to be a part of history. It is their moment to decide whether they want history to absolve them or not. It is their choice whether the alliance leaders want to be in the footnotes of history or otherwise.

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