The announcement, on Thursday, by five regional parties and the CPI(M), of the formation of the ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ to fight for the restoration of full statehood and special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, is one that has also coincided with the release of former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti after 14 months in detention. The Gupkar Declaration by these parties, on August 4, 2019, had anticipated the Centre’s move to repeal J&K’s special status the next day and vowed to fight for its protection. J&K also lost its statehood. The NC, the PDP, People’s Conference, Awami National Conference, the J&K Peoples Movement, and CPI (M) have now reiterated their earlier pledge; the Awami Ittehad Party and the Peoples Democratic Front too have declared their support. The coming together of the rival regional parties is strange and significant; this is no electoral alliance, but a political meeting point on the status of Kashmir. It is a result of the perception that politics in J&K is a face-off with the Centre and a reflection of increased Kashmiri alienation from the national mainstream. The framing of Kashmir politics as a combat with the Centre has been forced upon the regional parties by the BJP government through its reckless policies.
In 2015, the BJP-PDP coalition government in J&K appeared like the maturing of a progressive trend. The BJP and the NC were in alliance at the Centre earlier. With two main national parties, the Congress and the BJP, forming opportunistic alliances with two regional parties, there were reasons to believe that politics in Kashmir was not out of step with the national mainstream. Besides participation of Kashmiri parties in national coalition governments, the debate within had begun to echo political debates elsewhere in the country — with development and governance increasingly taking centre stage. Debates on autonomy and self-determination continued, but did not overwhelm politics in Kashmir. As it turned out, alliances with regional actors did not temper the BJP’s strident opposition to the notional special status. It sought to delegitimise regional parties by terming them ‘soft separatists,’ and unleashed state agencies against them. J&K’s reorganisation in 2019 created new international dimensions. The BJP government at the Centre evidently believes that domination, not accommodation, is the way forward in Kashmir, which has helped the party’s electoral appeal in the heartland, and acts as an incentive. With sufficient amount of force, any policy is enforceable on the ground, but that is not a moral choice that democratic societies make. National integration advanced through patient negotiations and accommodation is more enduring and formidable. It is time for a new beginning in Kashmir and the Centre should be sensitive to the sentiments expressed in the Gupkar Declaration.